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Why art is a good public sector investment

Tamara Scott-Williams

Sunday, July 15, 2012    

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WE welcome the announcement made by the prime minister in Parliament that a National Commission on Cultural and Creative Industries, which will assist the Government in enabling policy and legislative frameworks to maximise the benefits of the cultural and creative industries, is to be established.

We agree, as Mrs Simpson Miller has said, that the cultural and creative industries need to be given a much greater focus, as part of our economic development agenda. "Whether it is our music, our cuisine, our dance and other forms of our artistic expression, they all represent significant value with tremendous economic potential in an increasingly globalised world," the prime minister said.

On the heels of the prime minister's announcement, we have learned that a consultant is to be employed by the Ministry of Youth and Culture to work with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) and related agencies in reviewing the nine-year-old national cultural policy. In so doing the minister has made good on her promise made in January of this year at the opening of the Barrington (Watson) Retrospective at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

"There is definitely going to be an economic thrust to ensure that the outputs of culture have more of an impact on the quality of people's lives, in addition to building their talent..." and "...as we seek to aggressively market our culture internationally, we must move to strengthen our agencies for increased productivity and efficiency," she said.

We are delighted that she will not seek to reinvent the wheel but will perhaps parse the 58-page National Cultural Policy of Jamaica Towards Jamaica the Cultural Superstate document tabled in 2003 (after nearly two decades of combined research and consultation; (see http://www.nlj.gov.jm/files/u8/national-cultural-policy.pdf) by the Culture Division in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture) and pull from it those activities that her ministry can act upon immediately. Yes, immediately, please.

After decades-long research and consultation the people, the players and the powers that be know what we're capable of and what's required to benefit from an industry — incorporating music, food, fashion, fine arts, film, and publishing — which is estimated to account for more than seven per cent of the world's GDP.

In 2001, the fine arts generated more than US$23 billion in sales globally. In 2010, art sales grew by approximately 27 per cent, with global transactions reaching US$57 billion. The Jamaican music industry alone earned an estimated US$255 million in 2004, and the film industry earned more than J$1 billion in 2006. Unfortunately there are no such statistics for the visual arts industry at this point, which is a clear indication that there is much room for growth.

The creative industries are becoming increasingly more important to a country's economic well-being, with proponents suggesting that "human creativity is the ultimate economic resource" and in the toughest of economic times public sector investment in the arts is a good thing.

Allow me to share some salient information from a 2010 report by the US National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which says: "The arts are an important policy asset and prosperity generator for states. In addition to their inherent value to society, the arts offer a distinctive blend of benefits, including:

* ECONOMIC DRIVERS: The arts create jobs and produce tax revenue. A strong arts sector is an economic asset that stimulates business activity, attracts tourism revenue, retains a high quality work force and stabilises property values. The arts have been shown to be a successful and sustainable strategy for revitalising rural areas, inner cities and populations struggling with poverty.

* EDUCATIONAL ASSETS: The arts foster young imaginations and facilitate children's success in school. They provide the critical thinking, communications and innovation skills essential to a productive 21st-century work force.

* CIVIC CATALYSTS: The arts create a welcoming sense of place and a desirable quality of life. The arts also support a strong democracy, engaging citizens in civic discourse, dramatising important issues and encouraging collective problem solving.

* CULTURAL LEGACIES: The arts preserve unique culture and heritage, passing a state's precious cultural character and traditions along to future generations.

If there is any doubt about what the arts can do, just take a look at the Singapore model. As it plans for its next stage of economic growth, Singapore's leaders are looking toward a radically different sector: the arts. In recognising the economic contribution of the arts — a US$1-million investment reaps a multiplier effect of 1.66 which is considerabley higher than their banking industry's 1.4 and the petrochemical industry's 1.35 — support for theatre, museums and other cultural activities has been quietly moving up the official agenda. Singapore intends on establishing itself as a "leading cultural capital" in the next decade.

There's no reason on earth why this powerful island nation, Jamaica, can't do the same.

scowicomm@gmail.com

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