Caribbean looks to creative arts to transform regional economy

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Barbados Minister of Culture, Stephen Lashley

THE ECONOMIC potential of the creative arts industry in the Caribbean remains one which can transform regional economies which have been stagnant, Culture Minister of Barbados, Stephen Lashley, has said.
Lashley expressed this view on Wednesday at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat in Georgetown, just prior to the start of the twenty-fifth meeting of the Regional Cultural Committee (RCC).

The Committee is meeting in Guyana until Friday to, among other things, finalise preparations for the hosting of the thirteenth edition of the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) which will be held in Barbados from August 17-27. Economic growth in the region has not been as strong over the last few years due to global economic contraction which was influenced by several major political developments including Brexit. The Caribbean has traditionally relied heavily on agricultural exports and tourism to support economic growth. However, given recent developments in the global economy, the Barbadian Minister recommended that the region begin examining the economic potential of the creative arts industry.

He said that the realities of the economic situation in the region is that it is challenging, and so leaders must decide how they are going to reposition the cultural sector to become a leader in transforming economic realities in the region.
“A lot of money go to traditional sectors that do not necessarily give the returns we expect. Governments must… put some money behind the creative sector” he charged. The Culture Minister posited too that if the region is serious about its creative sector and achieving economic growth, then it must “re-divert scare resources into this potential champion of true regional economic expansion.”
Aside from its tropical climate and white sandy beaches, culture and arts have been the selling points for the Caribbean with world-renowned musicians like Bob Marley and Rihanna emerging from the region. Optimistic in tone, Lashley said that he has examined the statistics on the economic impact of the creative industries in the region, and realized that much could be achieved if it is tapped into.

He suggested that: “Fiscal deficit will be brought under control and our young people will become more creative and innovative and they will begin to lead the world in terms of cultural integration and innovation.” Acknowledging that one of the challenges in the region is the growing level of unemployment, Lashley opined that young people are energized by creativity and technology. As such, he noted that financial support is needed to drive the development of the business models in the creative sector. “It is time we put our money where our mouths are” Minister Lashley said.
Building on his deliberations about the creative industry, the Barbadian Culture Minister was keen to note too, that strengthening the creative economy is high on the development agenda of his country.
He specifically referenced the fact that in 2015, Barbados passed the Culture Industries Development Act, which enshrines in law a robust system of incentives for the sector and established a Culture Development Authority as a dedicated institution to support the industry.

Minister Lashley shared too that it is time legislation such as these be looked at for wider application in the region. He noted that Barbados stands ready to support countries to adopt best practices and designing legislation to suit their social and cultural landscape. Touching briefly on CARIFESTA XIII which will be held in Barbados in August, the country’s Culture Minister said that the main focus this year is about strengthening the creative industries.
He added too that Barbados remains committed to realising the ideal for which the festival was created: To showcase the excellence of the Caribbean arts and culture; to foster a vision for Caribbean integration and unity; and to provide opportunities for real artistic and cultural development in the region.
CARIFESTA is being held from August 17-27 under the theme: “Asserting Our Culture, Celebrating Ourselves”.