A New Policy for the Culture and Creative Economy

It might seem arrogant to publish a “new” policy for the industry knowing that The National Policy on Culture and the Arts (NPCA) 2019-2024 Celebrating National Identity: Maximising our Diversity, was laid in Parliament on 12 February 2020 as a Green Paper for public comment. That paper fulfilled a promise laid out in the PNM 2015 Manifesto to “customize policies for the arts and cultural industries to fit the complex characteristics of the sector.”

Min Dr. Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, MP lays National Cultural Policy in Parliament

However, before the general election in August, I was asked to draft a policy as a kind of wish-list for stakeholders that would be a template for any conversation with the State on the needs of the sector. Consultations happened before for the larger National Policy, but some stakeholders wanted a compact document that they could articulate, and hopefully guide any public-private partnership towards efficient and successful implementation. With the 2021 budget looming, the conversation begins.

“The idea [of a creative economy] suggests a productive convergence between culture, creativity and technology that has the potential to transform the productive relationships held between economy and society. Culture and creativity are high-value growth areas, and a vibrant relationship between culture and creativity enhances the competitiveness of countries, cities, regions and businesses, and is increasingly significant in personal and social development.”

Dr Patrick Collins, Dr James Cunningham, Aisling Murtagh and Dr Jenny Dagg. (2013). The Creative Edge Policy Toolkit: From Growth to Sustainability: Supporting the Development of the Creative Economy in Europe’s Northern Periphery.

The recent seismic economic shift precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 coincides with the dawn of a new electoral season in Trinidad and Tobago. A new vision for the country has become a necessity as our shortcomings resulting from decades of economic policies that have moved the country up a few points on global barometers, have come to the fore. In a region where mono-economies are the norm, the new normal for this nation and its people has to be diversification.

The “new gas and oil” and the “new tourism” has to be the cultural and creative industries. The people and their heritage and norms, ideas and innovations have to be a future where technology has left us flat-footed and rooted in business models 50 years behind the curve. How we get to the point where the GDP of the new cultural industries is significant and unending is the long and steady climb where policy that benefits us, the citizens of T&T, is put to work. Development is a must, diversification is a must do.

The creative industries, and now the cultural industries have been a part of policy documents for T&T since the 1990s. The modus operandi to implement the diversification thrust has been the State-owned Enterprise (SOE). Over 25 years of trying, and what is apparent is that there has not been an uptick in economic growth in the industry. Recent government signs point to a discounting of the role of the creative industries and an under-valuing beyond mere lip service of the cultural and heritage industries.

The exploitation of these facets of T&T heritage, life and creativity calls for a re-thinking of the roles of the State and the private sector in moving creative industry growth and its contribution to the GDP from negligible to important. Four certainties about the contemporary creative economy:

  1. The creative economy is growing at an unprecedented rate internationally.
  2. The creative economy is diffuse and reaches across traditional sectoral boundaries — tourism, manufacturing, etc. — but at its core are the industries and individuals that exploit creativity for the production of their goods and services. “Exploit” is not a bad word any more.
  3. The creative economy is not the sole preserve of urban areas or large countries; rural areas and small island states show evidence of vibrant creative production. Our island-ness is no longer our Achilles heel.
  4. The creative economy is relatively undervalued and under-appreciated from a policy standpoint. Policy-makers need to realise the potential that a vibrant creative economy offers, not just in economic terms but in social, cultural and psychological terms as well. Confidence in the global marketplace can not be legislated but must be ingrained in generations. We are T&T. We are Caribbean!

A brand new paradigm shift has to occur. A new ministry and a new creative entrepreneur and a new business milieu with innovative policies and funding options are to be created by new governments. The past, while necessary to plot the future, must not be our guide, but our compass to avoid recurring pitfalls.

Our history is replete with examples of failed state-led industry diversification. We inherited a sugar refinery industry, an oil refinery industry and created an iron and steel industry. All are gone by virtue of policies that did not have a future goal, and were deficient in the real world management outside of narrow outcomes as jobs created and foreign exchange earned.

A creative industry has to be longer than that with a larger goal of cultural confidence and recognition beyond old totems and symbols. The role of the private sector, from micro to large enterprise, becomes important, and almost a call to arms and a patriotic endeavour for a new nation looking back on a past that included sugar, gas and oil as the hope for a resilient economy. Leadership is critical!

The development of a global T&T creative industry must be in line with this new paradigm shift of how a governments facilitates the development of its people, away from simple benefactor to a trusted strategic partner and facilitator. Any new government seeking office or continuing, must be clear with the population of this new paradigm, more so after the recent seismic economic shift precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collins et al suggest that the creative sector is bound together by a number of important features:

  • Markets for final outputs are extremely uncertain and highly competitive.
  • New technologies are changing the end products and offer massive potential to producers in terms of lessening the barriers to entry while also carrying the threat of replicability. This is leading to a new market set-up, one that sees the copyright industries leading the way.
  • While production of symbolic goods tends to be dependent on both large inputs of human labour, these goods also involve a high degree of intellectual labour.
  • The process of authenticating symbolic forms invariably draws on, for example, cultural associations and social traditions – therefore Authenticity and Place are fundamental. 1


Broadly, from a policy making perspective, these goals must be achieved within the framework of a limited financial state of affairs — TT$45 billion revenue, TT$50 billion expenditure, on average — and cognisant that these policy goals will never be fulfilled within the first 5-year election cycle.

Cocoa and sugar were king in the Caribbean, then oil in T&T was supreme. The downstream energy industries based on gas were to be our next new mono-culture. The fortunes were fleeting and superficial. The reality going forward must be a diversified set of economic driver industries. A government in the 21st century has to follow three basic steps to develop the new creative industry for growth:

  1. Conceptualisation of the cultural and creative industries. Unravelling the definitions that remain fluid in manifestos, draft policies, and government reporting. The elucidation of the new normal must be policy number one. More than film, fashion and music, it holistically includes mas’ and festivals, theatre and dance, visual and performing arts, publishing and broadcasting, and heritage. Value chain dynamics will be clearly detailed along with the roles of the sector stakeholders along the chain. One is not so naive to not be aware of global systemic biases and domestic policy weakness that has stymied economic growth, but a holistic transformation of the idea of the brand T&T across sectors is a must.
  2. Government structure and governance reforms to accommodate a collaborative mode. The formation of a single ministry for the creative and cultural industries is key for spearheading the enabling environment of policy formation and implementation, legislation reform and industry facilitation to enhance the efficient transformation of engrained inertia towards resourced economic drivers along a value chain. Civil service reform has to be a driver in industry reformation in the 21st century. The further development of the public-private partnership to derive diversification and to value both individual and corporation roles must be enhanced. Policy development away from redundant and arcane norms is a central pillar towards society development. Technology as a facilitator and its widespread use among all strata of society has to be a goal. Data integrity as a trust indicator for private sector participation is a must.
  3. Innovation of funding systems and investment opportunities. Creative industry development and growth cost money. Hundreds of millions of dollars annually as investment along the value chain is needed. State investment for development in the sector has averaged TT$25 million in PSIP and rebates across various ministries. Repeated subventions in the hundreds of millions of dollars for Carnival and grants for culture and heritage in the tens of millions have missed the target of value-added commercialisation and therefore revenue generation via taxation of profits. Risk mitigation for debt financing and equity financing from the financial sector would be a primary focus in innovating the funding of the new industry. Re-framing and resourcing of the equity financing industry ecosystem — a pillar in the growth of the global tech industry and certain international creative industries, S. Korea, for example — towards sustaining profitability across sectors is necessary. A reordering of priorities of our national budget would see investments in one ministry offsetting allocations for another. The increase of the taxable base for revenue generation must be seen as a new development trend.

Policies on the industry have in the past pointed towards some goal. Great, but limited. What is needed is now is to elucidate how we as a country achieve that goal. The pathways to success in achieving GDP growth for the industry are:

  • Legislation reform and proactive policy development. Negotiation of new incentives and modes of business;
  • Trade diplomacy to open up new accommodating markets in EU and Africa;
  • Funding options must be widened. Government subvention can only go so far. Our revenues demand we find new financial models to keep up with the magnitude of investment needed to move the needle on GDP increase from the industry;
  • Industry facilitation: incentive review and reform; enhancing the ease and speed of doing business. Technology has to be the new normal;
  • Education: From primary to tertiary, recognition of the role of creative industries is key.


Increase investment in the sector to influence economic activity. TT$6 million per year for CreativeTT is not even at a threshold limit to make any economic impact beyond tokenism. Mechanisms for outward investment and marketing.

Enforcement of intellectual property laws. Period. Enhancement, if necessary.

Trade policy and market access facilitation for creative goods and services.

Engagement with the financial industry to broaden investment and funding products for the creative sector. Rehabilitation of venture capital financing and improving the enabling environment noting the lessons learned from the former period of VCIP development.

Enhancement of policies, laws, regulations and protocols to be developed, not limit the industry or impede the sectors potential: Company formation, single electronic window, tax preparation, data intelligence. Revamping the SOE mandate and a new ministry role. State competition with the SMEs that make up the many CI companies must cease.

Broadcast policy enhancement to recognise T&T first as valuable, and localisation of State media. Competition and Fair Trading laws to be enforced

Rethinking tax incentives that either do not work, are unworkable via red tape inertia, or under-utilisation. Evolution of public sector systems to provide efficient delivery of services/rebates.

Education from primary to tertiary on the inevitability of the importance of the creative economy in the future of T&T with low gas and oil revenue to run the State.


Increase the production of high-value goods and services. Increase curation services and products.

Collective mobilisation and association formation as a part of the thrust to strategic partnership and advocacy. Leadership is critical to validate sector.

Incorporation and commercialisation as the new normal. The creative industry individual and institution is an important cog in the revenue stream of the State. Tax payment is not to be a burden. Profit is not to be avoided.

Rethinking internal merit systems that are stuck in a post-colonial mode of social stratification towards a global mode that still recognises the Caribbean as a secondary place, thus noting the necessity of unity. Cultural confidence.

Development of local commercial markets and indigenous industry growth with native talent and a support base with rigour and stamina, and industry infrastructure development and maintenance, will give rise to exportable services and products and external partnership opportunities. Standards creation and development. Research evaluation and support.

Investment in and exploitation of the creative sector service and products. The goal of profitability and local market development would offset state expenditure in some instances. A thrust in creative industry development of professional sport entertainment, for example, could reduce national security expenditure as a knock-on effect of human resource and career development.

Data mining and collation driven by stakeholder participation is a must. Statistics and data are critical to sector evaluation and recognition.

  1. Dr. Patrick Collins, Dr. James Cunningham, Aisling Murtagh and Dr. Jenny Dagg. (2013). The Creative Edge Policy Toolkit: From Growth to Sustainability: Supporting the Development of the Creative Economy in Europe’s Northern Periphery.

© 2020, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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