Caribbean creativity the way forward — P J Patterson

Caribbean creativity the way forward — P J Patterson

Monday, November 10, 2014

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FORMER Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson has urged the Caribbean to embrace its creativity as a critical tool for enhancing regional prosperity.

He was addressing the November 7, 2014 CARIB NEWS 19th Annual Multi-National Business Conference at the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort and Spa in Nassau, Bahamas.

Here are edited excerpts of his address:

Once again an exciting programme has been arranged under the central theme "The Caribbean -- Waves of Opportunity, Oceans of Success" to continue the focus on how the citizens of the Caribbean and the descendants of a Diaspora who reside in the United States can form strategic alliances which transcend the barriers of race and politics to create a better life for us all. It's a topic that is of vast scope, but timely relevance.

It did not take long, when Columbus lost his way, to steal whatever gold or silver he could find. Thereafter, "sugar was king". Later, a number of us became engaged in primary commodities and exploiting whatever natural resources were available. In more recent times, tourism has become the mainstay -- certainly for The Bahamas and most of us.

The Bahamas, for some time, has been in the vanguard as a centre for finance and investment. There is now a massive pushback which threatens the lifeblood -- here and in the British Overseas Territories.

Most Caribbean countries have tried to adopt the Arthur Lewis Dual-sector Model -- "A transfer of surplus labour from traditional agriculture to a modern industrial sector". Put simply, it has not provided the answer to create employment at the levels we need and to spur sustained economic growth.

The knowledge economy

After thorough, extensive research, vigorous debates and high level meetings, it is now fully accepted that our economic future in the Caribbean must rest on the pilars of a knowledge economy, fueled by the power of our creative talents.

The knowledge economy exists where continuing economic growth and development are taking place at rising rates, based upon the application of new or revised knowledge to economic activity. That embraces the various stages of investment, production, markets, and trade.

In today's world, new products emerge daily -- principally computer-based international trade in services now accounts for more than 50 per cent of the value of total global trade.

I want to place the spotlight on the field where we have a competitive advantage -- our cultural industries and our creative talents.

The creative economy

The creative economy is that sector which produces goods and services whose production requires a significant input of creativity. It embraces both the cultural and creative industries -- music, visual arts, publishing, performing arts, fashion, design (of various kinds) craft, culinary, sport, advertising, leisure software, architecture, video games, etc.

It has linkages with sub-sectors such as merchandise, public relations, marketing, photography, online/mobile services, web development, heritage and tourism services.

In 2010, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) valued the world creative industries market at US$600 billion, with a growth rate of 14 per cent. UNESCO and UNCTAD figures suggest a current value of the creative economy at US$1.6 trillion. It has continued to grow rapidly even at a time of global economic downturn.

For Caribbean people, sports is a treasure trove from which we can receive incalculable benefits.

The Caribbean Model

Now that we have identified the catalytic role of the creative economy, we must proceed with urgency to decide on our priorities and develop policy models across the Caribbean. In keeping with international trends, this will stimulate employment, develop value through new intellectual property, and advance our perspectives and knowledge simultaneously.

In doing so, there are a number of issues we have to consider:

Creative economy and tourism

Many of our economies are heavily dependent on tourism. The sun, sand and sea provide remarkable views and vistas. The ecosystems for which our region is known are legendary. They have provided locations for many important films produced in the last century.

The very popular American television series Scandal, viewed by an estimated 12.6 million people when the series premiered in September, showed off the beautiful Bahamian shores in its opening episode. Mark Wilding, the series' executive producer, said they had also scouted Hawaii, Mexico and Panama, but The Bahamas was ultimately the best choice as, in his words, your islands have, "the most gorgeous turquoise waters I have seen".

Earlier this month, the Jamaican/Canadian film Destiny opened in local cinemas, providing breathtaking views of locations in Jamaica and giving a taste of our national culture. Most of all, the local Reggae soundtrack provided remarkable renditions of the best of contemporary Jamaican music.

There is a direct correlation between cultural and creative industries and tourism...we now need to intensify long-standing efforts to market and diversify specific elements of our creative economy to support our tourism efforts. It cannot be too hard to present Carnival, Jonkannu, Cropover and all the respective festivals as part of a year-round Caribbean cultural itinerary or schedule.

I recently looked at the blog of a young Bahamian woman, a Carimac graduate, Noelle Nicholls, who suggested that it is time for The Bahamas to begin examining the economics of its traditional folk form, Jonkannu. She said in a social media posting:

"There is no disputing the artistry. The cultural value is clear. One of the fundamental problems we are not addressing is the matter of sustainability. Jonkannu has become unsustainable from a financial point of view."

This is true of several of our indigenous festivals and carnivals. We have to develop sustainability.

Investment partnerships

Respective governments must encourage our local private sector to invest in country and region-specific creative activities and products -- more and better festivals, more and better concerts, more and better plays, more and better films, more and better parties.

Governments can partner with the private sector using the PPP model to encourage cultural and creative activity for the peoples of the Caribbean and also to encourage more visitors to have the Caribbean experience. These activities can also package entertainment products to attract FDI.

What fun and exciting ways to grow our economies -- creating an enabling environment to build out the activities our people enjoy most and do naturally.

Additionally, advertising, marketing and promotions require cultural and creative input. There was a time when we had to go overseas to do much of our creative and production work. This is no longer the case. We now have proficient, trained, creative, and experienced professionals who can produce our promotional materials right here in the Caribbean at world-class levels.

Without losing sight of traditional 'cultural' activity, we must engage in 'creative' pursuit and exploring emerging sectors such as animation in addition to the fields of music, dance and sport.

We should seek to develop unique Caribbean products and services that integrate both the cultural and traditional, including music, dance, sport and carnival; with the creative and emerging, which include animation, digital design the creation of applications and video games.

This way we can produce Caribbean programming through converged cultural and creative disciplines. This is a practice being employed in Cuba, which has developed Information Technology 'Palicios' or palaces which are accessible to the public.

Cuba has, however, taken their model a bit further. Cuba has begun to encourage the development of culturally specific video games, animated films and digital applications which utilise the stories, music, and other cultural forms.

The specialist animated graphics used to enhance sports broadcasting and animated replays, etc are all specialist animation activities that begin with basic principles of design.

There has been a thrust towards empowering young Caribbean animators. As we do so, we must now bring the traditional skill sets to the level of the new media ones. Animated films and games need soundtracks to be scored and basic designs to be drawn in the first instance. We need to train our traditional artists, performers and producers in these specialist areas, so as to provide these skills at international levels.

We also need to examine how we can use our traditional forms to create modern creative products. We need to produce films and documentaries, animated films and other genres as well as games and other applications can be developed, using the mystique of traditional folk forms.

Focus on creative economy

The focus on the creative economy here is not intended to ignore or downplay the value of other areas where we enjoy a comparative advantage. I mention but two others:

* Shipping -- Ports logistics hubs with the expansion of the Panama Canal.

* Innovation -- exploiting the scientific properties of plants, eg cannabis to capitalise on their medicinal worth.

Recently, cannabinoids were fetching a higher price than gold in the market. The industry is projected to grow from US$2.5 billion to US$8.9 billion by the end of 2016 in the US alone.

In addition to stimulating necessary economic value, culture and creativity are also important in forming a worthy and decent Caribbean society. They are tools for enhancing values and attitudes, expanding minds and knowledge, placing value on care, respect, gentility and gentleness, and thereby improve security, reduce cultures of poverty and address other social challenges.

Role of UWI, CDB

In focusing on the creative economy, there are a number of immediate steps we need to take to convert fine ideas into profitable invoices.

* UWI should develop a University Centre that spans all its campuses and is dedicated to inter-disciplinary research. We need to do the economic research, but also have to examine the ways we have traditionally viewed culture that has hindered its development, based on the region's history.

* The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), in conjunction with other multilaterals, will need to facilitate a final study -- once and for all -- to determine the scope, size, value and development potential of the related industries. This will enable us to speak, plan and project from a position of information and certainty.

* All our national universities and colleges should consider establishing a Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industry by integrating their existing structures to train, certify and standardise the skills of creative technicians.

* CXC needs to re-examine its courses, with a view to packaging them in ways that lend themselves to a modern creative economy.

Each nation must do the work required to define its nation brand and from that we can define a regional brand.

There needs to be a review of all trade agreements, existing incentives and financial structures to see how they can facilitate specifically the development of these areas.

Because sport is a critical element of the creative economy, CONCACAF, North American, Central America and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC), the WICB, and other regional sporting bodies must become a part of the process.

We should develop a regional sports calendar to increase our tourist arrivals and encourage them to linger longer.

If we were to get this right, imagine what we can achieve...There is a great deal of work to be done. It is time to 'get busy'. Not tomorrow or next year, there is a fierce urgency of now. We must seize the wave of opportunity to enter that vast ocean for success.

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