by Erica K Smith, PhD
It is generally accepted that Caribbean states need to diversify their economies, and the many discussions on this matter have alluded to the fact that the cultural and creative industries represent an important pillar for that diversification.
The challenge has been turning this potential into reality.
The creative industries have been described as “having their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent with a potential for the creation of wealth through intellectual property generation” and include publishing, music, film and TV, performing rights, craft, architecture and design, software and computer games. Jobs in these industries span public relations, advertising, marketing and branding, architects, town planners, ceramic marketers, furniture designers and makers, journalists, literary authors, librarians, artists, dancers, web designers, fashion designers, software designers, to mention a few. The cultural industries are considered a sub-set of the creative industries and are primarily concerned with the commercialisation of the more traditional arts sector. For the remainder of this article, the term creative industries will be used to encompass the cultural industries.
Compared with others, these industries are impacted by high levels of self- and underemployment, informality, risk and unstable earnings. Critically, in the regional environment, to speak of the cultural and creative industries conjures the idea of a space for those who could not succeed in more traditional academic pursuits.
Perhaps as a direct result of this branding, the industries comprising the creative industries are yet to be treated and invested in as industries in the region where considerations are really limited to the subset of the cultural industries. These activities are subject primarily to the receipt of subsidies, and “creatives” are offered some “support” by being offered performance and display opportunities. In return, it is expected that creatives will donate their time and work to support “charitable” activities in ways that would not be expected of other suppliers, such as utilities and catering. At the very least, with regard to these “cultural workers” there are issues with valuing and respect for their work by both the creatives themselves and those who use their work.
If regional governments are serious, then some of the benefits which could accrue from actually developing the creative industries might include expanded employment, especially for the youth, as these industries tend to be employment intensive. There can also increase resiliency to economic fluctuations, new knowledge creation and innovative activity and an increase in the goods and services created locally. But how are these achieved?
We often reference Singapore as a suitable example, even though Singapore has a population of 5.5 million, is a high-income country and has completely different cultural and social norms. Nevertheless, it is geographically small and is certainly an example of size not being a constraint. In terms of the creative industries and building a creative economy, Singapore has made substantial strides. A useful starting point is a quote from the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong:
“Singapore is a nation by design. Nothing we have today is natural or happened by itself. Somebody thought about it, made it happen. Not our economic growth, not our international standing, not our multiracial harmony, not even our nationhood. Nothing was by chance.”
In other words, a well-thought-out, focused and coherent and strategic process was necessary.
The successful development of creative industries relies on relevant education and upskilling that develops a talent pipeline, improved access to e-commerce which can reduce start-up capital requirements and meaningful financial and technical support. Above all, there must be a policy, legal and regulatory framework which underpins a functioning ecosystem.
In this regard, amazingly, although the primary legal basis of the creative industries is intellectual property rights which are also the assets subject to the significant levels of monetisation, little attention is given to these rights in the Caribbean, which is illogical and unsustainable in countries with limited manufacturing capacity and small populations. If there is a local film which can attract a global audience then there will be a reliance on the licensing of rights to distribute internationally. Similarly, with software, music, literary works and fashion design.
Let’s return to the example of Singapore. Singapore was once described as the piracy capital of the world, but it is now recognised as having one of the best IP systems globally. Its economic development strategy has been based on moving up the value chain, adding value and creating a climate for creativity and entrepreneurship. IP rights were used to achieve these goals.
Small Singapore has succeeded in becoming the regional headquarters for major global creative industry brands, including LVMH, Apple, Walt Disney, Ubisoft and Facebook. These achievements did not occur over 2 or 3 years but over decades based on careful planning and investments. It is irrational to believe that these types of investors will look to a country where processes are very slow — the time to register IP rights, to implement legislative updates, and if it is necessary, the time needed to enforce rights. We can either develop a truly attractive investment environment or simply continue to offer short-term concessions that do not promote long-term investment.
Development takes time. The Caribbean can aim for the same, but we must get serious in terms of strategy development and implementation and resist dismissing the creative industries as low level, grassroots activities.
Erica Smith is a creative industries and IP expert with over 2 decades of experience and post-graduate degrees in intellectual property and international business
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