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Downswing in creative market

Published:Thursday | July 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
Jampro, home of the Creative Industries Unit, and facilitor of investments in the creative sector.

The creative industries led by music, film, and dance generated less formal activity last year due to curtailed capital expenditure, a trend that included large festival Reggae Sumfest, according to official data.

Government marketing arm JAMPRO, a facilitator of the sector, explained that a reduced number of stage productions in 2015 accounted for the decline, while signalling that so far this year, the trajectory appears unchanged.

The creative industries is "seeing a decline in some of these larger staged entertainment events, which will impact the numbers being reported as we move forward", said the agency via email in response to queries on and prospects for the sector following the 2015 decline reported by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in its latest publication of the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (ESSJ).

"In 2014, the linkages target was positively affected by major music festivals such as Reggae Sumfest 2014, Sting 2014, as well as the Million Man March Initiative in October of 2014, highlighting the connections and interdependency between various sectors within the creative industries," Jampro said.

Players in the creative sector generated some $745 million of capital investments in calendar 2015, or 12 per cent less than the $843.8 million in 2014, facilitated through JAMPRO, according to PIOJ data. Additionally, the number of short-term employed dropped to 1,615 compared to 1,787 in 2014.

"An example of this was the annual Jazz & Blues Festival held in January and Reggae Sumfest held in July, which generated capital expenditure of $100 million and $180 million, respectively," stated the ESSJ 2015. A year earlier, the ESSJ indicated that Sumfest generated $189 million in capital expenditure.

Independent curator, writer, and critic Nicole Smythe-Johnson told Sunday Gleaner Business in an interview that a focus on expenditure fails to expose structural issues. The creative industries, she reasoned, receives limited support both from Government in the form of incentives and from private sector in the form of investment.

"Culture is just not a national priority, in any real way, which is unfortunate since Jamaica has made its greatest contributions in culture - from Usain Bolt and reggae to Marlon James," she said, adding that the country now has an opportunity through its "mammoth ministry", the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, to develop a marketplace for the creative industries.

Smythe-Johnson is a respected voice in the sector who divides her time between local and overseas projects.

"Money is less important than the creation of structures that support film, visual art, music, etc - things like customs on equipment and very high taxes on art materials. The industry doesn't need money, it needs to not be stifled. Right now, it's being stifled," said Smythe-Johnson. "That's why movies set in Jamaica are shot in Trinidad," she added. "Let's look at that stuff from a policy perspective. Make culture a national priority, like we did bauxite and tourism."

For the fiscal year ending March 2016, linkages through Jampro's Creative Industries Unit led to some $727.4 million spent in Jamaica across 90 unique registered productions, said the state marketing agency. They included 17 documentaries and 15 television commercials, as the most frequent production type; as well as one feature film, King of the Dancehall, by Executive Producer Nick Cannon, which resulted in $58 million in linkages and 181 jobs created over a two-week period ending May 8, 2015, Jampro said.

The agency says the lack of incentives for international film productions and non-existence of a film fund for local content development continue to be an issue for Jamaica's film industry, saying it impacts Jamaica's ability to truly compete in attracting big budget international projects, and the potential for local content development to increase the value of the production spend.

Jampro declined to reveal the spend so far for the 2016/17 fiscal period, saying the figures are to be audited.

Among the initiatives this year is a marquee project called PROPELLA that sees Jampro partnering with the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) on a production of five Jamaican short films.

PROPELLA aims to support the talent of Jamaican filmmakers and garner international exposure for Jamaican culture through film. The five shorts - Origins by Kurt Wright and Noelle Kerr; Shock Value by Adrian Lopez; Shoot the Girl by Tony Hendricks and Natalie Thompson; Sugar by Laurie Parker, Sharon Leach and Michelle Serieux; and The Silent Ones by Gregory Lopez and Janet Morrison - were chosen through a blind-selection process by JAFTA and Jampro.

Participants are currently undergoing a summer boot camp to receive training in scriptwriting, directing, pitching, festival strategy, and deal-making. The programme also includes funding to develop the short film content and to support the filmmakers' attendance and participation in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, where the five films will be shown, and at the Toronto International Film Festival, both in September 2016.