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Inaugural ACPCultures+ Creative Networks Event enhances conversation on local cultural industries

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On Tuesday 20, the recently re-branded Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts facilitated the inaugural ACPCultures+ Creative Networks event, a round-table discussion involving culture leaders from both here and abroad. 

The discussion focused on the pathways that local cultural industries need to take for that sector to grow more strategically and financially. 

Director of Culture, Ingrid Ryan Ruben and NGC Bocas LitFest founder Marina Salandy-Brown sat with C Brian Williams, founder of Step Afrika! Dance company, from Washington, DC, on the panel chaired by Dr Keron Niles from the Economic Development Board within the Ministry of Planning.

Dr Niles posited that one of the key factors affecting growth was the top-heavy nature of the sector: upstream there were many creators, and their output had not generally been matched by a strong downstream network of training, publishing, distribution, marketing and linkages with other sectors. 

Williams related his experience of taking his dance company towards becoming a national and international touring company presenting performance, residencies and workshops worldwide. The importance of efficient networking effectively shone though. 

Key international networking was similarly reflected by Salandy-Brown, who at the same time spelt out the shortcomings of the local public and private sector with regard to the attitudes to cultural industries and the arts. Recognising our own and objectively judging its merits are equally important.

Ryan Ruben, a confessed straight-talker who pulls no punches, likened our cultural environment to that of a goose that lays golden eggs: the goose is akin to our cultural heritage, while the eggs are the many sub-sector products and services—music, film, dance, theatre, etc. 

That analogy was used throughout the talk as the audience was warned that “eggs are perishable,” akin to recognising that cultural products should get to the market quickly and effectively, and ultimately in the local market, in quantities that would justify seeking foreign markets. 

Her rational reflection of the demise of the popularity of the calypso tent and the Grand Stand environment for Carnival ­shows was juxtaposed with the rapid growth of the fete aesthetic of the festival to show the disconnect of the current culture managers with the market. 

She suggested that the nation’s grandest cultural product was wasting away: “the nature of the goose that lays those golden eggs has to be looked at with fresh eyes.” Despite funding to the tune of hundreds of millions, Carnival is not the experiential draw it used to be. The structure, we were reminded, is stuck in the last century. A critical point made by the panellists was that connections were important, but so were the tools that pointed to a global vision of what works and what won’t work. 

Kate McBain, training consultant with Visiting Arts out of the UK, led a workshop the weekend before the discussion, for selected creative practitioners on business development, project management and marketing tools and insights to facilitate “internationalising” the vision outside of the barrackyard mentality for cultural industries noted here by others. Ryan Ruben saw these workshop participants as a new wave of cultural ambassadors. Ultimately, these new culture workers and managers will continue their training over the coming months in a virtual milieu towards the opportunity to showcase their cultural work during the Edinburgh Festivals in 2016.

The workshop and continued training is part of a programme developed by Visiting Arts, which “provides tools to the cultural sector to work more efficiently and intelligently worldwide,” and is funded by ACPCultures+ and the EU. 

Mary Helen Young, operations manger of Visiting Arts and project coordinator of Culture Works Connections, present that evening, managed the workshop and noted its importance in the conversion of the cultural industries here. 

According to the Culture ministry’s website, the ministry “is a part of the Culture Works Connections programme which seeks to build stronger, more sustainable creative businesses that are able to access world markets and develop collaborations.” Ryan Ruben reminded the audience before the networking session that followed, that government, via a number of ministries, spends hundreds of millions on the cultural industries, but this spend was in essence devoid of direction. 

Dr Niles, who is responsible for the creative industries sector in the diversification pie at the Planning ministry, acknowledged the multi-ministry spread for the government’s oversight of the sector. 

The audience was made aware that the National Cultural Policy, still in draft form and revised a number of times, has not been promulgated by any government in the past. 

The move to empower managers of the private sector cultural industry—and creative industry—via training would develop the country’s potential to diversify the economy in that direction. The character of that “goose that lays the golden eggs” has evolved, and with that, a newer understanding of how we treat it was the takeaway from an engaging conversation.