CUT THE SONG AND DANCE, CULTURE IS BIG BUSINESS by Josanne Leonard
This is the age of the Creative Economy. And as if to parallel the era of the plantation economy that fuelled the empire, it’s a time when our creative industries are increasingly a key factor in driving cultural and economic development in the more industrialised countries while gasping for air in the nurseries and creative enclaves of own Caribbean backyards.
For the uninitiated, uninformed or unbelievers, creative industries in the Caribbean as elsewhere encompass activities which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have the real potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. By way of definition, such industries would include:
? Live and recorded music
? Television, radio and internet broadcasting
? Film, video and other audiovisual production
? Performing arts and entertainment
? Fashion clothing/design
? Visual arts and antiques
? Graphic design/software development/animation
? Crafts and designer furniture
? Educational and leisure software
One glimpse at this list would make the point that many of these are areas of creative enterprise in which the Caribbean has always excelled, notably in music, writing, and the performing arts. Yet we remain ‘impoverished’ with the perception that our development is so beyond our reach and not possible without the begging bowl. The reasons for this phenomenon are many but come to one crucial point?.a lack of belief in ourselves, at least on the part of those who are charged with speaking on our behalf.
Even as the intellectual property of the region takes flight to add value to external economies, the Caribbean is itself fast becoming a net importer of our own cultural content packaged and sold back to us from firms in the north. Such is our desperate need to be rubber-stamped and validated from the outside, even when it involves content and creativity born in the belly of the Caribbean.
Inexplicably, alongside this occurs another piece of madness in which we spend huge sums on tourism budgets to promote festivals and films that rely on foreign artists, broadcast media and film companies. We pay for these with our scarce foreign exchange earnings (US dollars), own no media rights to exploit once the events are done and find ourselves blocked from merchandising any of the said images in any form. Conversely within the CSME, our artists and creative enterprises in the region have to contend with filling out forms to travel with their instruments/tools of their trade and, in some instances, are taxed. They pay duties and tariffs on paper, ink, digital technology, computer parts, instruments and the list goes on. Try sending a promotional CD or DVD to a radio or TV station or mount a traveling art or video festival within the CSME and one begins to understand that the cultural workers and the enterprises that support them have no real value in the economic life of the region. A sad consequence of inadequate or absent robust public policy needed to enable the development and investment in our creative sectors.
But it’s not just the governments who are missing the big picture. The Economic Intelligence gathering and market analysis of firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and are producing the detailed global outlook reports that demonstrate clearly that many of today’s most successful companies are broadcasters, publishers, entertainers and games designers, and they are growing fast. Because cultural/creative products are information-based, the rapid advance of digital technologies and the globalisation of communications networks and creative industries have put the cultural sectors among the fastest-growing in the world. Yet, with few exceptions, the traditional Caribbean private sector is yet to awaken to the possibilities of divestment and investment in the creative industries while our banks remain closed to the vast majority of creative entrepreneurs, most of whom are micro and small enterprises. In the more advanced economies of the world, these sectors are showing annual growth rates between 5% and 20%. The ‘old’ industrial giants of the 50?s and 60?s such as General Electric, Phillips, Sony and even a French water company now own some of the brand new names in the list of top transglobal firms: Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Universal and News Corporation. Today, culture is big business.
Connecting the dots from our cultural sectors to industrial development can no longer be discussed in terms of platitudinous, condescending ideas about promoting or sponsoring the arts and culture; it must be put on the table in terms of policies and entrepreneurial strategies that focus on the quantifiable benefits of creative endeavours throughout the economy. We are compelled by external forces to move away from dependence on our traditional exports and in the case of T&T, to diversify the oil and gas-driven economy. This requires a revolutionary human capital approach to investing in the creativity in our society, rather than an exceptional industry approach with well-meaning but piece-meal ‘handouts’ for entertainment and cultural entrepreneurs. Its also means serious capitalisation manned (and woman-ned) by real industry professionals (not cultural supporters) for para-statal firms like the Cultural Industries Council in Jamaica and the Entertainment Company of T&T, as examples. The former will lead logically to sustained investment in education and training at all levels, industry development and fiscal investment while the other will perpetuate the ‘plug-a-hole’ approach. In this regard, Caribbean governments need to be thinking about what they must do to foster innovation and creative talent while developing enabling policies designed to keep our creative industries attuned to domestic and global realities.
In June, here in T&T, as regional trade officials met to discuss the European Partnership Agreement (EPAs), two things were confirmed. Firstly, the EU market is virtually ‘closed’ to us in terms of market access for our audio-visual products and services, something industry experts have been trying to get culture and trade officials to understand ad nauseum. Secondly, there is no coordinated response and articulation of policy at the level of CARICOM states on Culture and Trade. This coming fresh on the heels of a Regional Cultural Committee Meeting also held in June 2007 in Havana, Cuba and three years after this issue was tabled by this writer at a RCC forum in T&T; two major regional gatherings of creative entrepreneurs, artists and professionals in 2004 and 2006 under the auspices of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) and numerous on-going consultations with Cultural Industries private sector professionals who have provided industry insights, market information and policy direction to many of the region’s governments and bodies like Caribbean Export, UNESCO, ILO, CARICOM as well as leading economic experts – only to be confronted with requests for more studies and talk shops.
As a consequence we had no CARIFORUM positions to press for around the table in discussions with the EU negotiators even while some individual member states have been ‘championing’ the case for the creative industries in their domestic space. Jamaica has a new Ministry of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, a reconstituted Cultural Industries Council (formerly the Entertainment Advisory Board), the Film, Music and Media Commission under Jamaica Trade and Invest (formerly JAMPRO); Barbados is about to table a Creative Industries Development Investment Act; Antigua and Barbuda has signaled its intent to produce a Cultural Policy; the OECS Secretariat has identified the Creative Industries as a plank of its economic development agenda and in this regard has had discussions with UNCTAD (which incidentally has no budget for work in this area) while ignoring the work being done in the region; T&T has the Film Company because film has been identified as a significant cultural sector in T&T though the data may tell us otherwise as well as the Entertainment Company of T&T which is yet to officially open its doors and we may yet see the newest incarnation of a Cultural Policy document.
The point here is that with all of this activity, we have no public policy framework, fiscal incentives and indicators of enterprise development that make sense of all this hard work. This lack of dialogue filters down to the domestic level whereby various arms of government are not aware of the work of industry and thus a constant re-inventing of the wheel through the convening of various committees, task forces and the call for more studies and reports. Attempts to revive a creative industries private sector presence in one forum of CARICOM, the regional ICT steering committee, is yet to receive a response and at the highest organs of policy making, the COTED and COHSOD and inevitably the Forum of Finance Ministers, creative industries remain a talk shop item.
While this may sound critical, it is meant to drive home the point about the need for meaningful dialogue. Finally, there’s the need for cultural practitioners and entrepreneurs to do the ‘hard wuk‘ required rather than wait on donor or government handouts. We are moving into a different world now- one where the raw materials are not oil, steel or gas even but information, where the most valuable products are ideas and knowledge, powered not by machines but by the imagination. The time has come for the islands of the Caribbean to seize the opportunities offered by the creative economy as a strategy for socio-economic inclusion and development, nurtured and fuelled by the renewable sources of our national creativity.
In coming articles, we will examine some key aspects of the value chain of the creative economy ? music, media, and telecommunications ? as well issues of marketing and maximising our domestic and global competitiveness.