Soul Stirrers #7: Upstart Co-Lab
Food for thought: what if artists were treated like social entrepreneurs, and arts organizations like social enterprises? What if they were offered access to the resources, network, and capital necessary to deliver impact within their communities through their creative endeavours, in a way that’s sustainable but also scalable?
Such is the mission of Upstart Co-Lab, a New York-based nonprofit that actively generates opportunities for collaboration between artists, social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and institutions. Led by ex-senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Laura Callanan, Upstart Co-Lab encourages impact investors to adopt a “Creative Lens” when considering what projects to support and who to partner up with.
Art — in the sense of it being a financial investment, an asset class, or just something aesthetically pleasing to collect — is traditionally reserved for the elite and those with considerable wealth. On the other hand, Upstart believes that investing in art for social impact opens up the playing field to diverse stakeholders because such funding directly fuels the greater creative economy. In other words, investing in art can (and should be) an inclusive, equitable practice that holds its own against the navel-gazing stratum of the art market.
Upstart’s primary roles, then, include engaging artists as innovators and integrating their practices into existing frameworks (creative problem solving as a catalyst for change); sourcing opportunities for impact investors to fund Creative Businesses and Creative Places (unleashing more capital); and making art accessible to communities that are often overlooked (shifting mindsets and improving lives). As it turns out, driving social and traditional returns is not just possible, but entirely feasible — all we have to do is get creative.