BitDepth#863 - December 04

A new super company is being designed for the arts. Some reasons why this will probably turn out to be a really bad idea.
Culture is not an industry
Beryl McBurnie began building the Little Carib Theatre in 1948 and kept at it, assisted by patrons large and small until her death. It wasn’t until the outcry about NAPA’s unsuitability that the Government was finally shamed into supporting the completion of a construction project that had proceeded in fits and starts for almost six decades. This is what it looked like in 1988. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

In a fortnight of protests, the one that probably truly surprised the Government was the opposition to its plan to liquidate the Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company and the Film Company to create one purpose built entity, the Trinidad and Tobago Creative Industries Company (TTCIC), meant to oversee its relationships with and financing of the creative output of this country.

A published statement from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment made reference to a sum of TT$88.8 million being spent on the sector across three entities (the third is the Fashion Industry Development Committee) it has established “to spearhead the development of the creative industries sectors.”

The Government, personified by the always dapper Trade Minister, Mr Vasant Bharath, is bullish on the TTCIC, promoting it as both a remedy to the perceived poor return on investment in the sector and a great opportunity for the creative community.

Mr Bharath has chosen to slam the rather nebulous ‘creative’into the more familiar ‘industry’to create the kind of tidy engine of fiscal accountability that he’d like to see prevailing in the sector.
It’s business development math at its most primal, and nobody beyond the Minister and his advisors seems to think that it’s going to work.

There are good reasons for such scepticism. The models that the Government thinks have worked before didn’t evolve this way. The most successful example of which is the Energy Ministry and the purpose built state enterprises that run our petroleum industry.

Of the three, National Petroleum, the National Gas Company and Petrotrin, only one built its infrastructure from scratch, NP the result of the purchase of assets from British Petroleum Caribbean and Esso, Petrotrin the result of a takeover primarily of the in country assets of Shell and Texaco.
NGC’s success relative to NP and Petrotrin had a lot to do with the team that built it from the ground up, well-educated engineers who crafted an organised, functional infrastructure to exploit a wasting asset.

Getting to that point took decades and there was no rush, because the idea of building an extensive gas transport infrastructure came after the education, training and retention of a strong cadre of energy industry professionals who benefited from a strong multinational presence.
We invested in people first and got the significant return later, from a sector that didn’t exist when we began.

The crucial problem with the TTCIC is that it begins with the expectation of return and ignores what that troubling $88 million investment has bought. Mr Bharath chooses to ignore the education programmes, systems and procedures built from scratch, explorations in film, fashion and marketing that have built a growing resource of information and understanding that will provide the platform for the next generation of creative professionals.

The Trade Ministry’s statement claims that “the world is leaving us behind.” As it turns out, the world is going its own way and we were, for a change, clearing our own path. Cutting new brush means many broken stalks of failure that translate into learning and the great fear of most who oppose the formation of the new creative industries supercompany is that the knowledge that’s been won over the last few years will be lost, or worse, filed away.

Under the new plan, calypso, mas and the steelband have been bundled into an entertainment category to be overseen by the TTCIC. Will this override the authority of the NCC in the same way that the Trade Ministry’s interests seem to have stepped on the throat of the Culture Ministry’s?
Under the regime of the government led NCC, culture was given a corporate veneer with offices and secretaries and the creative professionals at TUCO, Pan Trinbago and to a lesser extent, the NCBA, were effectively turned into civil servants while their entrepreneurship curled up and died.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a party thing. This is how our Governments have become accustomed to working, consuming what they can control, dismissing and dispiriting that which it cannot.
The strangulation of calypsonians and CEPEPing of steelbandsmen in an unceasing cycle of competitions and cash crises are the template for state control of culture and the TTFC appears to be an irritating exception to this cycle of calculated dependency.

It must now be assimilated into the command and control of the political hierarchy of needs, which always seem to end up being that swirling miasma of bele dancers and Indian show dancing set to David Rudder’s The Ganges and the Nile.
In this T&T version of Maslow’s principles, artists must prepare to eat ah food and fall een to the governance doctrine of dependency in order to survive.

If it seems like a lot of serious voices are missing from this discussion, it isn’t that there is widespread agreement that the TTCIC is a good idea, it’s that there are many creative people in teaching positions and support roles who would endanger their careers by speaking out. If that doesn’t make the point, it’s hard to imagine what else will.

The Government is probably confused at this seething rejection of a centralised solution to the problem of the arts. From their point of view, it’s the perfect solution to a vexing problem. A growing group of artists resent being treated like feckless profligate children and want to know what happened to their own carefully prepared plans, agreed to with such enthusiasm just two years ago.
blog comments powered by Disqus