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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Cultural lifeline in troubled times

Tony Best

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Cultural lifeline in troubled times

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Creative talents and cultural industries are among the Caribbean’s prime assets.

If in doubt just look at what Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and others in the region are offering.

First is the music, especially reggae, soca and the steelpan are their global audiences. Next, many of the world’s fastest humans, who routinely capture some of the highest honours in international track and field competition, including the Olympics, are in the Caribbean. Then, there are the cultural festivals – Crop Over in Barbados, the Bahamas’ Junkanoo, Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival and the elaborate West Indian costume parades in Brooklyn, Toronto and Notting Hill in London that collectively attract tens of millions of spectators. Add the budding film industry and animation and computer software development to the list and it would become clear that the Caribbean has a good supply of human resources that can make a global splash.

P.J. Patterson, the quintessential Caribbean regionalist who led Jamaica longer than anyone else, wants his birthplace, Barbados, the Bahamas and their neighbours to move aggressively to put their cultural and creative assets to much greater economic use.

With most of Caribbean countries confronting a mountain of debt; Barbados in the throes of another recession; rising unemployment taking a heavy toll across the region; and wide fiscal deficits forcing governments to cut spending and increase taxes the timing couldn’t be more propitious.

Hence Patterson’s plan calls for a mix of creative talents and cultural industries as an economic lifeline.

“After thorough, extensive research, vigorous debates and high level meetings, it is now fully accepted that our economic future in the Caribbean must rest on the pillars of a knowledge economy fuelled by the power of our creative talents,” was the way Patterson put it at the 19th annual Caribbean International Business Conference last week in Nassau.

“The knowledge economy exists where continuing economic growth and development are taking place at rising rates, based upon the application of new or revised knowledge to economic activity. That embraces the various stages of investment, production, markets and trade,” he said.

The former Prime Minister was quick to explain his thinking.

“The creative economy is that sector which produces goods and services whose production requires a significant input. It embraces both the culture and the creative cultural and creative industries –music, visual arts, publishing, performing arts, fashion, design of various kinds, craft, culinary, sport, advertising, leisure software, architecture, video games, etcetera,” he pointed out.

Patterson’s speech was delivered to a diverse audience of more than 100 executives, entrepreneurs and elected officials in the United States (US), who were assembled by Carib News and among whom were Ambassador Andy Young, the first Black person to be made US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, a Barbadian who is an New York State Appellate court judge in Brooklyn, Earl Phillips, Secretary-Treasurer of the powerful Transport Workers Union in New York, and Michael V. Robert, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur.

Perry Christie, the Bahamas Prime Minister who was the keynote speaker at conference’s closing dinner awards gala, put aside his prepared text and spoke about the importance of utilizing the Caribbean’s cultural elements to accelerate the pace of economic and social development.

The Caribbean, he asserted, must do more to integrate cultural industries into its economic and social development programmes and use them to help boost tourism and hospitality.

And as if to say charity begins at home, Perry said that come next May, the Bahamas will be staging an elaborate Junkanoo Carnival as a major attraction that is expected to boost tourist arrivals.

“The Bahamas Junkanoo carnival will help create hundreds of jobs and attract thousands of visitors,” said Christie.

Patterson, who at different times occupied the rotating Caricom chairmanship, was clear about an important thing: the island-nations and coastal states must embrace a unified approach to the plan.

“We now need to intensify longstanding efforts to market and diversify specific elements of our creative economy to support our tourism efforts,” he said. “It cannot be too hard to present carnival, Junkanoo, Crop Over and all the respective festivals as part of a year-round Caribbean cultural itinerary or schedule.”

What else needs to be done? Patterson listed several steps:

• The UWI should “develop a University centre that spans all its campuses dedicated to inter-disciplinary research,” including economic research and an examination of approaches to traditional culture.

• The Caribbean Development Bank and multilateral financial institutions should “facilitate” a study that would determine the scope, size, value and development potential of the related industries.

• The Caribbean Examinations Council should look at its courses “with a view to packaging them in ways that lend themselves to a modern creative economy”.

• A review of all trading arrangements in the Caribbean should be undertaken. The West Indies Cricket Board, CONCACAF and the Caribbean Athletics Association must be involved in the process. Creation of a Caribbean sports calendar to boost tourism arrivals.

The results would be far reaching, he said. They can range from “adjustments to gross domestic product; job creation; and giving small and medium size businesses a shot in the arm; to “deepening and strengthening” the ties that bind tourism.

Patterson’s plan, a miniature blueprint should be studied at Cave Hill and elsewhere at the University of the West Indies and the region’s leaders and private the sector should put it on their lists of priorities.