Catalyst Story Institute - Building a Creative Community

JoAnn Jardine

The word “catalyst” is defined as “someone or something that encourages important progress or change,” and "a person whose talk, enthusiasm or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic or energetic.”

The Catalyst Story Institute, based in Duluth since 2019, clearly fits both of these definitions. They are a year-round educational and professional development institute empowering creators to bring their narrative stories to fruition.

With the ever-increasing demand for fresh TV programming and the need to have content across many platforms, Catalyst is not only a showcase for high-quality television pilots and series. They also bring together the next generation of creative talents.

Catalyst’s long-term mission has been “to build a strong creative community that discovers new voices, curates their work and advances their career by lowering the barriers between storytellers, audiences and the industry.”

They have been diligently expanding their network with strong support from WDSE-WRPT here in Duluth, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Korea Foundation, the Upper Midwest Film Office, as well as other local partners and sponsors.

Leadership from Philip Gilpin, Catalyst’s CEO, has brought not only the Catalyst home base here to Duluth,  but also an annual Content Festival that brings hundreds of people in the industry together annually.

Philip Gilpin Jr. (CEO/Executive Director at Catalyst Story Institute) and Riki McManus (Chief Production Officer at Upper Midwest Film Office).

This 2021 Festival included content screenings. workshops, table reads, panels, and presentations on a variety of topics such as the art of pitching and financing for projects. Panelists, speakers and participants featured a wide swath of the industry, with producers, screenwriters, media experts, actors, casting directors, agents, show runners, and many more.

The exciting red carpet gala on the final night, held at the Depot, included an awards ceremony, with awards presented to the best projects and performances in a number of categories.

Ireon Roach, lead actress in "The Come Up,” receiving her award for Catalyst’s Outstanding Drama Actress, presented by Nikki Coble. Photo by JoAnn Jardine

“There is no better way to do include hundreds and hundreds of producers, creators and executives. We have them all in one space. We can talk to them. We can show them our beautiful lake. We can show them our beautiful Lakewalk. We can show them the topography and the things that we have to offer,” said Upper Midwest Film Office Executive Director, Shari Marshik.

Catalyst’s collaboration with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Korea Foundation, and the Innovation Station at the US State Department, is also helping them to expand both in the US and internationally. The Korean’s delegation attending the Festival was especially timely because South Korean entertainment is more popular than ever with their highly popular Netflix show, “Squid Game.”

Chungmin Lee-Director, Korea Foundation Los Angeles Office, Elaine Kim Co-Director of Break Through Now Media, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, Michelle McLean-Miss Universe 1992, Global Tourism Ambassador - Namibia. Photo by JoAnn Jardine

An important announcement that came out during the festival is that the group behind the Emmy Awards is partnering with Duluth's Catalyst Story Institute to mentor television and web series creators around the globe.

Gilpin explained, “The National Academy of Arts and Sciences partnership will have an immediate and lasting impact for storytellers and the industry. Creating this kind of trusted pathway is something that has been needed for a long time, and now it runs through Duluth - putting us at the center of the indie TV world. In the months ahead, we will begin connecting creators with industry mentors. I’m very excited to see where those connections lead in the years to come.”

Catalyst works with organizations such as UMFO to create year-round production opportunities for creators in places like Duluth where they can enjoy a high quality of life while working on their stories.

This long-term economic development approach requires a strong state, regional, and local municipal effort — work that is supported by St Louis County with their production tax rebate, and the State of Minnesota with their newly created tax credit.

Building a career in the industry requires hard work and a strong professional network. Catalyst focuses heavily on creating environments where people can develop genuine friendships and lasting partnerships. UMFO is also offering workshops locally on a variety of pertinent topics including jobs available in the industry and what training is needed.

While Catalyst’s outreach is nationally and internationally increasing every day, they are working to make Duluth and the region, a filming hub as well. Key infrastructure elements such as an airport, a number of centralized venues, hotels, restaurants, and a vibrant arts scene including ballet, orchestra, and multiple theatres, are also attractive incentives.

“There are now thousands of people around the world who had never heard of Duluth before Catalyst. They now think of Duluth as being a vibrant arts industry hub in the USA because their first introduction to our town was via Catalyst,” said Gilpin.

Both Gilpin and McManus feel that getting even one important episodic show to film in the region would be a game-changer in both the creation of local jobs and the dramatic impact on the local economy across the spectrum.

“With direct revenue to local businesses, Catalyst brings in far more money to the community than it receives from local sources. We are a money generator for our local economy,” said Gilpin.

While the industry has already made LA in the West, NYC in the East, and Atlanta in the South, hot spots for television content, Catalyst and other organizations are working to make Duluth and the state of Minnesota, the Hollywood of the North.

Learn more about Catalyst Story Institute at


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