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Culture is an economic driver

Tamara Scott-Williams

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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As one deeply committed to the promotion of Jamaican cultural industries, and in particular the visual arts, needless to say I was disappointed that minister of finance Dr Peter Phillips ignored an industry — yes, an entire industry — that could play a key role in contributing to the overall quality of life in Jamaica and its attractiveness as a place to live, work and invest.

When he surveyed all the ministers present during the Q & A after the Cabinet retreat press conference on Monday and identified their potential portfolio contributions to the economic salvation of this country (agriculture, tourism, entertainment, mining, sugar -- yes, sugar, etc and et al) he clearly missed the minister of youth and culture and her ministry's capacity to drive investments and create jobs.

Estimates put the global cultural and creative industries as being worth US$2.2 trillion and growing at an annual rate of five per cent. This industry, which exists to create, produce, and/or distribute copyright materials, affords Jamaica its greatest foreign exchange earning potential and should be placed at the forefront of the search for economic solutions. In fact, according to the Creative Economy 2010 published by the United Nations, "the Government (of Jamaica) needs to focus on reggae, film and other creative services to grow the ailing economy".

Jamaica had a US$6-million trade surplus in its creative services, according to latest data up to 2008, stated the report's index. This means that the island's exports in the creative services surpassed its imports at US$39 million to US$33 million respectively. And in a Planning Institute of Jamaica summary report (October 2012), the contribution of recreational, cultural and sporting activities to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been gradually increasing over the past 10 years. In 2010, the industry accounted for 2.9 per cent of GDP, an increase of 0.2 percentage point compared with 2009.

Jamaica is distinguished by the worldwide reach of its culture and, as Minister Hanna has said in the past, as one of the top 15 brands in the world: "Culture is one area that we already have the global advantage. We can gain so much by producing cultural products in the visual arts, music, food, and our identity as a people, by turning it into content delivered to the world in real time, using the proper support structures and technologies which will ultimately create job opportunities for our young people." With that she promised to take a business approach to culture and place it at the forefront of the search for economic solutions.

Minister Lisa Hanna, who represents the majority (55 per cent) of Jamaica's population — some 1.54 million people under the age of 30, nearly half of whom are in the (employable) 20-29 age group, can provide Jamaica with an army of recruits for an industry which is typically youth-led and worthy of serious Government investment and support.

The creative industries are becoming increasingly important to economic well-being, because human creativity is the ultimate economic resource. Ready for action are our artists, musicians, designers, audio technicians and selectors, sound men and box boys. In this army of talent would be writers, directors, actors, theatre technicians and set construction crews. Amongst them are cameramen, anchormen and editors. Handling and servicing the talent are personal managers, business managers, stage managers, road managers, accountants, and lawyers; costume construction, set construction, make-up and properties managers.

Dr Vanus James, senior research fellow and adj. distinguished professor, economics, UTech, in his findings in 'The Economic Contribution of Copyright-Based Industries in Jamaica, said the return on investment (ROI) from the creative arts, music and sports ought not be overlooked. He suggests a higher rate of return for activities within the creative industry as compared to that of other sectors which traditionally attract high levels of investment, such as telecommunications, mining and transportation.

"A dollar of foreign exchange put into music and other recreation forms yields $6.18, [while] that same dollar put into communications yields [only] $1.49," Dr James wrote.

Furthermore, the copyright sector represents 4.8 per cent of GDP, and 3.03 per cent of employment. Sport and copyright sectors together contribute eight per cent of GDP, which is bigger than agriculture. Bob Marley, who died 30 years ago, continues to provide for his heirs through music sales, licences and royalties through 2031. Forbes magazine estimated their 2007 income to be US$4 million, unlicensed wares generate some US$600 million in annual sales, and Marley products could be a billion-dollar industry in just a few years.

Granted, Dr Keith Nurse, director of the University of the West Indies' Shridath Ramphal Centre in Barbados, long ago argued that the creative industries were not seriously regarded as an economic sector, that key stakeholders were poorly organised and that its economic value went largely undocumented. We hope that Dr Phillips can be otherwise convinced.

To that end we look forward to the establishment of the National Commission on Cultural and Creative Industries, as was announced by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in her contribution to the 2012/13 Budget debate. Because, as she said: "Whether it is our music, our cuisine, our dance and other forms of our artistic expression, they all represent significant value with tremendous economic potential in an increasingly globalised world."

Now that's a lot sweeter than sugar.

scowicomm@gmail.com

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