Crosstalk and Jargon, or How To Confuse the Words Creative and Industry!

“Globally, creative industries are estimated to account for more than 7 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and are forecast to grow, on average, by 10 per cent a year. While the economic and employment-generating potential of these industries is vast and many developing and transition countries have great potential in this area, most are still marginal players, despite their rich cultural heritage and an inexhaustible pool of talent. That position reflects a combination of domestic policy weaknesses and global systemic biases.”
—U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, 11th Session. Creative Industries and Development. (TD(XI)/BP/13). São Paulo, 4 June 2004.

The idea and nomenclature of a “creative industry” are novel in Trinidad and Tobago when prior to this year we talked about a fledgling fashion industry (catalyzed by Miss Universe 1999 and Anya’s win of Project Runway, among others), a film industry (catalysed by Hollywood coming here in 1957 and 1960, to Sharc Productions in the 1970s to The Mystic Masseur in 2000), a Carnival industry and a music industry based on calypso and steelpan and soca (from forever!) Jargon is a hell of a thing. Again from the UNCTAD document: “…the designation marks a historical shift in approach to potential commercial activities that until recently were regarded purely or predominantly in non-economic terms.”

Larry-Howai-budget
Sen. Larry Howai MP reading 2012/2013 budget

In the 2012/2013 budget statement, the Finance Minister, Larry Howai said that the government “identified a number of areas for growth and investment with substantial trade opportunities.” Prioritizing them, he identified “…fifth [out of seven; such low hope?], is the creative industries which cover film, music and entertainment, fashion and arts and the associated establishment of Trinidad and Tobago as a premier film and television production centre. This represents one of our key public policy initiatives for the creation of employment and national wealth.” This collective term suggests we have to collectively develop. Hence, it would seem that in the minds of Cabinet, a TT Creative Industries Company (TTCIC) is a natural follow-through for this amalgamation of creativity to become an industry. Former Planning minister Mary King was a proponent of a knowledge-based economy as a growth pole, so the idea of a creative industry would be a natural result of her input at cabinet level.

A problem here is that stakeholders had initially glommed onto this phrase without comment, but raised a noise when hints and allegations flew about the pending reality of the TTCIC and the make-up of its board. We are having crosstalk when arguments are offered that border two trains of thought. The big question would be how does a government policy straddle two segments, mainly market-based and mainly culture-related, commerce and creativity, to achieve an acceptable goal? The other problem is that the TTCIC won’t work here.

The focus on what works and what does not work backed by emperical evidence is a methodology for success. The gestation period for creative ideas is longer than other economic ideas in traditional industrial or commercial activities, and the ability to breach the divide in thinking between traditional institutional funders, say, and creators will be an asset as stakeholders try to convince policy makers that the creative bloc, despite being dominated by micro-enterprises, can and will make an economic impact with the right conditions. I have already written on the potential for disaster in continuing with the state enterprise model to catalyse creativity into mass enterprise that creates sustainable jobs and redefines us globally as masters of our domain. This is the government’s rationale for involvement in state enterprises:

Government [GORTT] will retain or acquire equity in the State Enterprise sector only where such ownership is integral to the achievement of policy objectives for the sector in which the Enterprise is located. GORTT will concentrate on providing facilitatory mechanisms, including the removal of constraints to investment in commercial activity and the establishment of the appropriate institutional, regulatory and incentive framework.

It is recognised, nonetheless, that there may be instances where state equity participation is necessary, or may become necessary, or where the private sector is not willing to take the risk in the absence of the State’s direct participation. It is not envisaged, however, that such participation should be long-term in nature and enterprises should be divested to the private sector as soon as this becomes feasible. (My emphasis.)
—Ministry of Finance. Investments Division. (2011). STATE ENTERPRISES PERFORMANCE MONITORING MANUAL. [Port of Spain]: Ministry of Finance.

I should be happy that the government sees this as a short term move, yet with all the super-entrepreneurs available out there in the local landscape, it is surprising that there are no takers in creative enterprises. What do they know that the average capitalist doesn’t? Or is it just easier for entrepreneurs to get a no-risk, low-risk board position at a state enterprise? This policy, thus, addresses the decision to wind up TTFC and TTEnt, so any counter-arguments must be based on another vision. Objective solutions to subjective problems. Of note, agriculture, although lower on the growth pole than creative industries, has five state enterprises versus the two already existing in TTFC and TTEnt. [if communications technologies are included, add four.]1

There is much talk in the 2012/2013 budget about the film industry. There is rumoured to be a centralized Film City, a variation of Mary King’s centre of innovative excellence. Trinidad Guardian Business editor, Anthony Wilson effectively discarded that idea earlier this year.2 Stakeholders swear by the efficacy of retaining the TTFC. Some argue that the new planned super-company’s budget, once divided up to handle various sectors would leave little on the table for specificity. Others argue that amalgamation needs skilled persons without noting the irony of a specialised TUCO or PanTrinbago effectively proving the point of non-professional boards being economically unsuccessful, and the harsh reality of having more sub-sectors than the idea of a creative industry can possibly manage. The budget for the TTFC was already small, but local stakeholders seem happy with the growth of the film industry. The problem is that there is no globally competitive industry in the real sense of the word: a micro-industry, certainly, with potential for development across all facets of the sector from creative to technical to education to commercial. Sustained interest and growth of the sector against all odds become necessary.

The juxtaposition of creative and industry, and the enhanced expectations as the clock winds down on oil and gas, leads to rash behaviour by the political forces to rig solutions that may look great on paper, but as history has shown, aren’t the best uses for our meagre financial resources. As proof, we can read:

Machel Montano
Machel Montano

Minister of Planning and the Economy, Dr. Bhoendradath Tewarie is standing by the decision to fund Machel Montano’s ‘Going for Gold Album.’ …Tewarie admitted that the idea [to fund Machel’s Going for Gold Album] is all Machel’s. However, Dr. Tewarie said it is in keeping with government’s thrust to stimulate the industry. Dr. Tewarie disagrees with the view that the state is funding a private project of the Soca star. He also responded to critics who argue that foreigners should not be included in the album which is being specially produced to commemorate this country’s 50th anniversary of independence. Pitbull, Beenie Man and Chaka Khan are among the international artistes who are on the album. Dr. Tewarie believes the collaboration is good for the local music industry. On the question of the cost of the project, minister Tewarie preferred not to comment, except to say that it is an investment.
—Francis, Oprah. “Minister defends decision to fund Montano’s album.” i955fm.com. 25 July 2012.

There is now a pattern by this government to take risks with the people’s money or assets to invest in entertainment and enterprise. The confidence with which Derek Chin has asserted that his Streets of the World enterprise has the government’s blessing is made clearer with the knowledge that Sen. Tewarie is also the line minister responsible for the planning permission for Chin’s mini-city, the valuable Invader’s Bay land being the State’s equity in the project.3 This is no different from Anil Roberts funding a flopped Nicki Minaj concert in 2010 or worse yet, Hochoy Charles of the THA funding a bigger flop Ringbang Concert featuring Eddy Grant in 1999. The nexus between creative entrepreneurs and the willingness of governments to “try a thing” begs the question of their [governments’] suitability to make decisions on creativity. Beyond creativity, however, we have a yawning indifference to what’s happening until it’s too late. Where have we heard this before? Spending money does not automatically make an enabling environment. Old news, same story.

Minister_at_Barrow_Sails
Former Trade minister Steven Cadiz MP with yacht services entrepreneur

I don’t know if many remember there was talk of a yacht services “industry.” This island was located outside of the hurricane belt, and was an ideal location to dock boats in that season, and as such, services grew. Peake Marine bought a special hoist to lift boats out of the water, and a number of service operators and micro-entrepreneurs grew from there. That “industry” has shrunk now due to, among other reasons, poor quality standards, assurance, and control, and low value-for-money. In 2000, “approximately 3,250 yachts arrived in Trinidad seeking a safe port of call for repairs, supplies and general maintenance. The industry averaged US$120 million a year. By 2009, the yacht arrival figure had dwindled down to 1,379 vessels and generated just US$40 million in revenue.”4 A combination of the quality problems and archaic government agency regulations led to customer choice determining that Trinidad was not worth it anymore. Between 2011 and 2012, the government promised to put a hand by creating an enabling environment via modern and improved legislation and training local service providers. The promise has not been kept, and the cycle or decline continues. Old news, same story. By the way, this industry now called maritime services is ranked sixth as a growth area, one above agriculture. This government inaction should not be the vision for the creative industry.

Steps to be taken by all parties, government and stakeholders, to avoid crosstalk:

  1. Enactment of a National Cultural Policy, first!
  2. Elucidation of the structural problems of the industry in the context of the wider economic space locally. Recognition that the industry segments share the common feature of the creative act as the core of their value-added, but they possess very different structures in some cases.5
  3. Effective negotiation of appropriate incentives to monetise the cross-fertilisation of the industry via the myriad transaction networks and income streams.
  4. Enhancement of legislation for intellectual property and rights in a digital age.
  5. Embracing the fact that in a capitalistic space, some will win and some will lose, so the impetus to create a globally competitive product should not dim. Build a body of work, and with it, innovate and build the distribution channels for maximum impact and social influence.

Stakeholders’ conversations with policy-makers can’t only be about identity formation and nation building, and cultural confidence, but must address economic empowerment.6 These new growth poles have to generate $10-15B in taxes in five years to “float this boat” when oil and natural gas are done, so arguing about budgets for funding projects is the small money hustle we can’t afford to dwell in. Our strength comes from a united voice balanced with members of both the creative and industrial. We, as stakeholders have to recognise that the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism is not talking the same “language” as the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Planning. Our goal has to be multi-lingual in the vagaries of bureaucratic and technocratic jargon and philosophies to drive the attainable goal of engendering a commercially viable and globally competitive cultural and creative industry.

    References:
  1. Ministry of Finance (2012) State Enterprises Investment Programme 2013 [Port of Spain]: Ministry of Finance.
  2. Wilson, Anthony. “If Mark Zuckerberg were a Trini…?” Trinidad and Tobago Business Guardian. Feb 16, 2012.
  3. John-Lall, Raphael. “MovieTowne’s Derek Chin to open T&T to the world.” Trinidad and Tobago Business Guardian. Jul 7, 2011.
  4. Gonzales, Gyasi. “Yachting industry in decline: 1,400 jobs under threat.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. Dec 28, 2010
  5. Dapp, Thomas F. & Ehmer, Philipp. Cultural and creative industries: Growth potential in specific segments. Deutsche Bank Research. Apr 29, 2011.
  6. Nurse, Keith, et al. The Cultural Industries in CARICOM: Trade and Development Challenges. Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery. Dec 2007.

© 2012, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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