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Trinidad and Tobago would be missing a crucial opportunity for diversifying the national economy if Government’s 2010-2011 Budget does not contain the necessary provisions to propel the arts and cultural sector from dependency to self-sustainability.
Arts and culture is a billion dollar industry elsewhere. It is the kind of returns from museums, from performances abroad, from sales and downloads of a range of cultural products in a world hungry for new entertainment on the one hand; and on the other, from fulfilling the cravings for new reflections of self and identity that our multiculturalism can provide. It has the potential to help individuals and communities to sustainable livelihoods. However, the structures and systems and investments necessary that can help us take advantage of this are sorely lacking.
The potential is not only our music, song, dance, drama, literature but outside-the-box industries of fashion and cuisine. We are sitting on a multi-million dollar revenue earner in literary tourism, but there are as yet no real facilities by which we can capture this international interest. Digitisation of access to these is also crucial. It is the duty of Government to create the environment to enabling and facilitate this; to promote public-private sector partnerships with individuals and groups in the sector, and to ensure that no one group or groups of organisations have the monopoly of access to these facilities.
At a time when the world is rapidly moving towards forms of energy other than petroleum, it is ridiculous to consider further incentives and tax reductions to the oil sector, when efforts should be concentrated at making that sector compensate for the imbalances it has created, and developing those sectors that have longer-term and more sustainable potential, particularly those related to the arts and culture sector. Europe and North America are trying to ‘buy up’ as much world cultures as possible, we seem all-too-willing to sellout our cultural assets and not even to the highest bidder– just look at the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and CARIFORUM.
The 2010-11 Budget should present clear measures to provide effective tax and other incentives to the creative sector for the development of talents, products, communities along with a short, medium and long term vision that gives culture its rightful place at the centre of national development, not just piecemeal and tokenism. That would also include revising the mainstream (preschool/primary to tertiary level) education curriculum, teacher training, and education materials to reflect and enhance appreciation for local arts and multiculturalism, along with intelligently utilising the new arts megastructures to effectively cultivate and provide opportunities for creative enterprise and activities easily accessible to the masses. With this should come review of all ‘national’ competitions to lift the standards and quality of products being awarded by state and private sector funds, while helping to facilitate development of audiences, readers and participants. Where is our National Arts Council that is equipped and resourced to pull together and make holistic and effective the work of the National Carnival Commission, National Archives, National Trust, National Libraries and Museums for instance?
The spin offs are not only tangible economic benefits, but other social spinoffs – reduced crime, poverty, stress on social services and the intangibles of civic ownership, and national pride.