Popop Founder Discusses Creative Economy
The word economy is thrown around a lot in society, but how the world thinks about economic possibility is undergoing a significant change. This Thursday, the multidisciplinary and collaborative network tmg* (the method group) will host their last of three discussions centered on business and design in The Bahamas. After discussing the design and business of producing and promoting “The Bahamian story” and exploring such branding through the case study of architecture, tmg* member Royann Dean brings together a panel of artists, creative entrepreneurs, critical thinkers, economists and politicians to explore how all of this comes together in the creative economy.
On June 16th at 6:30pm at The Hub, panelists John Cox, Jon Murray, Nicolette Bethel, Olivia Saunders and Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard will engage this very complex issue concerning the state of our economy and society.
The creative economy in a broad sense can encapsulate everything at the four-way intersection of art, business, culture and technology. If that sounds hard to pin down, that’s because it is — it’s an offshoot of the knowledge economy, and like the knowledge economy, its effects can’t entirely be tangibly measured like the imports and exports of other industries. But that doesn’t mean it’s less valuable or should be overlooked — on the contrary, creative economy is an extremely important factor in the way a country efficiently and consistently brands itself and grows and thrives. Creative entrepreneurship by artists, nonprofits and businesses can produce goods and services that not only generate jobs and revenue in a country’s economy, but also have far-reaching positive societal effects.
“One of the benefits that’s been stated about the creative economy is, aside from the economic side of it, that you have social inclusion, because you don’t necessarily need to have this division between trained people and less-trained people, because creativity can be reflected in all parts of generating economy,” Royann Dean explains. “You have cultural diversity because at all levels people can create something based on culture or heritage and still generate income; and there’s more social interaction because you have these people that are going to be bridging these divides to actually create something.”
The concept of a creative economy is relatively new; the term began appearing sometime around the turn of the century and has become particularly relevant in the age ofglobalization and rapid modernization. Yet, Dean points out, as the rest of the Caribbean region and indeed world embraces this perspective by encouraging creative entrepreneurship initiatives, The Bahamasseems woefully out of touch with this worldwide shift.
She uses the example of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s Creative Economy Report 2010, which analyzes and measures the state of creative economy worldwide. The Bahamas is hardly mentioned alongside varied case studies and efforts by other countries in the region such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. We’re essentially ten years behind in terms of creative economy development when we look at our neighbors, Dean points out.
This lack of quantifying our creative industries to gauge its economic benefits is worrying to panelist Jon Murray, who is an entrepreneur in this relatively new and underappreciated sector. He started Downtown Art Tours last year, giving locals and visitors alike a sampling of artistic spaces in our historic city, including the National Art Gallery, The D’Aguilar Foundation, New Providence Arts and Antiques and the murals the Love My Bahamas campaign.
“What’s interesting about what I do is that it’s service-based,” he says. “I provide a service for this stuff that already preexists, so it’s almost like a secondary industry where I’m not marketing or selling the works themselves; I have no ownership of the intellectual properties created, which is interesting because so much of creative economy is based on intellectual property.”
“I think my business is a service business dependent on there actually being a creative economy,” he continues. “Without the other institution and galleries functioning, I can’t function appropriately. It shows a level of maturity in our industry if it were on paper.”
But, he points out, it’s not on paper — in fact, there are hardly initiatives in place by any sector of society to measure the effects of creative industries and thus investment in potential exports for the country. This is unacceptable for many reasons, one being that our future potential as a destination in the globalized world hinges on culture and heritage — not the same old sun, sand and sea.
Moderator Royann Dean hopes to also address this idea of “the experience economy” during the talk as it is important to the creative economy. After all, once tourists have their needs met, they seek an overall experience different from any other worldwide, and they are able to get that from culture and heritage.
“For tourism economy-based countries, that’s a huge reason to have a good creative industry. This is the same thing Jackson Burnside was talking about 20 years ago — we have the sun, sand and sea but people aren’t going to be coming here for that anymore. Other countries have sun, sand and sea, plus they have mountains,” Dean points out. “So the one thing we have going for us in terms of that is accessibility — but Cuba is right there, and you can already use Euros in Cuba, so where is our experience? Where is our authentic experience? You can’t really deliver an authentic experience unless you have something related to some sort of creative or cultural heritage, you can’t.”
Dean seems to be on point with the global perspective, for in the same UNCTAD Creative Economy 2010 report, their assessment for the region by the organization results in this advice: “In order for Jamaica and the Caribbean to survive in a globalized world, policymakers and stakeholders seeking economic growth and job creation must position the creative industries as the cornerstone of any serious development strategy.”
Yet, points out fellow panelist Nicolette Bethel — educator, anthropologist ,writer and former Director of Cultural Affairs — we are lacking in that promotion through governmental policy.
“The Bahamas has absolutely no data because we don’t think there is anything measurable about the creative economy,” she says. “It’s sad, but it is a measure of a) who we continue to elect into office and b) who they bring into civil service.”
BRANDING & MARKETABILITY
In spite of this and recognizing the need for individuals to drive such change, working with the College of The Bahamas, Bethel has been producing measurable statistics about one of our main cultural industries that have export potential in terms of branding and marketability, and also potential to generate economy within the country: Junkanoo.
These surveys have uncovered quite a bit of information about the cost of Junkanoo, the Junkanoo participant, and also the Junkanoo consumer — three parts of which can overall address how useful Junkanoo is to the economy, how it functions in branding and tourism, and how it can be used to generate economy in these sectors as well as become a viable source of income for its participants, making it a legitimate and measurable component of our creative economy. Bethel supposes that by making Junkanoo a major part of our creative economy, The Bahamas will see social improvements.
“Junkanoo is our major creative activity. One thing we are able to say is that Junkanoo involves thousands of people every year and many of these people are young men who are not necessarily hugely employable. Now, we have a major problem with unemployment and crime. What we haven’t begun to measure is how much in man-hours each person was in the shack, how many hours that is, and just calculate the minimum wage, and thus the value of that particular commodity,” she explains.
“If there was some way of generating revenue for some time that they were there — I think that there are all kinds of ways to generate revenue — then these people would be working, they’d have jobs. And they’d have jobs they’d generate their own money for that the government wouldn’t have to do anything with. In Trinidad for example, this is a major part of their economy. The challenge to the Junkanoo community is how are we going to take all of these man-hours and make them profitable — make them able to sustain some measure of employment for these guys?”
One way is to up our marketing of Junkanoo—and indeed, all cultural sectors — to tourists, and this is where our government comes in. After all, they draft the policies that contribute to our branding. Yet this is the area in which Bethel — and many participants in the creative and heritage sector in this country — recognize our downfall. While elsewhere in the Caribbean, cultural festivals are seen as a viable source of tourism, employment generation and income, we seem to lack such perspective in The Bahamas, putting cultural events such as hosting CARIFESTA — which twice we unsuccessfully attempted — on the backburner.
It’s shame because in the same UNCTAD report, they point out that “Heritage tourists are one of the highest-yield tourism groups; they stay longer and spend 38 percent more per day than traditional tourists. Therefore,” they continue, “ efficient heritage tourism policies and infrastructure at regional level can be an important approach to attract international travelers with special interest in heritage and the arts of the Caribbean region.”
So why aren’t we catching up to this fact? This is where the creative economy and how it is generated and promoted becomes a chicken-or-the-egg dance between government responsibility and responsibility by the creative community.
GOVERNMENT & POLICY-MAKING
Panelist Charles Maynard, the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, is hoping to add the perspective from the government and policy-making side. Though he agrees that the cultural economy is important and should be developed and structured, his solution lies in the ability by the creative sector to take charge and make the government take notice. He uses Junkanoo to illustrate his point as it’s our main creative industry.
“Over a period time Junkanoo has become popular for the general public and the funding followed it. When you have a large sector of your population involved in something and trying to push it forward, those are the kind of things that usually get the attention of the policy-makers,” he explains. “The commitment to culture region-wide is always driven by the cultural community itself. If you depend on any government to drive your cultural development in terms of cultural expression and cultural economy, it isn’t going to get anywhere.”
What Minister Maynard implies in this statement is something many artists already unfortunately — that they only have each other. In the end, panelist John Cox points out, creative people just make the most of what they have, making connections within the field and with those who can fund them. As founder of Popop Studios — which recently became an international center of visual arts with their new not-for-profit status, allowing them to invite international artists to work in The Bahamas — Cox recognizes the power of collaboration and education and the need to move beyond the limited idea of what being an artist or even being creative entails.
“Students say ‘I want to do art’ but they never really know exactly what they want to do because it’s kind of presented to them in these vague terms all throughout primary and secondary school. So they have this vague idea of what it means to be creative, and most of that comes from the idea of well, if they make a hundred paintings and they sell them for a hundred dollars each, that’s a hundred thousands dollars, and that’s a pretty good salary, right?” he explains. “So we have this kind of basic kind of lemonade stall mentality, which isn’t really the way businesses sustain each other. Really the way businesses kind of sustain each other is by networking and partnering and being able to predict long-term relationships with people where you know you’re going to be able to build and predict support and also be able to provide an audience for your product, spawning positive future potential and future potential relationships that can build sustainability.”
We’ve already seen that kind of mentality change just in the past five years, for in fact, many artist-run collectives — the Bahamas Art Collective and Creative Nassau, for example — are doing just that: bringing together people from all sectors of the creative community to think about creating their own opportunities, self-empowerment and making Nassau a cultural center in the world. Already dissatisfaction about governmental support and a desire to improve the standing of The Bahamas in the creative sector have spawned events just in the past few years such as Shakespeare in Paradise, Carifringe, The Bahamas International Film Festival and the Bahamas Writer’s Summer Institute. In the end, it seems artists are always on their own, although they may band together.
But why exactly is this so? And how is the government already investing in the art it sees as having proven itself — would that be Junkanoo, with already a tremendous amount of untapped potential that we aren’t recognizing? The question then seems to become: How do we change what we think is important and worth investing in? Minister Maynard offers the solution of instilling that indefinable “Bahamian spirit” found in Junkanoo in all aspects of the creative sector, but all that offers is more of the same kind of creativity and way of thinking, when creative economy is about reevaluation — as Royann Dean puts it, “Nobody is looking for new ways to do things, they are looking for new ways to do the same old thing. We need to challenge things.” Even Minister Maynard recognizes what’s needed is an upheaval of the perception of creativity, even if it is within the perspective of the creative sector simply being responsible for themselves, which is only one dimension of this reality.
“We need to as a country appreciate some of these things we create, to have value for what’s ours instead of importing it,” he says. “It’s cultural awareness, it’s a collective thing to be able to team up and do as partners do, not sitting down and feeling sorry for yourself and saying the government isn’t doing anything to get you any further in terms of where you want to go — instead we need to say we need to be more focused not only from an individual standpoint but a collective vision standpoint, we need to have a collective vision.”
This is something that panelist Olivia Saunders — economist and educator — is most concerned about when she thinks about the economic implications of the creative industry. For when we talk about the creative economy, we’re not just talking about the arts — we’re talking about having a creative approach in general to our economy.
“I think I’ll look from the perspective that we have to look beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves in terms of what the economy is and what the economy is supposed to do for us or what the economy is supposed to be. We just have to be creative and think differently about our economy in The Bahamas,” she says. “One side of it is how creative we are in this existing economy, whether we think the economy we have is creative. Does it lend itself to creativity, or are we to be considering a brand new kind of economy we can truly call creative? Once we do that, what ought it to mean for us then if we decide to design a sort of creative economy?”
Essentially, she points out, flaws in the systems of our everyday lives contribute to this mindset.
“It’s a culture. If you look at our politics, it’s not really creative. If you look at so many other aspects of our life, they’re not creative,” she says. “The economy is an extremely important part of it but it’s just a part of how we just look at things, we really don’t want too many things to be very different from what we know for sure, so at the very core there has to be people being sufficiently open to accept creativity.”
In the end, it would seem it all comes down to how we value ourselves as a culture. After all, if we value intellectualism, if we value creativity, if we value our heritage and indeed ourselves, we become a society open to creative ways to engage and advance our economical structure. And that responsibility is not on any one group, but each group, and each individual, and certainly with response from an open-minded government.
However these only scratch the surface of what the creative economy even is and how to improve it — the deeper we go, the more we come full circle or stare into an abyss. The first step, Royann Dean emphasis, is to educate yourself about options — all creative thinkers, government employees, and even people who believe they are not affected by the creative industry, for if the creative economy operates as it should, it affects the entire society positively.
“The whole idea behind tmg* talks was to get the conversation started, to get the ball rolling and to let people know that listen, there are other people thinking the same things you are, asking the same questions and who have ideas. Things can happen,” Dean says. “In that way, I’m happy with the result. The question is, what happens after? How do we put the insight that was gained from the talks in motion?”
Have some ideas? Collaboration is the first step, and everyone matters. The discussion begins at 6:30pm at The Hub on Colebrook Lane and East Bay Street and is free to the public though you are welcome to donate to the venue. For more information, visit the tmg* website at www.tmginnovates.com.
The Nassau Guardian