The creative economy is large and growing. But until now impact investing has not focused on the creative economy in a significant way.

Defining the Creative Economy

The term creative economy was introduced in an article by Peter Coy in 2000 about the impending transformation of the world’s economy from an Industrial Economy to an economy where the most important force is “the growing power of ideas.” John Howkins elaborated in his 2001 book, The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas, calling it a new way of thinking and doing that revitalizes manufacturing, services, retailing, and entertainment industries with a focus on individual talent or skill, and art, culture, design, and innovation.

Today, creative economy definitions are typically tied to efforts to measure economic activity in a specific geography. A relevant set of art, culture, design, and innovation industries is determined, and the economic contribution of those industries is assessed within a region. A unique set of industries defines each local creative economy reflecting the culture, traditions and heritage of that place.

Based on research by the Creative Economy Coalition (CEC), a working group of the National Creativity Network; the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Economic Analysis; Americans for the Arts; the U.K. Department for Culture, Media and Sports; Nesta, a U.K.-based innovation foundation; and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Upstart Co-Lab identified a set of industries comprising the creative economy using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Available here, these NAICS codes describe businesses engaged in the inputs, production, and distribution of creative products.

Impact Investing and the Creative Economy

The creative economy in the U.S. represents more than 10 million jobs and $763 billion of economic activity, or 4.2% of U.S. GDP. The creative economy is growing at 9% annually around the globe, and even faster—at 12%—in the developing world.

Despite the growing significance of the creative economy, in 2018, the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) Annual Impact Investor Survey reported Arts & Culture as 0.3% of the $228 billion worth of impact assets under management by its 226 global members[1]. This conclusion overlooks the likelihood that investments in the creative economy are counted in the survey’s other categories such as Microfinance, Food & Agriculture, Manufacturing, ICT and Other.

A narrow framing of “Arts & Culture” misses the significance of creativity and culture as targets aligned with four of the Sustainable Development Goals. It overlooks the creative economy as a source of 21st century quality jobs.  It fails to recognize the creative economy as an on-ramp to wealth building for entrepreneurs including women, people of color and others who benefit from lower barriers to entry to a sector of the economy more interested in merit than advanced degrees and pedigrees.

The creative economy has been flying under the radar of impact investing. In low-income communities, creativity and culture have been part of comprehensive community development for decades.  But only this year is the first dedicated investment opportunity—the LISC NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund—available to investors looking to direct their capital to support creative workspaces and quality jobs in the creative economy for low-income workers.

Although Upstart Co-Lab has identified 100 examples of impact funds that have included fashion, food, media and other creative businesses as part of their portfolios, when impact wealth advisors are asked by their clients for opportunities aligned with art, design, culture, heritage and creativity they typically—and erroneously—answer that no such opportunities exist.

Introducing a Creativity Lens

The creative economy’s lack of visibility within impact investing is why Upstart Co-Lab borrowed from the lessons of gender lens investing to introduce a Creativity Lens. A lens brings things into focus, magnifying what may be hard to see with the naked eye, and allows viewers to spot what’s approaching on the horizon. Upstart Co-Lab proposes a Creativity Lens to help see the impact investment potential of creative places and creative businesses, to reveal opportunities that up until now have not been fully recognized but are becoming more significant as the creative economy grows.

  • Businesses in the creative economy make markets by informing and educating consumers about products that are organic, sustainable and ethical. These fashion, food and design businesses create demand throughout the supply chain, completing the work made possible by impact investors who support sustainable fisheries and organic farming.
  • Media businesses producing video games, film, television, apps and other content harness the power of creativity and culture to educate our youth, help patients manage their chronic disease, teach tolerance and empathy, and catalyze positive action for the planet. These are high-leverage opportunities that can have a big impact on attitudes, individual behavior and even government policy.
  • Real estate developers in places like Denver, Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles are incorporating creativity and culture into large-scale mixed-use, mixed-income projects, adding value to their assets and to the surrounding communities.

A Creativity Lens gives investors the chance to spot these types of opportunities, and to help shape a creative economy that is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.

Why Impact Investors Should Invest in the Creative Economy

There are three key reasons for impact investors to embrace a Creativity Lens:

More prospective investment opportunities and portfolio diversification: As impact investing goes mainstream, there need to be more quality opportunities to absorb the additional capital; including the creative economy puts new high-potential companies in scope. Adding another segment of the economy to the impact investing universe also offers investors a chance to diversify their market exposure. It offers diversification from an impact perspective as well, bringing cognitive diversity by including creatives as problem-solvers and getting more eyeballs on the issues.

More ways to get social impact: Investors can further their current impact goals by including creative businesses in their portfolio. Businesses in creative industries are delivering impact for the environment, health, and education, among other priorities. Investors aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals will find synergy as well. And the impact that creativity and culture contribute to low-income communities has already been well documented.

Build a sustainable creative economy now; no need to fix it later: The presence of capital that values inclusion, equity, and sustainability can ensure companies in the creative economy are providing quality jobs, acting positively for the environment, and strengthening their communities. Entrepreneurs leading companies in creative industries want to deliver impact and need impact investors to stand with them. The creative economy is growing. Let’s help shape the creative economy now so as grows, it grows the right way.

Looking Ahead

Upstart Co-Lab has identified a current pipeline of 125 investable opportunities in the creative economy that will drive impact.  In aggregate, they are seeking more than $3 billion in impact capital. One-third of the opportunities are funds. Two-thirds are direct company and real estate investments, many of which are seeking a lead investor.

In the U.S., museums, performing arts centers, art and design schools, performing arts conservatories, artist-endowed foundations and other institutions connected to art, design, culture, heritage and creativity—with an aggregate $50 billion-plus in assets under management—have been sitting on the sidelines of impact investing. The creative economy can be the door to welcome these institutions into a larger conversation about aligning their financial assets with their missions and values.

This report demonstrates that the time is right to make a market connecting viable businesses in the creative economy that seek values-aligned capital with investors who understand the power of creativity to drive economic opportunity, offer quality jobs, strengthen communities, and improve social well-being and our quality of life.

This is an excerpt from Cornerstone Capital’s report Creativity & The Arts: An Emerging Impact Investing Theme.

Photo: Upstart Co-Lab meeting on definiting the Inclusive Creative Economy. ©Upstart Co-Lab.

[1] https://thegiin.org/assets/2018_GIIN_Annual_Impact_Investor_Survey_webfile.pdf