Idris Ali has been an entrepreneur long before he knew the meaning of the word. At age 12 he would re-sell things – like headphones for example – on eBay.

“I remember waking up and seeing $500 in my PayPal account,” says Ali, now 18 years old. “At that age I never thought it was significant.”

Today he is a self-taught photographer, videographer, aspiring filmmaker and entrepreneur, as well as the driving force behind a collective of artists that operate a space, dubbed Safe House Studios.

The collective’s most recent endeavour is a series of arts-based events titled “New Art, New Money” which provide young Toronto artists an opportunity to showcase themselves and give back to the community as proceeds are donated to charity and attendees can bring non-perishable food items for the local food bank.

The first event, held in July, drew out an impressive crowd of more than 300.

The Art Plug II from Brandon Jordan on Vimeo.

“When you get down to it, we’re just teenagers that want to do stuff, and we’re pitching in our money so we can all do it together,” Ali explains, adding that Safe House’s primary focuses lie in recording arts and photography work.

For Ali, who grew up in Toronto’s Flemingdon Park community, passion is what drives him to overcome challenges – like getting people to understand his ideas – and pursue multiple entrepreneurial efforts, while juggling volunteering, interning and working two jobs.

“You can’t do stuff you don’t want to do and you can’t do stuff just for money,” Ali says. “When I was in [high] school, I didn’t do well at anything because I didn’t care about the stuff they taught me.”

One look at Ali’s current body of photography work, though, indicates that he cares now – about self-growth and development. There is a clear attention to detail and a high level of creativity present in his work. His goal when shooting: never do the same things twice.

“I love emotion. Emotion is one of the most important things in art; real art you don’t really see it – you feel it.”

The first photograph he was recognized for was of his little sister surrounded by money all around her. The inspiration, Ali explains, was the idea of children constantly being held captive by money – by it constantly being on their mind.

“I love intense work,” Ali says. “I love emotion. Emotion is one of the most important things in art; real art you don’t really see it – you feel it.”

Ali’s smarts – he studies astronomy and politics on his spare time – and his open mind are two of attributes his peers recognize in him that speak to his entrepreneurial spirit.

“[Idris is] very positive,” says friend and fellow Safe House collective member, Jbeats, a 21-year-old producer majoring in music at Toronto’s York University. “At the same time, he doesn’t joke around … He’s just very good at getting the job done and not side tracking.”

For Ali, staying on track means pursuing his two ultimate goals. First, he aims to direct a big budget film. Second, and perhaps most importantly, he aims to do his part in changing the world, despite how cliché it sounds, he adds with a laugh.

“Too many people spend too much time talking about what they want to do, but they never actually end up doing it,” he says. “They don’t actually put themselves in a position to change anything.”

Idris Ali won the opportunity to be profiled on as part of a contest for readers attending a motivational speaking event featuring Eric Thomas.

Priya Ramanujam is the editor of Urbanology Magazine. She co-founded the publication in 2004 with Adrian McKenzie, while a journalism student at Humber College.

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