It’s January 2021, and I can only reminisce and fill the silence of pan-less evenings with musings about what can be done to make magic in 2022 or possibly 2023. January is usually my month for late evenings filled with the repetition of steelpan notes and chords, deciphering the phrases of soca artistes and exchanging warm hugs with friends who are home for Carnival.
But the silence of these long Carnival evenings has provided an opportunity to weave a new tapestry for our future Carnivals and festivals.
Alas, the distant sound of the oilfield pumping jack and the muted hiss of gas lines drown out our capacity to think of the potential of the creative economy. Trinidad and Tobago must pivot away from oil and gas and embrace our only true resource—the creativity of our people.
How easy it is for us to ‘puff up’ our collective chests and talk about the talent which abounds in this land, from the visual arts to the performing arts and every category in-between.
However, the harsh reality is that there is neither respect for nor recognition of the value of a creative economy. At the governmental level, on one hand, we continue to intentionally starve the arts sector of funding and other resources, favouring the purely academic and industrial. Meanwhile, on the other hand, we view the arts and the persons who drive it as continually needing hand-outs.
At the personal level, we refuse to honour the work of our musicians and their producers by freely uploading their music online without permission, so that they get no royalties whatsoever from this form of theft. We still ask graphic artists and photographers to do work for free or ‘exposure’.
What is needed is a plan for the all-round development and sustainability of the sector. We know now that the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had his finger on the pulse when he championed the creation of a framework for the development of the arts. Today, UTT and similar creations are rudderless and even being destroyed with little suggested as to possible replacements.
In this time of closed borders and an inward focus, we should be shaping the development of the creative sector and intensifying the programmes aimed at learning opportunities for teachers and students. The focus should be on evolving the creative sector into one which is sustainable and uses the talents of all of our people. We must be ready for business when the new world begins to open again.
Long before Covid and the isolation it requires, the UN General Assembly contemplated the rudiments of the creative economy. Indeed, it declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This declaration came in 2019 and today, we have an opportunity to live this pronouncement and make it our reality.
Traditional economies were built on the exploitation of land, labour and capital. We have oil and gas as natural resources, but although they have been a blessing by providing us with income far beyond our expectations, they’ve also been a curse because we were not grown-up enough to use the income wisely.
Thus its haphazard exploitation has shaped our current day reality. Sadly for us, the time for such fossil fuel use appears to be coming to a fast end.
It is time to pivot towards the development of the creative industries. This means exploiting the interplay between ‘human creativity, intellectual property, knowledge and technology’ to achieve and maintain sustainable development.
It may be difficult to conceptualise that creativity is an answer, but a rethink of the possibilities will open a new range of jobs and industries as we transform Trinidad and Tobago into a creative economy powered by people.
Let’s use the isolation of 2021 to begin the transformation to a creative economy powered by our people.