Artists, Investors, and Innovators Launch Upstart Co-Lab

A group of artists, investors, philanthropic funders, and social innovators have launched Upstart Co-Lab. The collaborative arts organization is designed to:

Increase opportunities for artists as innovators by encouraging greater recognition of artists’ accomplishments in the private, social and public sectors;

Catalyze more capital for creativity by making creativity investable through public equity, debt and venture capital investment products;

Enable sustainable creative lives by equipping artists with crucial skills for executing their ideas, and linking eligible artists to existing social services and subsidies.

Upstart is funded by Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Surdna Foundation with in-kind support from the F.B. Heron Foundation. Upstart is a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

“Artists are the original social entrepreneurs. They make our society stronger because of who they are, how they approach the world, and the risks they are willing to take,” said founding partner Laura Callanan, the former senior deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “But because other social changemakers don’t realize what artists are doing, artist-innovators often have to go it alone. By creating this national collaboration between artists, impact investors, sustainable companies and other partners, we can fix this.”


Upstart Co-Lab will be based in New York but is national in scope. Upstart Co-Lab has conducted hundreds of conversations with arts and innovation leaders to inform a portfolio of projects and develop the partnerships that will advance them.

Upstart will work in three ways:

Adapting successful models for the arts and creativity. By repurposing models from impact investing, community development and social entrepreneurship, Upstart will  catalyze  fresh  opportunities  for artists. By emulating the Social Capitalist Awards that popularized the concept of the social entrepreneur, Upstart will recognize artists and designers who have launched innovative companies such as Kickstarter, AirBnB and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Upstart will also recognize artists working on issues such as environmental conservation, criminal justice system reform, and effective government.

Integrating the arts into existing systems and standards. Today there are no options for the mission-related investor committed to the arts and creativity. Upstart will launch a Creative Economy Index Fund of U.S. public companies across the creative industries, enabling targeted investment in creativity for the first time. This product will integrate values of sustainability by focusing on companies that lower the cost for the design, fabrication and distribution of creative work, or that enable individuals to be creators, not just consumers.

Developing new initiatives designed to respond to gaps and market failures. Artists face some unique challenges. For example, to address the persistently low rate at which arts graduates actually make their living by working in the arts, ArtPath will rethink the resources and skills artists need at every stage of their career life cycles – to launch new projects, start commercial enterprises, and better manage their careers.

“The creative economy is all around us, but the problem is we don’t recognize it,” said Veris Wealth Partners Partner Anders Faijersson Ferguson. “Because we don’t understand how big a difference artists and innovators make in our local and global economy, their role is somewhat invisible. By helping their contributions be better understood and valued, more investment capital will be made available. And the catalytic role artists play in achieving impact and bringing positive economic change will increase.”

Strategic Partners

To implement these initiatives, Upstart Co-Lab is engaging with arts organizations, social innovators, impact investors, universities and others. To date, Upstart’s strategic partners include Arizona State University, Artspace, B Lab, Bennington College, Calvert Foundation, Foundation Center, Global Development Incubator, Maryland Institute College of Arts, McKinsey & Company, Oberlin College, Veris Wealth Partners, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

A portfolio of five projects is under development and will be implemented by the end of 2016. More information about the organization can be found at