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The cultural industry – we should take a second look

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Tue Feb 10, 2015

The release, last week, of the official music video of ‘Phenomenal’, the popular number by Trinidadian soca artiste Benjai, created quite a stir among Vincentians at home and abroad.

The excitement was generated because the music video was filmed here at three sites in St Vincent, with an all local cast and produced by a mostly local crew (see story on back page).{{more}}

Outside of the bragging rights and tourism marketing potential of this high quality production, the success of the music video provides encouragement to those involved in the cultural industry and evidence to policy makers that culture, once properly packaged, has the potential to contribute significantly to the national economy.

When one considers the diversity and beauty of the landscape and seascape of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the abundance of talent here, no small wonder that Benjai decided to return to his ancestral roots to shoot the video.

We are told the video shoot took about four days to complete. During that time, tens of thousands of dollars must have been spent on various service providers and the dozens of Vincentians who were employed either as cast or crew.

Most of the time, when practitioners of the cultural art forms make a push for increased support from and consideration by policy makers, the response is usually less than lukewarm. No surprise, for according to a study published by the Organization of American States, the cultural industry has only been formally studied as a contributor to economic growth and development in the last 10 to 15 years or so.

Additionally, the macroeconomic benefits from this industry to SVG have been sporadic and minuscule and outside of Carnival, limited to only a few individuals or businesses.

To make matters worse, in times of economic difficulty, such as these, governments tend to cut back on how much is spent on the cultural industry, which one definition says is all forms of creative expression that could be mass produced.

If policy makers broaden their vision of culture so that policy covers and fully acknowledges the varied forms of cultural expression channelled through cultural industries, it would perhaps be given greater consideration.

The cultural industry encompasses music, film making, arts and craft, festivals, the fine arts, the performing arts, design, among others.

A widened perspective of culture would reveal that it contributes to development, not only from an economic standpoint, but also socially and educationally. Also, cultural industries do have the potential to generate considerable added value, while at the same time providing valuable links with other industries such as tourism and agriculture.

We also need to acknowledge that whereas trade liberalization and globalization have dealt near fatal blows to our export crops such as bananas, in the case of cultural industries, globalization has made it easier for our cultural practitioners to access, more easily, large segments of the world cultural market, particularly in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

So, we need to consider what policies do we need to facilitate further growth of cultural sector production and employment and how do we recognize the specific characteristics of cultural sectors and markets in order to make targeted interventions which would reap significant rewards?

While we work on developing our cultural industries, we must ensure that we do not oversee the destruction of traditional artforms and customs, but rather transform and rearrange them into commodities which can be packaged and sold.

We also must also continue to support the training and education of our talented youngsters. We do not have to look further than Gamal ‘Skinny Fabulous’ Doyle, Rodney Small and Kimon Baptiste, among others, who have benefited from university scholarships, to see how, armed with tertiary level education, these young people have been able to take their creative endeavours to greater and more profitable levels.

It’s time for another look at the cultural industry.

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