People Who Really Know: A Focused Response to Vasant Bharath’s take on the Creative Industries.

“We have not destroyed the creative industries sector, what we’re trying to do is strengthen it by putting some commercial sense and commercial acumen into developing the sector with people who have succeeded in those areas…who have been there, who have done that, who have been successful, who know what to do, who have the international contacts, who have the network. Who better to lead these sectors than people who have already done it in their private activities and businesses and are now willing to give back to the people of Trinidad and Tobago?”
—Sen., the Hon. Vasant Bharath MP, speaking at a breakfast meeting at the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce. 20 November 2012.

vasant-invitationOn Tuesday, November 20, Trade Minister Senator Vasant Bharath spoke to a collected meeting at the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, placing in the public domain his opinion of the viability of the creative industry sector. Some key points in his short intervention of his planned breakfast speech were:

  1. His intention to refocus the sector because of his objection to the practice of “money that is being poured into sectors where there has been no measurement or no timeline or determination of what success will be.”
  2. His HR solution of manning the board of the new collated company with people “who understand how to commercialize these organisations into businesses…” so that they won’t have to rely on government intervention for success.
  3. His need to get the organizations to a point where they are “commercial vehicles and commercially attractive to the private sector.”
Kumar at Chamber
Vasant Bharath with TT Chamber CEO Catherine Kumar. Photo courtesy T&T Guardian.

I have written before on the threat to the sustenance of a globally competitive creative industry by government intervention via a flawed business model of the special purpose company. More recently, I also wrote on the apparent confusion by the players to the necessary catalysts for industry growth and sustenance. I return today for the final part of this evolving trilogy to respond directly to Minister Vasant Bharath under whose ministry the newly founded TT Creative Industries Company (TTCIC) will fall. As said, that state enterprise is supposed to focus and provide a sense of measurability and return on investment for the millions that the government has spent prior, some $80M in “entertainment and film,” two sectors defined in his mind by the companies, TTEnt and TTFC respectively. He did not quantify, obviously, how much money was “poured” into steelband and calypso from other ministries via subventions, grants, royalty payments or payment for services. He also did not quantify or want to quantify for this selected audience, the real economic impact of the creative sector as it is today.

By his reckoning, the only solution to the dilemma of a stagnant creative industry sector is to power it up with people “who have been there, done that.” The persons named by the minister: Derek Chin, Meiling, Christopher French, and Donna Chin Lee, whose name he couldn’t remember, begs the question of how well does he know these titans of creative commerce. His accolade of one named board member has riled a few persons on social networks associated with the craft as to the named board member’s bona fides. In a small developing country, the standard rules don’t always apply. I remember in my university days when a statistics lecturer made an eye-opening revelation that the formulae and rules we use generally work for large populations, but have to be modified for small ones. That distinction works whether we are speaking about bacteria count or relative success of creative enterprises in TT versus the UK.

Tried and true always wins an argument for me, and the notion that success in wooing cinema goers to a Cineplex with blockbuster films with individual budgets approaching US$200M is the same winning formula needed to develop an entire film industry with an investment of less than TT$100M is a myth worth debunking. The portfolio of Minister Bharath covers Investment as well as Trade and Industry. The minister must be aware that there has been steady investment by private sector companies in the arts and culture. The rush to catalyse the creative industry growth pole from “undisciplined” micro-entrepreneurs to an “industry” is apparent and unfortunate. Differentiation of the industry between more market-based segments and the more culture-related segments was absent from Bharath’s intervention, and his focus negates the real economic and workforce impact that the industry has on the local economy. Unstructured yet dynamic and fluid, some segments of the industry—pan, Carnival—have grown and have been exported despite government intervention.

The multi-sector approach to make this service sector a growth pole is organised ultimately by the Ministry of Planning. That ministry has shown its hand in how it wants to catalyse creative industries: spend “other people’s money” to create an enabling environment. Hansib Publications out of the UK was the recipient of a government investment to republish and rebrand its successful Terrific and Tranquil coffee-table book to The Gold Book. Machel Montano is the recipient of approximately TT$5M to produce “Going for Gold” multimedia package with the hope that some profits would accrue to create a fund to “assist with music development.” It seems that the 50th anniversary of Independence was a time for action. The long lasting action, aptly described by others such as Rubadiri Victor of activist NGO, Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago, is given short shrift for instant eye and ear candy!

Trends in consumer engagement with creative products have evolved to shift the balance of revenue streams away from tangible products to services and intellectual property revenues, but the case for government intervention does not lie anymore in a failed state enterprise business model focussed on creating and selling a product to a private investor, moreso a foreign one. The irony of another state enterprise intervention into economic activities as opposed to Public-Private partnerships for example, is exposed when listening to Minister Bharath’s mantra of not relying on “government intervention for success.” That was exactly the rationale for the state enterprise sector!

A WIPO commissioned study a decade ago on best practice cases specific to the music industry found the following:

Governments in developing countries would be well advised to consider carrying out following types of initiatives in support of development of cultural enterprises:

  • to provide, whenever possible, medium and long term finance for cultural enterprises;
  • to consider finance and guarantee schemes in local currency;
  • to assist business with business development services;
  • to share the risks and responsibilities with cultural enterprises;
  • to disseminate information on financial innovations;
  • to assist commercial banks in developing their core competitiveness in providing financial services to SMEs in cultural industries;
  • to assist cultural enterprises in developing their core competencies;
  • To join with private partners in creating public-private funds and investments banks to assist SMEs especially those in Cultural industries;
  • To set up/strengthen development banks to adopt a sectoral approach toward cultural industries;
  • to promote policy dialogue between governments, domestic commercial banks, and other partners to create a supportive financial environment for cultural industries;
  • to provide long-term assistance through loans and equity;
  • to engage in complementary capacity-building for specialized financial institutions and SMEs in cultural industries toward business development service providers;
  • To accelerate the inclusion of SMEs in CULTURAL INDUSTRIES into the formal financial sector (UNCTAD, 2001).

—Wallis, Roger, et al. “Best Practice Cases in the Music Industry and their Relevance for Government Policies in Developing Countries.” Geneva, UNCTAD (2001). 47-48

Is TTCIC going to do any of these things? This is a plan of action for the Trade ministry that can be extrapolated to cover most of the creative industries, but the constant is that government intervention, even in TT, should not be in competing with entrepreneurs to reward a few “people who have been successful,” with board positions. More successful entrepreneurs than those named have been on state boards with little to reflect in diversifying the economy. The manufacturing sector despite the intervention of IDC, EDC and TIDCO has not become globally competitive, but rather regionally focussed, if only relatively successful. For all these years later, one would have thought that we would be able to compete with India and China or Viet Nam! Industry is the segment of economy concerned with production of goods. Creative industries are about goods, services and intellectual property. Focus on that, Mr Minister.

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

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3 thoughts on “People Who Really Know: A Focused Response to Vasant Bharath’s take on the Creative Industries.”

  1. …Well-done, Nigel….yet another strand to this essential debate…the sheer poverty of our times is revealed in this the 50th Year of our Independence – a sour Jubilee for me or is that all ah we…Nowhere is this national fecklessness more clearly seen than in an elementary comparison between the magnificent Jamaican output (you and I both take a slight bow here!) and the pathetic T&T non-show…all this money in de country, all these talents, the most-educated Cabinet, the healthy Parliamentary majority all add-up to a big firework show and some dotishness about MM and the record no one has heard or even remembers…has anyone heard these songs? Anyone?…

    The Jamaican reference is to this 4-CD/100-song collection, magnificently curated by Edward Seaga – http://www.amazon.com/Reggae-Golden-Jubilee-Origins-Jamaican/dp/B0096HQFYI/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1356708210&sr=1-1&keywords=jamaica+50th+anniversary – I bought this superb item at Rhynner’s in Piarco about a month ago for $50USD…I have listened to it and yes, it is a sweet, historic piece of work which demonstrates the extent to which Jamaicans take themselves seriously….

    Compare that with our own failure to produce a single lasting work of art or culture…to be perfectly clear, this is not the sole responsibility of the State – the Jamaican collection is a private production – so one is entitled to ask if the local ‘Captains of the Cultural Industry’ have any output at all for our Jubilee….you see? What do these people really know?…

    We have real serious work to do, so keep on keepin’ on…

  2. Afra, thanks for this. The Amazon page for Jamaica 50 is a revelation of the business that Jamaican citizens do in the diaspora. VP records, started by a Chinese Jamaican husband and wife team in Brooklyn, and now run by the sons, have a lock on the compilation market—both reggae and soca!— as well as breaking Sean Paul in the US. Our citizens in the diaspora are not as business savvy, so it seems. Further, the Jamaicans are bold, where we are reticent. I don’t know why, but we fucked up royally with this 50th anniversary. Rubadiri Victor must be licking his chops, because he told the government what to do, and his ideas were valid.

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