A left-handed, middle-child Sagittarian with hair that matches her big personality, Kathy Cano-Murillo (BSB, 2002) exudes fun and creativity.

She has no choice, she says, and it shows.

The “Chica” behind the powerhouse brand Crafty Chica, Cano-Murillo is a speaker, artist, author and co-owner of Mucho Más Art Studio in Phoenix. She has her own Latino-inspired product line at Michael’s. Simon and Schuster just published her 10th book, “Forever Frida: A Celebration of the Life, Art, Loves, Words, and Style of Frida Kahlo.” And when she comes up for air, she runs CraftyChica.com, a lifestyle site anchored in DIY and crafts.

A rewarding experience

Although she’s a sought-after speaker, brand partner and crafting expert, her business savvy is hard-earned. It kicked into high gear, she says, when she enrolled at University of Phoenix in 2000 at the urging of her newspaper’s managing editor.

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Pan Dulce Paletas - Concha Ice Cream Bars

Already an artist making and selling Latino-inspired home décor and jewelry, Cano-Murillo landed a weekly craft column for The Arizona Republic while she was still just a news clerk.

Things got interesting when Gannett, whose flagship brand is USA Today, picked her column up for syndication. “My column was in 130 newspapers every week, but I was a news clerk getting news clerk pay,” she says.

That’s when her editor challenged her to go back to school. “She told me I needed to have my degree to get promoted to the job I deserved — the job I was already doing,” she says. “My first thought was, ‘No way. I don’t have time.’ I was late in my 30s and I had two little kids.”

Her editor persisted and recommended University of Phoenix. “She told me, ‘You need to believe in yourself. You need to do this.’ After I let it sink in, I realized it would haunt me my whole life if I didn’t go for it,” Cano-Murillo says.

She enrolled in night classes and embraced a motto that she still lives by today: “Échale ganas,” Spanish for “Do your best.”

She hustled as a news clerk by day and earned her business degree at night — while juggling family and her side crafting business. “It was really hard. But when I looked at the long timeline of my life, I knew this was going to be worth it,” she says.

The day after graduation, the entire Republic newsroom celebrated Cano-Murillo’s achievements with a huge cake.

Not long after, a box of business cards on her desk made it official. Her title read: Kathy Cano-Murillo / Features Reporter.

Launching a career as a “creativepreneur”

In 2007, she left the newspaper to become a full-time “creativepreneur,” learning on the skills she learned at University of Phoenix. “My business degree instilled in me that my dream was real — and I learned tactical methods I could apply to my passion to monetize it,” she says.

Her degree didn’t just change her life — it changed her family’s, too. Her daughter is a social influencer and works at BuzzFeed and her son is an artist.

“When the kids were little, they helped me a lot as my ‘little personal assistants.’ When they turned 16, I got them each their own websites. They both have turned those brands into part of what they do today,” Cano-Murillo says. Her daughter just launched a new scripted series through BuzzFeed and her son’s indie media site boasts 50 contributors.

Her advice to Phoenixes starting their own second act? “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t live off your passion,” she says. “You just have to make a business plan for how to make money doing it.”

In the end, working hard to earn her degree proved to Cano-Murillo she had a higher gear — a gear she relies on every time her creativity empire grows. “There’s always more to conquer,” she says. “There’s always a way to make a name for yourself.”

And for the Crafty Chica, it’s fitting her name is a fun one.

(To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month Cano-Murillo will show you how to make pan dulce concha paletas.)


By Laurie Davies, Senior Writer, University of Phoenix