Sitting on history's gold mine

Friday, November 30, 2018

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No one will disagree with Mr Delroy Chuck's view that the rich history of Spanish Town, St Catherine, needs to be preserved and that the town should be developed into a visitor attraction.

Indeed, Emancipation Square, with its historic buildings, is regarded by many people, among them historians, as the most impressive of its kind in the Caribbean.

Mr Chuck, the justice minister, told a November 20 Judiciary of Jamaica National Public Education Symposium, held in St Catherine, that he would be discussing the issue with his Cabinet colleague, Minister Olivia Grange, even as he noted the need for extensive redevelopment of the town to facilitate the transformation.

Any such move will require a lot of money as Spanish Town generally suffers from urban blight and neglect. A dramatic shift in behaviour and regard for the preservation of structures, and indeed the general environment, would also be necessary. However, if the town's administrators, residents, operators of businesses, and the State have the will, it can be done.

A project like that could contribute significantly to the town's economy and help improve the lives of its residents and the people who do business there. It would also enhance Jamaica's visitor-attraction profile and, most importantly, help educate youngsters about our history.

We have repeatedly used this space to point to the value of preserving our country's rich heritage. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust, we know, has been doing as much as it can in that regard, with the resources it is allotted.

But, we reiterate, much more can be done, and indeed needs to be done, if the country is to gain maximum benefit from our heritage sites and rich cultural history.

Just three months ago we discussed this issue in this space. The facts we presented then are worth repeating, because we know, and accept, that some people still hold the view that giving attention to monuments and museums is a waste of money and resources.

Those people need look no further than the industry that obtains in Europe. In 2017, the number of visitors to the Louvre in Paris, France, was 8.1 million which, according to data published by Statista, was the highest attendance of any museum in Europe that year.

The Vatican Museum in Vatican City ranked second with 6.42 million visitors; the British Museum in London welcomed 5.9 million visitors; while, Britain's national gallery of international modern art, known as the Tate Modern, recorded 5.65 million visitors.

We also pointed to two studies released in February this year by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) showing that museums contribute approximately US$50 billion annually to the US economy, more than was previously thought, and that they have significant public support that eclipses political affiliations and geographic locations.

According to the AAM, museums support 726,000 jobs, directly employ 372,100 people, and for every US$100 of economic activity created by museums, an additional US$220 is created in other sectors of the economy. Museums also generate more than US$12 billion per year in tax revenue to federal, state, and local governments.

That, surely, is a market from which Jamaica needs to capture its fair share, as travellers these days are seeking educational experiences that will enrich their lives.

We are sitting on a gold mine.

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