The entertainment, cultural and creative industry (ECCI) has taken a severe beating, incurring estimated revenue losses of about half a trillion dollars ($500,000,000,000) since being shuttered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Home to a melting pot of culture, the Caribbean has a comparative advantage in the creative economy contributing to some of the world's best musical and literary works. However, when the pandemic hit in 2020 triggering dramatic economic contraction, ECCI's became one of the first casualties as the prohibition on large gathering resulted in the cancellation of mass festivals and events, a closure of restaurants, cinemas, art galleries and a general postponement of activities indefinitely which led to the drying up of some critical revenue streams.
According to the data from a COVID-19 economic recovery task force led study undertaken in June 2020, the local ECCI, which consists of some 75,000 creatives and contribute an estimated 9.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) each year, saw revenues plummet when the sector was closed at the start of the pandemic and later worsened by the continued closure in keeping with government protocols implemented to curb the spread of the virus.
“Based on the study done, the estimate we came up with was $200 billion. However, many people believe this figure to be [grossly] underestimated because if we should look at two plus years of losses, we could easily approximate over half a trillion in losses,” said Howard McIntosh, chairman of the entertainment advisory board and member of the sports and entertainment network in the Ministry of Tourism, participating virtually in a Jamaica Observer Business Forum held this week.
McIntosh said that with the industry largely contributing to the livelihoods of small players including the soup, peanut, juice and jerk chicken man, ECCI represent big business and comprises a large portion of smaller individuals also adding value to the already complex sector.
“I don't know if it has to do with all the reference to nutsy and so on…but we are a little more than that. It's not true at all that we are only informal, a large part of us may be— but this industry comprises so much more value,” he said.
The creative or orange economy, touted by international agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as being among one of the largest industries in the world, is also said to be the ninth-largest exporter [of cultural goods and services] and the fourth-largest workforce employing over 144 million workers globally. Based on its highly diversified portfolio which spans jobs in music, art, media, film, publishing, fashion, gastronomy, advertising, among others, revenue generation over the last decade according to UNESCO figures has averaged US$2.3 trillion annually.
Speaking at the forum lecturer of cultural studies and creative economy at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Deborah Hickling Gordon, said that with a vast number of creatives being tied to the informal/gig economy and mainly belonging to the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, this sector is often very vulnerable and has many players which operate on low income. “In Jamaica about 60 per cent of our CCIs are informal and 35 per cent of these earn less than $200,000 per annum,” she stated.
Noting US$760 billion in gross value contractions and about 10 million in job losses globally, Hickling Gordon further said that while the pandemic has propelled grant funding to the sector, this was still was not enough to cushion the massive fallout in revenues for a large cross section of its players.
The Jamaican Government in its attempt to aid members of the ailing sector, which locally has been under lockdown for near two years, has through a number of programmes sought to provide over $90 million in grant funding to members of the ECCI.
Andrea Dempster Chung, co-founder and executive director of Kingston Creative, said that while some creatives were able to capitalise on opportunities and reap some amount of benefit from the pandemic, a large portion of them remains significantly affected.
“If they were in streaming or able to produce digital events, then they would have seen some upticks in their businesses but there was a severe impact on about 70 per cent of the creatives that we surveyed,” she said.
Blaming a lack of coordination and highly fragmented data for much of the issues which continue to challenge the industry, the panelists at the forum unanimously called for greater collaboration towards the building of a resilient ecosystem. This, they believe, is vital in helping the industry to move forward, emerge from the pandemic and to prepare for future crises.
“The pandemic has provided a better understanding of the impact, indirect and direct on all the players. Until we start to structure and deal with the industry in a particular way, it won't change immediately,” McIntosh said, whilst urging the state to play an increased role in coordinating and providing accurate reporting on the value of the sector to the country so that the orange/ creative economy can be better understood.
“What we must have is an enabling environment which starts with a proper ecosystem. What we are asking as players in the orange economy, is for it to be given the opportunities that has been provided to the other sectors, which includes crafting a national vision for this industry,” he added.