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Our other oil: How the T&T economy can benefit from arts and culture

The proceeds of our oil and gas production are no longer sustaining the high life.  As they say in Grenada, “the money can’t reach.” For decades there has much talk about diversification of the economy, but no action.

This is a pity because we have other oil.

Photo: The All Stars perform at the 2016 Panorama semifinals. (Courtesy Maria Nunes/Wired868)
Photo: The All Stars perform at the 2016 Panorama semifinals.
(Courtesy Maria Nunes/Wired868)

I refer to the arts and culture sector. This is our other oil. Sadly, the sector has been ritualistically bragged about but never brought mainstream into our economic life.

Suddenly, there is a belief that we can immediately put our other oil into production but do we have a marketable product? If persons hear a pan side playing in a square abroad, where do they go or what do they do to plan an art and culture tourism visit to Trinidad?

If they get here, what do we have readily available to show them?

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind because we had to expand my get involved time to include taking part in the Bocas Lit Fest as a first time book author, as a participant in a panel on Shakespeare and as a spectator.

The Bocas Lit Fest began with a function by the National Library and Information System (NALIS) to honour first time authors, who had books published in the 24-month period from April 1 to March 31 in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, and to open an exhibition of our books.

Photo: A Bocas Lit fest event at NALIS in 2014. (Courtesy Bocas Lit fest)
Photo: A Bocas Lit fest event at NALIS in 2014.
(Courtesy Bocas Lit fest)

Seventy-one of us published in that period.  That is a significant number for a small country like ours. Moreover, the range of subject matter was wide and varied as were the ages of the authors.

To give an idea of the variation in subjects, there was a murder thriller, several motivational books in prose and in poetry, one “all about natural kinky curly hair”, an account of the life of Inshan Ali, the cricketer and mystery spinner, authored by his sister and Roy Cape’s book about his life, emerging from the orphanage to become a world class musician.

Thank you NALIS for a warm and well organised morning.

Returning now to the subject of what cultural products we have to offer, there was a relevant and enlightening panel discussion at the Lit Fest, entitled Is the calypso dream dead? The panel comprised Kurt Allen, Kizzie Ruiz, Professor Gordon Rohlehr, and producer Kenny Phillips of WACK Radio, 90.1FM.

It would not be possible to reproduce in this column all of the insights and wisdom of these panel members, but it was clear that there is no plan or policy to separate the cream from the dilutions—although many such dilutions are supported by State funds.

Photo: The cast of Raymond Choo Kong's "First Instinct" salute the audience after their play at Central Bank.
Photo: The cast of Raymond Choo Kong’s “First Instinct” salute the audience after their play at Central Bank.

From the floor I pointed out that, we have the same problem with Panorama.  We cannot hear prime bands in prime time. Vested and conflicting interests require that the contest in the premier league of pan must be delayed to ungodly hours. Not surprisingly attendances at Panorama, even on final night, have declined dramatically.

Nevertheless, the creative soul of Trinidad and Tobago has never been stronger but its output is not respected. There is only an embryonically defined funding policy and little effective marketing beyond the advertisement of a sponsored or unsponsored weekend run.

Two Saturdays ago, there were five significant performing arts events in one afternoon in and around Port of Spain.  The event at Phase II panyard displayed an interesting departure from haphazard arrangements, no doubt due to the marketing skill of Hadco, Phase II’s new partner, carefully and deliberately not referred to as “sponsor.”

On that evening the partnership worked. The event comprised three distinct segments: Redon’s ensemble, Etienne Charles, the renowned trumpet player and his reunion group and Phase II, the host.

The programme moved crisply, starting on time and ending before 11.00 pm.  There were no lulls or long speeches. There was plenty of space to sit, or mingle and easy access to purchase food and drinks.

Photo: Renowned Trinidad and Tobago trumpeter Etienne Charles (left). (Copyright Laura Ferreira)
Photo: Renowned Trinidad and Tobago trumpeter Etienne Charles (left).
(Copyright Laura Ferreira)

One would be proud to put a product like that into a tourism package for Trinidad and Tobago, not of course as an isolated event.

Returning to the Bocas Lit Fes—about which there is so much more to say but space this week nearly done—in addition to the riveting interviews with successful literary artists with roots in this region and who have made it internationally, such as Vahni Capildeo, TS Eliot Prize shortlisted poet and Marlon James, who is the 2015 Booker Prize winner, there was story telling, theatre, poetry, music and performances by youthful performing artists.

Who is going to draw all the rich threads of our arts and culture together without compromising the creative freedom of the organisers and practitioners?

I would like to repeat my recommendation that the Carnival season be expanded and marketed as a first quarter festival running from January to March into which two hundred events, not necessarily directly related to the current and now unsatisfactory Carnival product, can be inserted to comprise an attractive tourism product.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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21 comments

  1. Perhaps we should consider that our only “oil” should be the people. Does oil, or the arts determine the prosperity of a country or the people themselves. Perhaps when we view the people as the only natural resource and learn how to nurture and build on that then we will be successful.

  2. 50 years I have contributed art by glorifying our natural heritage and awesome birds yet ask any average man on the street who is Larry Mosca and all you get is a blank. That’s how much we appreciate art in this 5th rate country.

  3. Martin is ah daily clown for UNC put him in the zoo for tourist

  4. Really, ease off the opium Br

  5. Fabien Alfonso

    I am sure we can find in an IMF report which describes the revenue earning potential of the Creative industries as financially viable rather than the opposite. What about our local Economic Development Board Headed by Dr Terrence Farrell, they should be advising the government that one cannot continue to place all eggs on one basket. Economic diversification is a long term goal; it is no way an overnight fix. My concern is, we have been discussing it for years. What is needed is less talk, when it comes to diversifying the economy, there is a clear disconnection between Government planning and execution of said plan

  6. No such thing as an art-based economy

    • Fabien Alfonso

      Why not, if talent is one of our unlimited natural resources, only a visionless Gov would fail to make the appropriate investment into the development of a creative Industry.

  7. What percentage of our GDP are arts, carnival, agriculture, tourism, combined? Even if we double or triple these, and that might be highly optimistic, it would not be able to make up for the reduced income from hydrocarbon exports. Believe the talk of the politicians if you like but we are likely to go through a very long period of economic decline. When hydrocarbon prices rise again our production levels will be so low and we would have built up so much debt it would hardly make a difference.

  8. Why Does The Ministry (or even the Minister) have to be the one to START anything? We still expecting Government to “see bout we”? This mentality is the MAIN reason things have taken so long and while recommendations are being made, WHERE is the activity? The activity exists in the hearts and souls of the musicians, performers, event planners etc WITHOUT the political motives. In addition to the “seasonal bandwagonists” who don’t truly appreciate what is known as our #CulturalExpression. For the ones who do and strive for excellence, continue to #BuildYourCraft you #CreativeIndusrtyEntrepreneurs.

    • Fabien Alfonso

      We should all condemn any sort of ‘dependency syndrome’. From where I stand, the majority of stakeholders are very much empowered and would prefer to partner with the Gov with their creative projects rather than ask for handouts.

  9. Yes man. The arts of corruption and the culture of dat is not my work.

  10. Arts and culture? We don’t even like our own artists until it is time to bandwagon their achievements. We have a set of wanna be Jamaicans and Americans who sadly carry a simple T&T passport.

  11. Fabien Alfonso

    There are many cultural products we can create and market to the world. In the context of the products that comes out of the Bocas Lit fest. It can be a worthwhile project if we can convert those written works into audio visual short films, docudramas or even movies. These films can be an all-encompassing product where locally produced music, Calypso and Pan can be incorporated as the Film’s sound track.

  12. Fabien Alfonso

    Why has diversification of the economy become so cliché? It’s about time we embrace the cultural industry’s potential to generate revenue, foreign exchange earnings and employment. Oil, our main source of income has been disrupted, we should be on a more aggressive diversification drive.

  13. I wonder if people in the arts would say there is much support for them from the public to start with.

  14. Yes I agree but who cares MR MINISTER should start it and all of us put a hand I would help you to