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Impact Investing in the Arts – Bringing Arts and Business Together for Economic and social Impact

Posted by Mariama Holman
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Impact Investing in the Arts – Bringing Arts and Business Together for Economic and social Impact

The impact investing community is starting to realize that the arts and business are one – both seeking to utilize finite resources to create returns beyond profit.

 

Artists are entrepreneurs who need to access the right kind of capital for starting B Corporations and other social purpose businesses.” – Laura Callanan, Upstart Co-Lab, CEO and Founder.

 

Monday, June 5th Upstart Co-Lab led a panel on Creative Places and Business: Catalyzing Growth in Communities at Deutsche Bank that highlighted a movement that first began gaining momentum in the early 2000s’ – impact investing in the arts. Upstart works with partners such as the Calvert Foundation to adapt existing impact investing products for the creative economy, helping investors and arts organizations manage risk while measuring and achieving returns.

 

As indicated at the start of the session by Callanan’s analysis of the JP Morgan and GIIN report, Impact Investments: An Emerging Asset Class, arts and culture is not currently tracked as a segment of impact investments. Why does this matter? As stated in Callanan’s Forbes interview, “there are currently no tools, funds or manager strategies enabling impact investors to align their capital with the creative market.”

 

What a shame, as key segments currently tracked by JP Morgan and GIIN, such as education and health investing, heavily intersect the work of artists, which by nature impact the same issues.

 

Don’t believe us?

 

Take a glimpse at the tremendous body of research on the impact of the arts in education, for instance.

 

Research conducted in 2008 reveals that participation in the arts reduce high-school dropout rates, especially with students from low-socioeconomic households. Students with high involvement in the arts from these households had a 4% drop-out rate as supposed to the 22% norm for low arts involvement students from the same background.

 

Arts organizations are situated in a prime spot in society for changing community outcomes but are not recognized or leveraged by impact investors as a critical resource.

 

According to Laura Callanan, it has traditionally been very difficult for creative economy practitioners, such as those creating artistic or cultural products, to qualify for financing.

 

But imagine a world where capital was connected with arts organizations that dually functioned as social entrepreneurship firms, B Corps and employee-owned co-ops?

 

This very well could be the future of social impact investing.

 

Upstart Co-Lab is not alone in pioneering the way forward. There is a rising tide of organizations working to facilitate the interaction between investors and arts organizations that create a social and financial return, both in the USA and abroad. Examples include the California based Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) and the Arts Impact Fund in the UK.

 

Funded projects include initiatives such as RedmondDESIGNS, which matches 18-24 year olds with an interest in the arts with job opportunities working in arts and design related businesses.

 

We could be finally witnessing the genesis of a trend that whittles away the wrongly perceived line dividing artists from economic contributors.  

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Two Institutions’ Approach to Reawakening Inventiveness

Posted by Jessica Gaines
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Two Institutions’ Approach to Reawakening Inventiveness

NUvention: Arts

A course offered by Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the McCormick School of Engineering in partnership with the School of Communications MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

 

NUvention: Arts uses lectures, case studies and guest speakers to give students a first-hand look at what it takes to start a creative arts company in an age of digital disruption. Culminates in a team project that asks students to create and pitch an arts-minded business idea.

 

With digital technology changing the interaction with and consumption of the arts, and with entrepreneurship on the rise, this course is giving students the ability to develop successful businesses in which an artistic component is the helm.

 

Theatre student, Elizabeth Hunter, who used the course to re-work her approach to her educational video game on Shakespeare’s Macbeth titled, Something Wicked, says “It was super valuable for me to be in an environment where the goal is not deconstruction, but construction.” Hunter worked alongside MBA and other masters-level students in the course, being tasked with creating, rather than critiquing.

 

Ahren Alexander knew early on in his Northwestern career that he was interested in entrepreneurship.  The engineering major also had a keen interest in music. “We Skyped in with Beyonce’s manager, the CEO of Pandora, the lead singer of Train. It was awesome,” Alexander said. “There was also an opportunity to chat with entrepreneurs in the area, around Chicago. It was just phenomenal. That’s something I think is extremely important with entrepreneurship – being able to make those kinds of relationships.”

 

 

Innovation Institute

An artist-led professional development program at the contemporary art center and urban artist residency program McColl Center for Art + Innovation.

 

The Innovation Institute has a professional facilitator with a background in organizational coaching and creative development join an artist to lead participants, business leaders, in exercises around unlocking creativity, encouraging risk-taking, and stimulating imaginative thinking. The sessions begin with the artist talking about his or her work and creative process. The artists then lead the participants through a series of experiences where they are making, sharing, presenting, critiquing and discussing art.

 

This pushes participants outside their comfort zone. “By having them participate in the creative process, they gain a visceral understanding of the fact that for every piece of art they see on the wall of a gallery, there are probably 40 other pieces that were failures that nobody will ever see,” says artist and program instructor Susan Harbage Page.

 

Fabi Preslar, president at SPARK Publications, a design firm specializing in custom-published books, magazines, and catalogs, attended the Innovation Institute. In the months before she attended, she had been feeling burnt out. “Just to hear how these artists find inspiration in their everyday experiences helped reawaken my creativity,” says Preslar. With her new perspective, she was able to make

the bold decisions needed to reinvigorate her business. Her company’s revenue jumped 118 percent in the year after her graduation and then rose another 19 percent the following year.

 

Bob Hambright, Division President at Centex Construction, sent his executive team to the institute. One of the Centex executives ended up coming back with an idea for a bold new HR model for how the company should hire, retain, and develop its people. “To me, the Innovation Institute ended up being a good way to stretch people’s minds. I think that spending time with right-brained artists and participating in these art activities helped them appreciate people with different skills from their own. Their time at the Institute helped them appreciate the importance of creativity in finding the best business solutions.”

 

More about the institute in the pARTnership Movement essay on fostering critical thinking.

 

 

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Which Came First: the Designer or the Entrepreneur?

Posted by Kate Reese
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Which Came First: the Designer or the Entrepreneur?

The association between entrepreneurial thinking and creativity has long been established; marketers may brainstorm by doodling while a software engineer listens to Bach in order to work through a difficult algorithm.

 

However, as businesses are required to innovate more and more quickly with an ever-present eye on the next trend, creativity is no longer an ancillary job skill but a necessity for survival and success. In a recent Huffington Post piece, California College of Arts President Stephen Beal elaborates: “Companies […] need creative people who bring to the workplace unique problem-solving skills, a deep understanding of the user experience, and, yes, the entrepreneurial spirit.”

 

Though it is easy to assert that entrepreneurial success requires innovative thinking, it is worthwhile to consider what activities habituate this sort of creative mindfulness. Businesses across America seem to have the answer…hire artists! Silicon Valley venture investors, who are notorious for a fascination with “disruptive” behavior, have recently begun partnering with local design schools and arts programs in order to cultivate relationships with creative types before they even graduate.

 

Research universities used to be the primary source of young talent for engineering firms and bio-medical companies; now, liberal arts and creative degree programs now represent a largely-untapped pool of candidates with excellent problem-solving skills, refined grasp on user experience and propensity for innovative thinking – an entrepreneur’s dream! According to the enigmatic hotel, airline and hospitality mogul Richard Branson, “If you’re not innovating, you’re going backwards.”

 

Beal claims that art students not only have experience with project-based work, but are comfortable with uncertainty and failure. Why is that desirable in an employee? He says that “those who take no risks – who are afraid to fail⎯ reduce their chances for success.”

Artists embrace challenges to the status quo and, now more than ever, the business community embraces artists.

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