Let's secure our cultural footprint
The courage to do things differently
A group performs a cultural piece at the 2016 Grand Gala in the National Stadium.

I've learned that courage has no limits. It may be perceived as unreasonable, and often it requires us to do what's right versus what's expedient, even if it means you stand alone on your principles. But courage has an obligation to pave new roads, especially to the generation coming behind us, so that when we are gone they can say: "They were ahead of their time."

As we approach our 60th year of Independence from Great Britain, the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would have had almost a 50-50 split at the helm of running the country. What will my generation of leaders be known for when this term ends? What will be our legacy? Will it be based on the number of food packages we gave out or how many roads we fixed or, better yet, how many bags of fertiliser we gave to farmers?

Jamaica needs a renaissance with urgent abandonment of ineffectual, tone-deaf approaches that sprinkle our people with mediocrity and confine them to immobile routes without alternative pathways to satisfy their visceral desire to prevail. The outmoded narratives of "change" and "hope" can't hold the attention of anyone who must make real-time decisions about which bill to pay to have enough for food.

Our people have, out of frustration, tuned out from the orange and green flavours of political stump allurement. Instead, they now want genuine policies that will thrust them forward productively and financially for the long haul.

But time moves quickly, much faster today than 10 years ago, and it seemed like just yesterday when Jamaica celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Independence. That year I led the direction and execution of the overall Jamaica 50 programme as the minister of culture. Fortunately, we implemented it successfully in a short time and with limited resources. Indeed, we achieved much of what we set out to do so that Jamaicans everywhere could revel in the joy of good presentations and feel our half-century as we set the mission for the next.

One of our successes was the novel Jubilee Village and the 'park and ride' shuttle service from King's House to the National Arena, bringing great integration and camaraderie to the celebrations which people fondly remember and speak of. Regrettably, we have failed to implement it as a hybrid daily transportation feature to the public that could have reduced the traffic congestion in Kingston.

Jamaicans are naturally talented. This is as authentic to our Jamaican identity as a glass of water is to quenching thirst. But, like most skills, if you don't take steps to strengthen them, two things may happen: They either become mundane or disappear over time. Our raw talent alone is not enough to sustain and monetise our cultural impact on the world. We need a structured plan to take us there.

Over the years, successive PNP and JLP governments have viewed culture as a mere season of ad hoc activities intended to make our people feel nice, but not as a serious industry requiring stimuli that could significantly grow our economy and our people's lives. Both sides have reluctantly acted with conviction and financial devotion towards strengthening and developing our people's creative skills and deepening our cultural infrastructure.

If given the opportunity to do it again, I would have had the courage to enforce some things differently. I would've convinced my Government to allocate more resources to build out the framework to transform the cultural teaching framework within our school system, and then fought for a sustained capital budget to fund harnessing, developing, and strengthening the cultural value chain of our people, rather than the focus on spending primarily on celebratory activities. This decision would've assisted in the social transformation of our nation by giving our children a consistent diet of artistic skills training for their future which would, in turn, strengthen their Jamaican identity and ultimately the viability of the Brand Jamaica.

Today, I would have introduced the necessary tools and musical instruments in primary schools to train our children in the cultural arts, painting, sculpting, photography, dance, and music. Even though it was difficult with the financial constraints of the time, we needed to build two globally competitive performance/creative arts-based high schools — one in Kingston and the other in the west — with the attendant boarding facilities to rival some of the best in the world. Our last significant investments for cultural performance spaces were in 1912 and 1958, with The Ward and The Little Theatre in the Corporate Area alone.

Our 60th anniversary of Independence, Jamaica 60, is in two weeks. We have many proud achievements to celebrate, especially with our musical impact on the world and highly sought culture; most recently, the brilliant performances by our female athletes at the World Championship in Oregon.

Nonetheless, if we are honest, these achievements have more to do with the individual talents of our people rather than an integrated programme to incentivise and support them to be the best to shine on the world stage.

Once again, culture as a ministry in the recurrent budget receives only 5.2 per cent of the total budget, compared to tourism which receives 13.5 per cent. Compensation and travel represent the bulk of expenditure with little to drive any meaningful change.

The capital budget for culture is the lowest of all ministries — a total of $31.8 million or 3.7 per cent. This is tremendously short-sighted as if only we were able to provide our unattached youth with an avenue for their creative talents it would aid in shaping the social transformation we all yearn for.

We need to ask ourselves the question: Do people visit Jamaica to see the white sand beaches, or do they come to experience our ideas, customs, and behaviour?

Others use our Jamaican culture worldwide to learn revolutionary music, sports discipline, respect, lifestyle, and pride. We are the birthplace of king of reggae, Bob Marley; sports legend Usain Bolt; and the effervescent GOAT Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Jamaica's enviable record of gold medals in track and field are a direct outcome of the infrastructure implemented for our athletes' training and development. The Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' and Girls' Championships, G C Foster College for Physical Education and Sport, and Carifta Games are some of the important platforms we've used to identify, train, and develop the talents of our athletes for the world's stage.

The United Nations has recognised the potential of creative industries "to support countries with economies in transition in diversifying production and exports..." Arts and culture are big businesses in the US, representing a per capita expenditure of US$2,787. Therefore, our proximity gives us a tremendous opportunity to gain a share of that US$920-billion market, which could potentially represent $306 million for each Jamaican.

It's time to press reset, to be courageous, and move away from doing the temporary assignments of what's popular to do what's right. If we fail, our cultural footprint on the world may wash away with another's tide. Therefore, let's build the infrastructure to foster artistic innovation and provide cultural opportunities, benefits, and empowerment for all Jamaicans. Our goal should be to have every Jamaican proficient with creative skills. Over to you, Prime Minister.

Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.

Lisa Hanna

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