Jamaica is known worldwide for its creative industries, but it is widely believed that the country has far from maximised on their economic potential.
Including music, fashion and film, creative industries fueled by 'Brand Jamaica' are said to offer among the highest returns on investment but remain widely untapped by local entrepreneurs.
Having been the chief architect behind the success of one of the country's most renown entertainment businesses over the last 30 years, Pulse Investments boss Kingsley Cooper has taken up the task of helping to add structure to the creative arts and bring them to their rightful place as leading contributors to the economy.
Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Wykeham McNeil a year ago appointed Cooper as chairman of Jamaica's Entertainment Board. After looking at the state of the industry, formulating plans and addressing legislation, among other issues, the board has begun to execute projects that Cooper says will "cement Jamaica's place as the entertainment capital of the Caribbean and make us a global powerhouse among the entertainment, creative and cultural capitals of the world."
The projects, it is hoped, will trigger stakeholder buy-in at the national level.
"Without engaging in excessive hyperbole, I am very confident that creative business will be the real game changer for Jamaica, in both social and economic terms. I include sports under this broad heading, being also talent based, also providing entertainment to consumers and having a number of other common characteristics with music, film, etc," said Cooper.
"With our country facing serious economic challenges, we must now move beyond debt containment to meaningful growth, capable of generating significant employment as well as the reduction of debt to acceptable levels. The creative industries are the answer," he said.
In February, the board introduced "Arts in the Park", a multi-faceted event, likely to be held once per quarter. Held at the Hope Botanical Gardens, it showcased new and emerging musicians, including Nomadz, Pentateuch, Chronixx, C-Sharp, Protégé, Rootz Underground, Di Blueprint, Ska Rebirth and Raging Fyah. What's more, there was a village for local artists to showcase their paintings and craft items.
Some of the international music executives in Jamaica for the event were Walter Jones of Sony, Patrice Charles and Ce-Ce Coombs of Blaze The Stage,Julius Garcia of RCA, Omar Grant of Roc International and Alaska Gideon of BMI. Also in attendance was Allister Williams of the St Kitts Music Festival.
"These executives have the power to transform careers and we hope that this initiative will lead to record deals and major success for some of these acts. Our aim is to plan better and to be more focused and efficient in discharging our facilitating responsibilities," said Cooper.
Free to the public, the show was a hit among the hundreds of patrons and the executives were impressed with the talent that Jamaica now has coming to the fore, according to the Entertainment Board chairman.
"We expect results from this effort, as far as international career advancement is concerned," said Cooper.
"It is unlikely that anyone familiar with the project, or in attendance at the event, would deny that Arts in the Park was excellent value for money and something that needs to be done," he added.
While "Arts in the Park" is one of the key events on the board's calendar, it is "90 Days of Summer" that has been earmarked to be the major catalyst for positive change in the industry, according to Cooper.
"The idea is simplicity itself. We'll pull together existing summer events and activities across all areas of the entertainment spectrum - music, film,sports, food, theatre, literature, dance, etc., under one umbrella. We'll add more events and market these activities as part of the 90 Days of Summer in Jamaica, a period spanning June, July and August," he said, noting that "This is very significant for our tourism industry, as the summertime is when we have excess rooms capacity."
Cooper noted that the individual events will continue to be controlled by the respective private sector interests, but the board will add focus, branding, organization, additional marketing and general support.
Success, he said, will mean tremendous growth and employment in the entertainment industry. Among them, full hotel occupancy, as well as sale of merchandise and further growth in related sectors which provide goods and services to entertainment and tourism, including agriculture, beauty care, clothing, online facilities and other forms of new technologies.
"We see this project really coming into its own within three years, but anticipate an immediate difference once implemented. It is a great fit for Jamaica and ideally suited to our skills, disposition and talents as a people," said Cooper.
Stakeholders in the entertainment industry, including the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association, have long complained about the absence of a proper music hall as well as adequate venues across the island to accommodate the staging of shows. Cooper told the Jamaica Observer that this is currently being addressed by the Entertainment Board.
"Almost all of us inside and outside the creative industries, have long expressed concern for the absence of a proper venue for live performances in Jamaica. This is definitely on our agenda," said Cooper.
"We know that there will be the usual concern as regards to the availability of funds for this project, but this space actually needs to be built. This facility is key to our music and other live productions achieving any reasonable part of their potential," he said.