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Role of government in creative industries

Published:Friday | May 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMDeborah Hickling
Dr Deborah Hickling
Dancers set the stage alight at Grand Gala in 2013.

It has often been argued that governments have no role to play in the development of cultural and creative expression. Some creative practitioners believe that governments will seek to repress the artistic voice if they accept support of any kind from government.

Many creatives instinctively 'fyah-bun' the notion of singing for their supper.

Creative content has themes. Many of those themes, by their very nature, are often anti-Establishment. It is a complex consideration. Can an administration facilitate an industry's development without crossing the thin line of curtailing or impacting freedoms of speech and expression?

A mature, thinking, transparent and democratic administration can separate its long-term development goals for an industry or set of industries from the immediacy of its messaging, in keeping with rights to freedom and expression. Our own history has taught us that freedom and independence, however, come with responsibility, and we all have rights! Appropriateness and personal responsibility are equally expected of the creative fraternity.

What governments spend on the creative industry is another important issue. In 2012, I was interviewed in the midst of the controversy about the money spent on the Jamaica Fifty celebrations, and in particular, the Grand Gala. My colleague asked me specifically whether or not the government should fund the Grand Gala. I told her that was not for me to say. It is not a 'yes' or 'no' answer and that my opinion is not what is important in the matter. She intimated that I was doing the 'political shuffle' about a hot-button issue. I was not. Let me explain.

For the Grand Gala specifically, amid questions of how much is spent, we need to determine how many people, particularly those in traditionally seasonal jobs, were employed? What is the multiplier effect and what is the economic impact on participating communities? The questions and answers are bigger than what any individual thinks.

The decisions governments make for their cultural and creative industries have direct bearing on social, economic and political outcomes. Governments, particularly those with urgent growth agendas, often make decisions with economic imperatives in mind. They ask, or should ask, in relation to making policy decisions:

- What is the gross value added? That is, what is the value that the all 20 component sectors of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) contribute to the economy?

- What is the value of any export of services?

- What number of businesses - formal and informal - exist in this sector?

- How many employees and self-employed people work in the CCIs, in both creative and non-creative roles, and in creative occupations not within the CCIs?

Governments also have to ask what is the contribution to and impact of positive change in civil, cultural and social values? How will supporting this industry provide increased skill levels and employment? How will it affect changes in values, world view, outlook, behaviours and attitudes - based on its social-development imperatives?

Using the Grand Gala example, they must ask what is the value of heightened patriotism, feelings of pride and the provision of an annual family activity showcasing our culture? My five-year-old nephew still shouts "Grand Gala" every time he drives past the National Stadium. It clearly had an impact on him. Think then of the impact on the children who get an opportunity to perform in that space!

Another issue about which government's role is contested relates to the formalisation of businesses, as recently raised by Mel Cooke and Lloyd Stanbury in social and traditional media. It has been argued that music and other creative activities in Jamaica have thrived on informality. It is further argued that there is no real incentive for CCI practitioners - creative, technical or business persons - to legitimise and regularise their activities. Many avoid the payment of taxes - by 'bunning Babylon system'. Ironically, having successfully avoided formal business structures, some then produce creative works that speak about corruption and the inefficiencies of the system.

Same system

This is the same 'system' that is challenged by difficulties in collecting revenue in the short term. It is the same 'system' that is retarded in the long term by its inability to gather statistics on its productivity - because so much important, productive work remains uncounted in the informal sector. Jamaica's GDP figures could look so very different if informal activities could be counted! It is a cycle, and all of our futures will be determined by the actions we take or fail to take.

The role of government, therefore, must be to develop and communicate with the private creative sector what the benefits are to their members and develop new incentives that make it practical for them to formalise their businesses. It must be to communicate that there are some things a business person operating within the formal sector who meets his or her statutory obligations can look forward to. These include a getting pension through the NIS or accessing housing financing through the NHT.

Operating within the formal sector makes it easier to access business financing, grants and incentives. Given the histories of our CCIs and the anti-compliance culture, government's role is to sensitively communicate these matters within the sectors. These processes have started and must now be expanded, in keeping with the resources available.

This leads us to another vexed question regarding the role of government in CCI development. Is it the role of government to finance individual private cultural and creative projects? Often, the refrain 'nutten nah gwaan' translates to 'I have received nothing directly'. This perspective does not benefit from the inclusion of the 12,000 people who enter Festival each year, those on the National Entertainment Registry, or those involved in the MSTEM/MIIC Animation Programme. Those are projects and programmes are clear demonstrations of activity.

The Jamaican Government has this year budgeted more than $2.6 billion for CCI activity across ministries. This sum, in its composition, is not entirely new. Similar allocations have been budgeted before in myriad government programmes. However, the presentation of an aggregate budget figure this year by the prime minister demonstrates a change in thinking and approach to CCI policy development. This is significant step.

The Jamaican government knows that it does not have adequate resources to fund all individual projects even if it wished to. The government knows that it must, instead, over time, create an enabling environment in which creatives can thrive. This work is being done by the National Cultural and Creative industries Commission (NCCIC) made up of public and private sector representatives.

As the NCCIC considers the role of government in CCI development, it becomes clearer that the development of CCIs is necessary and requires the input of both private and public sectors.

Why and how?

- Trade agreements have to be negotiated government to government in consultation with the sectors affected.

- Bilateral and multilateral funding for the development these sectors is largely accessed through governments, on behalf of the sectors.

- Governments have to work with the private sector to determine the labour needs of the over 20 sectors covered by the CCI framework and plan for the development of the labour force and decent work conditions.

- Governments and private sector have to work together to plan for training and certification, as well as identify research and development imperatives for the CCI sectors.

- Governments and private sector have to develop CCI policy models together- to determine which sectors are to be prioritised for development.

- Business development, marketing, incentives, IP rationalisation, seeking investment; all the activities required to make CCIs 'real' industries in Jamaica require public private consultation, partnership and input.

There is, therefore, a proven, significant and important role that the State plays in the development of cultural and creative industries, working in tandem with a vibrant private sector.

- Dr Deborah Hickling is a media and communications specialist in CCI policy development for developing countries and chair of the Interministerial Technical Working Group on Cultural and Creative Industries in the Office of the Prime Minister. Email feedback to and