Creativity, Culture & Capital

Laura Callanan, founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab; Sheoyki Jones, program manager of Creative Industries, Invest Atlanta
Headshots of two women, side by side.

Laura Callanan, photo by Helga Sigvaldadottir
Sheoyki Jones, courtesy of Sheoyki Jones

“NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed:  Welcome to Art Works the weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. This week’s podcast is a little bit different.  I’m going to talk with two guests about the creative economy and impact investing—don’t roll your eyes! The work is important and interesting—first up is Laura Callanan--she is the founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab, which works to connect impact investing to the creative economy. With global partners from the UK and Argentina, Upstart Co-Lab published a report about this—a group of some 40 essays from organizations from around the world who support impact investing in creative industries. Later on in the show, I’ll speak with the author of one of these essays Sheoyki Jones she’ll let us know how Atlanta is investing in its creative industries. But first, Laura Callanan is on hand to give us an overview –beginning with what we mean by the creative economy

Laura Callanan:  Well, for all of our work at Upstart Co-Lab that's really the first thing we did was realize we needed to have a clear understanding of what is the creative economy.  So we looked at how states and regions across the United States define their local creative economy, which is often a big part of their economic development planning and their jobs planning.  And one of the things we learned which was so fascinating is that the definition of the creative economy is a reflection of the culture and heritage of each place, so you see differences.  For example the State of Michigan does not include food in its definition of Michigan's creative economy.  The State of Louisiana does include food.  So since Upstart is working nationally across the United States, we looked at all of the local and regional definitions of creative economy, all of the industries that are included there and we brought them together under one umbrella and we looked at other definitions from the NEA and some of the foundations who've been working in this sector.  And then we looked to see where impact investors were already engaged and we bucketed those 145 individual industries into five key categories, ethical fashion, sustainable food, social impact media which included television and film and video games and music and a whole range of different types of storytelling and expression.  So those are three big pillars of the creative economy.  Then we have an “other” creative business category, so the fine art market would be there, architecture, other aspects of design, things like that that don't fall into food, fashion and media.  And then the fifth category is what we call creative places, those spaces where creative work happens and where creative experiences are shared.  So that's the definition that Upstart uses for all of our work in the United States and our partners in the U.K. and Argentina graciously allowed us to frame the definition of the creative economy for this report.

Jo Reed:  Okay.  And you know what my next question is going to be, we hear about impact investment too, impact investing, again, how are you defining that?

Laura Callanan:  So we're using what is really the dominant definition of impact investing, which is proper investment, we're not talking about gifts or grants or donations, we're talking about investments in companies and real estate and revenue generating initiatives, projects where there will be a financial return where you put your money in and you get your money back and you get hopefully a bit more than you originally invested.  But that's not the only thing that you get, an impact investor is also very focused on measurable social and environmental returns, social and environmental impact, they want to be sure that their money has meaning and that their profit has purpose and that they're investing in things that they can be proud of that are aligned with their values and that will make our families and our communities and the planet better.

Jo Reed:  Now, that we have that, clear—tell me about the international report Creativity Culture and Capital that Upstart Co-Lab helped bring together.

Laura Callanan:  Absolutely.  So we,  in partnership with Nesta's Art & Culture Finance Team, so they're based out of London and Fundación Compromiso which is from Buenos Aires, came together, probably started to talk about this two years ago.    And our big goal is to unlock more capital for creativity specifically capital that thinks about social and environmental impact as well as making a financial return.  And there are great examples around the world, many of which are featured in this report that share first mover examples and bright spots and stories about what's happening.  But we thought that in order to really unleash a global movement, we needed to have some data, we needed some stories and examples and we needed something that would really focus people's thinking and inspire their imagination about what would be possible.  And as we started to talk about beginning this, we realized how lucky we were in our timing and that 2021 is the United Nations' International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.  So we worked really hard to be sure that we could have the first volume of essays ready to go and launch it in January.  And we're on target to have a second volume of essays, another 40 essays or so be published in September to coincide with the UN General Assembly which we think will be a great moment to reinitiate this conversation about how the creative sector, the creative economy is able to be a source of quality jobs, be an on ramp to economic wealth building for groups that are often overlooked and underestimated around the world, be a place where diverse storytellers can share their stories and be a place where all of the sustainable development goals that think about creativity and culture can be realized, employment, education, sustainable production and consumption and sustainable cities are all ways that the United Nations believes creativity and culture can contribute to a more sustainable world and we agree.

Jo Reed:  Now you’ve published your first group of essays and the second one is coming out in September, very shortly.  What have you learned from this from looking throughout all these essays and what do you hope that we can bring away from it?

Laura Callanan:  So I'm a little sheepish to say this, despite the importance of creativity and culture to the U.S. economy, despite the importance of creativity and culture to U.S. trade and exports and recognizing how amazingly influential the United States has been through its music and its film and its fashion all around the world, we're behind in so many ways.  We don't yet have in the United States a fund that is 100 percent focused on impact investment and is exclusively focused on the creative economy.  I mean Upstart did a small proof of concept fund in New York City with a wonderful community development finance institution partner, LISC, the Local Initiative Support Corporation a couple of years ago and we were able to demonstrate with this slightly more than six million dollar fund that if you create the investment vehicles that focus on creative places in businesses as catalysts of community growth, those impact investors will show up and participate.  So we think it's possible to do it in the United States and really this is Upstart's mission to make that happen, but we're behind the pack.  There are fabulous examples already of funds that have been around for up to five, even ten years in Europe, in Africa, in Latin America where it's already impact investing and the creative economy hand-in-hand working together.  And so I'll say that it won't be the first time that the U.S. has been a little slow on the uptake with some new innovations in impact investing and that once we got on board with something, we really take it to scale, half of the global capital that's invested in a sustainable and responsible way right now is in the United States.  So we're not shirking when it comes to impact investing writ large, by I would say in terms of us being able to bring this capital that's really aligned with values and purpose and put it to work for artists and designers and other creatives and to drive sustainable creative lives and inclusive creative communities, we haven't yet embraced the promise of what's possible and that to me is what really struck home, seeing all of these fabulous global examples where this is already happening.

Jo Reed:  You see pockets of it though, do you in the United States?  I'm thinking of Atlanta.

Laura Callanan:  Well yes, and we're featuring in this report examples of entrepreneurs and impact investors who demonstrate the promise of what's possible. But overall we don't yet have a fund that's 100 percent impact investment and 100 percent creative economy.    So you're talking about the wonderful work that the City of Atlanta is doing through their Invest Atlanta Initiative, but recognize this is a government initiative, this is a government program and they're using government money because they recognize how important film and TV especially, music also and other creative industries can be both as an engine of quality jobs and an onramp for economic opportunity in the City of Atlanta and they imagine how they could bring alongside city dollars, some philanthropic dollars and private dollars that want to be not donated but invested for impact in the creative economy of Atlanta.  So hats off to the folks at Invest Atlanta no doubt. 

Jo Reed:  You created this report as a resource for people. Where can we find it?

Laura Callanan:  We have a terrific website,, it's a global website and happily because we've got such a strong partner in Latin America, the website and all the essays are appearing in both English and in Spanish and we aspire to expand to French in the future.  This is intended to be both a place for folks to go for these essays and this information, but we also hope that it will evolve as a community going forward where folks can share information, investors and opportunities can find each other and so on.

Jo Reed:  Laura, thank you so much.  I really appreciate it. 

Laura Callanan:  Great to talk to you.  Thanks a lot Jo.

Jo Reed: That’s Laura Callanan, the founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab— Upstart Co-Lab is co-author of the report Creativity Culture and Capital. This is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed, now we’re going to turn our attention to one of the bright spots of proactive investing in the creative economy--Atlanta Georgia and Sheoyki Jones. Sheoyki Jones is the founding program manager of Creative Industries an initiative of Invest Atlanta. She also contributed an essay to the Creativity Culture and Capital report called “The Creative Industries: Driving Economic Opportunity in Atlanta.”  Sheoyki began our conversation by filling me in on the work of Invest Atlanta

Sheoyki Jones: So Invest Atlanta, we’re the official economic development agency for the city of Atlanta.  So we’re a quasi-governmental agency that is contracted by the city of Atlanta to do economic development on behalf of the city of Atlanta.  So the cool thing about us is that we house community development and also economic development in-house, so they kind of help us make like holistic decisions when it comes to the new programs that we do. And also, we have new sectors that we focus on, which is innovation and entrepreneurship and creative industries, so-- and that’s where I sit.

Jo Reed: And that is.  You launched actually the Creative Industries part of that program.  Explain what you mean by Creative Industries.

Sheoyki Jones: Yeah.  So Creative Industries for us is anything, film, music, digital entertainment, fashion, sports, content creators.  Anything that you would consider creative usually falls in my lap.  I’ve even had people that make makeup, different things like that.  So I just try to support them from a government sector and build programs to help them grow their businesses.

Jo Reed:   What are the aims of the Creative Industries initiative?

Sheoyki Jones: Yeah.  So our main goal is to just provide equitable opportunities to all, and that’s across the board for Invest Atlanta as a whole company.  As it relates to Creative Industries, the goal is just to make them feel supported just as we support the small businesses that have brick and mortar, and then also I kind of work to alleviate some of those glass ceilings.  One of the things that is a challenge for Invest Atlanta and Creative Industries is once you get to a certain level you kind of have to leave the city of Atlanta to get to that next level of success, and that’s in film, music, tech, whatever it may be, and so what we try to do is find out what those challenges are, address them so that we can retain our talent, and also be able to provide them opportunities to be able to grow and expand, all by being here in the city of Atlanta.

Jo Reed:  What are those initiatives you use to meet those goals?

Sheoyki Jones:  We have a few different initiatives.  One of the first programs that I started was the Creative Industries Loan Fund, so we did this in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Film and Entertainment of Atlanta. One of the challenges that we hear after serving creatives is access to funding to jumpstart their content, and so we were able to create the first taxpayer dollar fund that will be investing in content.  So they could use it for production, post-production, marketing and distribution of their projects, but then also we kind of use it as a education tool for creatives for them to learn how to package themselves as a business. Letting them know that you need marketing and distribution plans, you need a business plan, you need to have a strong team, you need to know what your financial projections are going to be.  So that’s one of our programs.  Another one of our programs is our Creative Industries Exchange, which we launched about two years ago, and this was an opportunity for us to take some of those high-performing creatives and give them the opportunity to expand into international markets. The first one that we did was with Toronto.  So we took four music execs, and we set up a week full of meetings for them. They were able to meet with people from YouTube.  They met with the city of Toronto, their film and entertainment office.  They also met with Apple, a lot of like high-profile creative companies, and then also they were able to speak on a conference, one of the largest music conferences, at the city of Toronto.  So it’s a lot of different things that we try to be of support to and just address challenges, but then also the main goal is to provide opportunities that they necessarily wouldn’t have.

Jo Reed: Let me ask you how you knew where to focus your resources and the kind of research you had to do before creating these initiatives.

Sheoyki Jones: I don’t like to assume what community groups need.  I like to hear from them, take the information and then go back into our office and figure out, “Okay.  How can we alleviate these challenges?”  So, probably like the first six months to a year of my role in Creative Industries, I just met with a lot of creatives, like over maybe like a hundred to two hundred creatives.  I was talking to them at conferences, going to their events and talking to them, and then really just educating them on what Invest Atlanta was.  A lot of them did not even know what our office was and that we existed, and the resources that we provide, and so I would just go out there, explain it to them and then ask them, “How do you think that we can be of help to you?”  Like, “What do you think the city of Atlanta can be doing better?  What do you need access to?” and things like that, and so after all of that surveying, went back to the board and just started creating programs around that.  So a lot of the things that I heard was, of course, funding.  So the loan fund was our way of addressing that, and then also access to opportunities was a big thing that I heard from the creatives, and so that’s how the Creative Industries Exchange came about. Then also the work that I’m doing is making sure that we’re connecting creatives with corporate and government opportunities.  I think another big part of my job is educating creatives on why we can’t invest or do certain things just because we’re a government agency.  Like, dollars do have restrictions around them when it comes to working with a government entity, but I think that’s where those public-private partnerships come into play, which has been, like, majority of my focus going forward is like having those public-private partnerships that be able to go the extra mile when we have restrictions that we have to abide by, but we have those public-private partnerships that can be able to step in on our behalf and make sure that that impact is something that’s intentional and effective when it comes to our community.

Jo Reed: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions people have that make them hesitant to invest in the creative industries?

Sheoyki Jones: I think when I started, a lot of excuses that I got is that it’s too risky.  Like, investing in creating are too risky.  But to me, it’s like if you invest in a tech company, you’re probably going to invest in a slate of them and one of them are going to take off, and that’s kind of the same with creative industries or even with a small business.  Even with small businesses you’re taking a chance, maybe opening a pizza shop, hair salon, whatever it may be, there is no guarantee that two to three years or five years from now that that business will still be there.  So I think a misconception around that creatives are too risky.  Like, true enough, it may not be something that you see millions of dollars from at first, but as you build and invest and really groom creatives and then also put them in rooms and give them opportunities, it really kind of protects your investment. And then also it just helps keep the culture of the city of Atlanta, because one of the things that attract people to the city of Atlanta is the culture, and the culture wouldn’t be there if it was not for the creatives in these entertainment industries. I know investing in creatives is risky, but I think you make it a calculated risk.  It can be a very good reward behind standing behind your creative community.

Jo Reed: You know, I’m glad you just said that, because creatives are not often factored into economic development budgets.

Sheoyki Jones: No.

Jo Reed: But boy, they are sure used to promote a city.

Sheoyki Jones: Yes. <laughs> Yes.  I think culture, I feel like, is one of the number one drivers even in our office that we use to attract people here is that-- is our culture.  It’s like we have food and music here.  We have tech here.  We have the best food, southern food that you’ll have here.  And so it’s like we use all that to let companies know that, “Hey, when you bring your employees here, they’re going to love the quality of life here.”

Jo Reed: You know, we know that opportunities like the ones you’re providing through Creative Industries historically have been uneven.  How do you address issues of equity?

Sheoyki Jones: It’s all about where we promote.  So one of the things that I do try to do is just make sure that I show up and I’m visible in all of these areas.  So a lot of the events and stuff that I go to are majority minorities, majority women, and it-- I just make sure that, “Hey, I just want you to know that we do have these resources.”  So doing that for almost about a year, so now, like, my phone rings off the hook like even when creatives have <laughs> an idea, or if they want to start opening brick and mortar businesses, or if they want to start employing people.  I think being able to show up and be present, that makes it equitable, because now they think of us when it comes to these resources, which also makes our pipeline more diverse, and then it helps us choose how we’re investing our money.

Jo Reed: What were some of the challenges you had in engaging creative workers, so that they would see you as a resource?

Sheoyki Jones:  I think the hardest part was --  it was two issues.  Even though we have this fund, you still have to protect your investment and then also make sure the right people are getting the fund.  So I think in the beginning the struggle was we got a lot of projects that applied that were-- they just weren’t ready.  Not to say that they weren’t good, it just wasn’t investment ready. And then the quality projects that we were seeking, a lot of them were scared to take out loans.  They didn’t trust the government, and then also they were nervous to take out loans.  So it took a lot of explaining that, “Hey, even though it is a loan, we understand that the creative community and the creative projects can be up and down, so that’s why there’s flexible repayment terms.”  So, there’s a six-month deferment term, and then also for some reason if you get behind on your payments or you’re unable to make your payments since the money is in-house, we’re able to work with you to reconstruct your loan to get it to a point where you’re able to make your payments and not be in default.  So it’s like once that messaging started to resonate with those projects, then we started to see more of those quality projects come through.

Jo Reed: And how did the pandemic change your work?

Sheoyki Jones: Wow, <laughs> it completely put everything on hold, reset, and then it also kind of changed our focus.  So before pandemic, it was creating opportunities and how can we make them more visible on a global scale?  Now it’s how can we retain our talent and how can we even put them in new jobs?  I think the biggest challenge for creatives last year was a lot of them, their work just woke up one day and they had no more gigs, and it’s like “How are they going to pay their bills?”  It’s like, “Where’s their next job going to come from?” and then even, I think with some of the unemployment, it’s just different.  Like, I feel like a lot of creatives were not even able to take advantage of that because in a creative community, you know, they get paid different.  They may not have an employer and it’s hard to explain to unemployment that, “Hey, I’m a gig worker and I get a gig maybe like once every three months, but that’s how I live.”  So our focus went from the <laughs> next Creative Industries Exchange-- I was actually in the midst of planning that, trying to do that one with Africa last year, and all of that work had to come to a pause because we had to focus on, “How can we make sure that these people are able to pay their rent?” where their next job’s going to come from, et cetera.  So majority of my time, which I’m still actually processing now, is COVID Relief grants for creatives.  and then also a lot of my I guess creative contacts, they ended up having to transition jobs, because the work was not there anymore.  So I spent a lot of time just connecting them to different opportunities.  So traditionally they may have been in the entertainment industry, but you’re good at marketing, so, “Hey, maybe you-- you may be good to do this marketing job at UPS or Home Depot,”  because different jobs were opening but more on a corporate side versus on the entertainment side.  So just trying to be those connections and advocates for people to get those new roles.

Jo Reed: Do you work with other cities?  Do you compare best practices?

Sheoyki Jones: Yes, we don’t mind sharing what it is that we do and how we do it.  So yeah.  Like, I’ve even sent, like, applications of how we do it, the tools that we use, to different cities, because I feel like a lot of cities need <laughs> to start doing this because in-- I believe in just about every city you have some type of creative community, whether it be big or small, and I just think that it’s important that we’re supporting people from all over the world, not just having in the city of Atlanta.  I’m so grateful to be able to be the example, but the true impact would be for me to see other cities starting to invest and cultivate and also like groom and provide opportunities to their creative communities.

Jo Reed: You’ve been doing this for over three years now, if you were going to give advice to somebody in another city who wanted to set up an initiative like Creative Industries,  what kind of advice would you give? What would that you would share that you’ve learned?

Sheoyki Jones: Yeah.  So the number one lesson I learned is one things is like-- and I see a lot of people do it in like different cities and even sometimes in Atlanta, is don’t assume that you know what a certain community wants or needs.  So I think-- I’ve seen it even sometimes in Invest Atlanta, sometimes we be like, “We think that they need a grocery store or something on the South Side,” and then they’re like, “No.  We actually want a farmer’s market.”  So it’s different things like that.  I think that’s the number one thing I push to cities is, “Actually talk to your creative communities, understand what their challenges are and build programming around that,” and then another thing I learned was educating our creative communities.  Some of them just don’t know.  Like they don’t know how government entities work.  They don’t know where the dollars come from.  They don’t even know what like the opportunities may be there, so if you’re thinking about really being equitable with your resources, it’s really just going to meet people where they are.  That’s another thing is don’t expect them to come to your big, shiny office or city hall and things like that.  Creative communities, they’re big on relationship, so you have to show up where they are and you have to support them, and then also truly support them and you’ll see that support come right back and then also you’ll see those relationships actually flourish.  So a lot of my relationships come from just truly maybe like doing something small like bridging a gap between corporate and government and creatives. So I think the lessons are listen to your communities.  Truly listen to them.  Show up for them. And then really try to create intentional opportunities and understand that everybody does not have the same starting point.  So especially if you think about equity and inclusion, minorities may not have that same starting point but they had a great idea, so they may not have access to funding to be able to get their projects to a certain point to show you what it is that they’re trying to do.  They may not have like a rich aunt or uncle.  They may not be able to take out a loan and things like that, so just really understanding that everybody does not have the same starting point, and if you think about what equity and inclusion is, it’s how do we get them to the same starting point so that they have the same access to the opportunities as everyone else?

Jo Reed: Where do you see the biggest challenges?

Sheoyki Jones: The biggest challenges is really I would still say funding.  I know even though that we have our loan fund.  it was a great starting point with 1.25 million dollars, but I would love to see it grow.  But then also one thing about creatives, they need access to more free money, I would say, to be able to get their projects off the ground.  I think loans are an option but just really just thinking about the history of like creatives and what their finances and things look like.  I think being able to provide them more access to free money in exchange for like marketing and promotion for cities could actually be very beneficial.  When we went-- did the exchange with Toronto, we sat down with the city of Toronto, and one of the things that I think that they’re doing is amazing work when it comes to supporting their creative communities.  Like, they have huge budgets that goes to not just creative communities as a whole but they break it down by sectors.  So you may see three million dollars going to music, five million dollars going to film. That’s where I kind of would love to see the city of Atlanta get to one day, and all of this money that they allocate for the creative industries is free monies to their communities but it’s also they use it in a way that creates more jobs for their local community.  So, if you have a festival that’s coming, now they’re hiring maybe 5,000 people locally to help run that festival, and had the city not been able to invest in that, those jobs wouldn’t been created. I think that’s like the biggest challenge and I think the blueprint is out there, watching especially what they’re doing in Canada, and then I also think like once the government gets more comfortable and city councils get more comfortable with bullishly investing in our creative communities, you’ll really see the impact of your investment on that.

Jo Reed: And finally, what do you find the most gratifying part of this job?

Sheoyki Jones: Every time I get discouraged about the work that I’m doing, like if it’s challenging or anything like that, I always will have somebody that’ll come to me and they’ll say, “The work that you’re doing is really changing lives,” and that’s my whole why.  I always knew when I graduated from college I wanted to be in a position where I’m able to help people’s dreams come true and change their lives and just help them, and that’s the most gratifying experience to me is for somebody to come to me and say, “Because of you, I was able to complete my film,” or, “complete my album,” or, “I was able to go to Toronto and now I’m an executive at YouTube.” So that is the most gratifying part of my work.

Jo Reed: Oh, Sheoyki, thank you so much.  Thank you for the work you’re doing.

Sheoyki Jones: No, thank you.  I really appreciate you all highlighting me and the work that I’m doing, because I’ve seen the work that you all have done, and the way that you all are intentional when investing in creatives and foundations.  So I appreciate you all as well.

Jo Reed: That was Sheoyki Jones. She is the founding program manager of Creative Industries an initiative of Invest Atlanta. And she contributed an essay to the Creativity Culture and Capital report called “The Creative Industries: Driving Economic Opportunity in Atlanta.” You can find it at

You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Keep up to date with everything happening at the NEA including information about ARP funding for arts organizations at

I’m Josephine Reed. Stay Safe and thanks for listening.


This week, we’re talking about investing in the creative economy from two perspectives. First, we get an overview of the issues from Laura Callanan. She’s the founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab,  an organization which works to connect impact investing to the creative economy.  With global partners from the UK and Argentina, Upstart Co-Lab co-published a report about this--Creativity, Culture & Capital: Impact investing in the global creative economy brings together some 40 essays from organizations from around the world that support impact investing in creative industries. In the podcast, Callanan explains what’s meant by the creative economy and impact investing, and how they contribute to a thriving culture and economy. She always shares what the United States might learn from the work done in this area by other countries.

Then, we burrow down and look at investing in the creative economy from a local perspective by looking at the work done in Atlanta, Georgia, with Sheoyki Jones. Sheoyki Jones is the founding program manager of Creative Industries, an initiative of Invest Atlanta.  (She also contributed an essay to the Creativity Culture & Capital report called “The Creative Industries: Driving Economic Opportunity in Atlanta.”) Jones talks with me about the programs that Creative Industries began that support Atlanta’s creative workers. She discusses the importance of genuine outreach to creative workers and also shares some of the challenges and best practices in designing programs that invest in and support local creative communities.