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Lisa Russell: Leaving No Creator Behind

Lisa Russell: Leaving No Creator Behind


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have another great interview for you. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Lisa Russell, the founder of Create2030. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Lisa! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Create2030?

Lisa: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! Create2030 is an artist-led, international network of professional artists and storytellers committed to using our voices and talents in support of the United Nations' (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We believe our voices and talents can create a more just, inclusive, and sustainable world. The main challenge we face is to be seen as legitimate partners in SDG advocacy—not just as entertainers, but also as creative thinkers and problem-solvers with a right to have a seat at the decision-making table.

Spiffy: What motivated you to tackle this challenge?

Lisa: After earning my masters degree in public health and landing my first job as a humanitarian aid worker during the 1999 Kosovo war, I came to realize the incredible power of filmmaking—both in helping and harming global health and development efforts. I made a commitment to combine my established creative background as a dancer, musician, and artist together with my new filmmaking skills in order to change the fundamental narrative of global issues from one of pity-evoking charity to one of empowerment-promoting justice. 

Spiffy: How would you say Create2030 is working towards a more equitable world?

Lisa: Create2030 is working to create a more equitable world by focusing on UN SDG number 17. We elevate the ability of members of the growing creative economy to work effectively in the sustainability sector and to teach UN/NGO entities about responsibly engaging artists in the SDGs. We focus on artists’ livelihoods, health and wellbeing, and intellectual property rights as we provide mentoring programs, workshops, and more. We work to "leave no creator behind" by ensuring we elevate BI-POC and global south artists.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make on your community or audience?

Lisa: After being encouraged to explore NFTs by a UN-Habitat initiative called DigitalArt4Climate, I learned how the NFT space can help solve two major obstacles I faced in all my years of curating artists in the UN/NGO sector. One, to get artists paid. Two, to respect their intellectual property rights. As the world thrusts forward into the Metaverse, Create2030 is creating tech solutions for the creative economy through NFTs and Web3.0 with a focus on elevating BIPOC and global south creators.

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?

Lisa: When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, I was working in East Africa and made the unusual decision to stay, resulting in 2.5 years of not returning to my home in Brooklyn, NY.  While I personally suffered great financial distress by losing seven work gigs in the matter of days, it didn't compare to how desperate many working class artists in East Africa became because many didn't work in the digital space. It changed my trajectory as founder of Create2030 to ensure we "leave no creator behind."

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Lisa: I would encourage any young person interested in the arts to keep going! I grew up at a time where being an artist wasn't considered a "real job" and was discouraged by family and friends against pursuing a creative career. It’s funny how life turns out: I was the first person in my family to go to college, ended up getting a masters degree but came full circle to a career as a creative practitioner and curator of other artists. Then in 2009, I won an Emmy award!  Follow your heart and find your purpose—money, security, and all that usually follows.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Lisa—it’s been an honor!

Lisa Russell, MPH, is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, UN/NGO arts curator, and founder of Create2030. She boasts a 15+ year career that lies at the intersection of arts, social justice, and global/sustainable development. She is a SheDecides Champion and sits on the Advisory Board of FXB Youth Climate Advocates. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 12, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.