Tragedy struck Casina Rice's extended family hard two years ago when her nephew, Perry Costley, was killed in a drug deal gone wrong.

But what struck her as equally tragic was what a relative discovered while cleaning out the young man's room: a cache of artwork and song lyrics he had never shared with anyone.


Rice, a Westminster resident, resolved not to let such a waste of talent happen again. She established BlankCanvas2Art, a nonprofit aimed at helping young people turn their artistic visions into businesses.

A crowd of about 50 saw the result at McDaniel College on Saturday as eight Carroll County high school students pitched art-related business ideas to a panel of three judges, with more than $2,500 in prize money on the line.

Rice's son — and Perry Costley's cousin — Daniel Costley, a senior at Winters Mill High School in Westminster, took home the $1,500 judges' prize for his proposal to create Gender Expressions, a company that would design and manufacture unisex undergarments for members of the transgender community.

Costley, 18, wasted no time in establishing the need for his product.

"Do you know what dysphoria is?" he asked the audience as he opened his Power Point-backed presentation. "It's a state of being unhappy with one's body. It can lead to depression and even self-harm."

His pitch convinced the judges — two venture-capital investment professionals along with a member of the Carroll County Arts Council — of his ability to design and create a line of underclothing that would help ameliorate the disorder.

He won over proposals to create a variety of arts-related businesses, including an art therapy cafe, a salon-style tattoo parlor, a "restaurant" that would serve art opportunities rather than food, and a cafe that would be tailored to an LGBT clientele.

The contestants included students from all four high-school grade levels and three Carroll County high schools.

Emily Thompson, another Winters Mill senior, won the $500 second-place prize — and the $300 "people's choice" award, voted on by audience members — for her proposal to create Blank Page, a company that would make and market a line of journals aimed at providing art therapy.

Thompson, 18, said she first heard about BlankCanvas2Art last fall when Rice promoted it in an art class at her school.

The program, Rice announced, would give qualified students from across the county the chance to attend 14 evening classes in which established professional artists would discuss their interests and how they turned them into paid work.

Backed by the Community Foundation of Carroll County, the nonprofit brought a wide range of professionals to the sessions at Winters Mill, including Kibibi Ajanku, founding director of the Sankofa Dance Theater in Baltimore; Lisa Martin, owner of the COB51 arts studio in Westminster; and Jennifer Reynolds, director of venture creation at the Research & Technology Park at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

As they touched on such topics as product development, trademarks and how to prepare and deliver presentations, the professionals helped the students develop the business plans they presented Saturday.

Each plan had to address the same set of criteria: describing the need for the product, presenting a business model, articulating a vision for marketing and sales and offering financial projections as well as mileposts over the next 10 years.


Thompson, of Blank Page, said she didn't know what kind of plan she would develop when the course began last October, but her vision became clear over the weeks as she realized she could combine her interest in psychology with her love of visual art.

She distributed mockup pages from her proposed journal Saturday, telling judges and the audience how she planned to use written prompts on each page to inspire open-ended therapeutic drawings.

"I learned so much about realistic ways of applying my art, about the background work you have to do to build up a business," she said afterward.

Winters Hill sophomore Kate Tye agreed.

In developing a pitch for "Docked," an animated cartoon series, the 16-year-old said she was able to take her passion for drawing and turn it into a practical, step-by-step plan.

"I always liked the idea of story-making, but I used to think it was way out of my reach," she said. "This program has shown me it's something I can actually do."

Contest judge Alex Euler, investment director at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Va., said after the competition that the presentations he'd heard rivaled many of the 500 pitches for start-ups he hears every year.

"Five years from now, I won't be surprised to see every one of these kids moving on to much bigger and better things," he said.