Include culture in development matrix
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, July 25, 2021
WITH DR DENNIS HOWARD
JAMES Carville, a Democratic strategist of the Bill Clinton Administration, famously declared in 1992, “It's the economy, stupid.”
This statement reflected the reinforcement of the market economy orthodoxy adopted by Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Neoliberal capitalism has had very destructive consequences for the people of the world. The major problem with a market-driven economy is that it has relegated most of the world's population to poverty, living from pay cheque to pay cheque.
More and more, neoliberalism is seen by many as a disaster that has plunged the world into a very precarious place. At the same time, the corporate culture celebrates the success of a very minute number of billionaires, giving them god-like status, while the majority of working stiffs are worrying about pensions and health insurance benefits. In developing countries, the issue is dire. The majority worry about eating the next day and shelter.
In countries like Jamaica we have adopted, hook, line and sinker, neoliberal capitalism philosophies to the detriment of most of the population. Regular Jamaicans exist outside the formal economy, with the rest working for low-paying wages without essential benefits such as health care and pension. A large population of cheap labour is a critical component of the foreign direct investment model by supranational organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that many developing countries have been forced to adopt.
The economic-driven solutions that these organisations have prescribed to solve problems and hardships created by the developed countries that control the policy direction of these organisations so far have not resulted in the anticipated economic improvements, failing miserably, and have unleashed untold suffering on the people of these territories.
With the emphasis on the market and the creation of billionaires at the expense of us, one of the most crucial aspects of modern life is usually relegated to the periphery of development conversation, and that is culture. A critical gap in all economic policy programmes has been the sidelining of culture in the development matrix.
The omission of Jamaican cultural specificities and the disregard for our superpower — our cultural heritage and production — is at the heart of the unfortunate policy prescription that has pushed Jamaicans deeper into the debt trap we have been in since Independence. I'm declaring that a critical ingredient of any economic developmental plan is culture and our cultural production.
You see, it's the culture, jackass! Not the economy!
This proclamation brings me to a vital initiative that the Jamaican Government must implement as part of our overall development goal. A comprehensive cultural policy is urgently necessary to guide the process of converting our cultural production, tradition, lifestyle and art into a critical component of our export portfolio. Actual development can only be realised when our economy achieves a balance of payment equilibrium and when the development needs of ordinary Jamaicans are addressed. The creative industry, through our culture, offers us opportunities to gain actual development and liveable conditions for the majority of Jamaicans. I'm suggesting that the cultural policy should consider the following four policy pillars:
1. Cultural dissemination
2. Cultural crystallisation
3. Cultural diplomacy
4. Creative industry incentivisation.
This is the process of recognising the value and significance of culture and our heritage in shaping our identity. Culture exists as a critical driver of social, spiritual, and economic progress. Dissemination involves ongoing national public education of Jamaicans on all aspects of our culture through all possible institutions, media and communications methodology. Limited dissemination is currently happening, however too many Jamaicans, young and old, have no clue or are ashamed of our culture and heritage. This predicament has led to identity struggles among the population.
This entails the creation of processes to ensure that distribution yields visible, measurable benefits. Crystallisation will ensure that our cultural institutions continue to grow and evolve, making them more relevant to human development, democratic governance, and national cohesion. The national recognition through legislation of all our genres as national treasures, with museums and systems to celebrate and preserve this rich heritage which is the envy of developed countries, is long overdue.
This is soft power that developed countries have used for centuries to push their respective culture, which has ultimately resulted in the development of cultural products including music, movies, books, comics, video games and applications. Tourism and leisure have developed in these countries due to the diplomacy efforts. We must establish a soft power policy to curate our cultural representation globally. We have allowed others to define us to our detriment — relegating 'Jamaicaness' to weed smoking, homophobic minstrels and lazy natives. Fortunately, the likes of Claude Mckay, Burning Spear, Errol Brown, Grace Jones, Clive Campbell, Orlando Paterson, Desiree Reid, Stuart Hall, Lyric Bent, Malcolm Gladwell, and John Thompson have loudly destroyed that stereotyping. If you are not familiar with some of these names, I rest my case. Our urban dance culture and dance hostels can be one of our biggest exports and creative tourism attractions. Yet, it has remained a footnote at the national level.
Creative Industry Incentivisation
We now come to the last pillar of what I'm suggesting for our cultural policy. This aspect of the policy initiative aims to develop measures to incentivise and encourage the deployment of the creative industries. While there are incentive programmes for tourism, incentives for film-making, music, visual arts, dance, craft, and fashion are amazingly inadequate. Creative incubators are non-existent, and creative city initiatives leave a lot to be desired.
It seems we have a fundamental misunderstanding of creative city initiatives – it's not just a designation for bragging rights and celebrations. We need to start the urban regeneration that is vital to the reduction of crime. Zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and states of emergencies are not working.
Creative hubs, which are a critical component of creative industry development, are not supported or developed. Creative hubs have organically existed in Kingston and other urban areas for decades. They have developed best practices that should be codified. The dubplate and sound system economy is largely ignored and not supported to achieve export status.
Then there is the burning issue of relying on outside experts to develop policies instead of utilising our professionals, experts, and practitioners. Let me remind our lawmakers and leaders in the private sector that only we can solve our problems. Relying on global north solutions to our unique cultural realities is an approach always doomed to failure. You can't go to the source responsible for our underdevelopment and impoverishment for answers to the problem they help to create.
There has never been a real effort to finance arts and culture and give them the prestige of other industries such as tourism and finance. Successive Administrations have paid lip service to culture, usually putting the portfolio in a super ministry with other areas that they decide are not crucial to the neoliberal agenda of market orthodoxy. These super ministries have been consistently grossly underfunded and are the first to get budget cuts when austerity measures of the Washington consensus are dictated. This pillar of the policy should identify creative options for the funding of the creative industry. The policy should recommend utilising tools such as grant funding, revolving loans schemes, crowdfunding, partner schemes, benevolent taxation, donation schemes, angel and venture capital.
The nature of the creative industry requires this massive investment in developing talent, skills, and cultural products. Capacity building in corporate governance, business management and intellectual property rights management are critical to a viable creative ecosystem, which will achieve a massive return on investment in the long term and contribute to the actual development of the Jamaican people economically, socially and most importantly, psychologically. This solution will reduce criminality, social violence, moral decadence, corruption, and self-hate, which permeate our society currently.
A comprehensive cultural policy that represents Jamaica's decolonial identity continues to spread our culture globally. Incentivising and developing the natural talent of our people is needed right here, right now. It's the culture, jackass! Not the economy!
Dr Dennis Howard is the managing director of the Institute of Cultural Policy and Innovation, a creative industry and business consultancy. He is also a lecturer, deejay, podcast host, music producer and a certified business advisor.
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