Leveraging Caribbean culture for economic growth
The Caribbean is one of the most diverse regions in the world thanks to its unique history. Over the years the islands have been home to native Tainos, Arawak Indians, and the colonial Dutch, Spanish, French and English. Today this melting pot of influences can be seen and felt in the region’s architecture, art, cuisine and music.
Capitalising on this rich culture is a must, given that cultural and creative industries (also known as the ‘orange economy’) have the potential to generate billions for the Caribbean each year.
What is the orange economy?
Professor John Howkins was the first to popularise the notion of the creative economy in 2001 when he published a book outlining how economies could be based on imaginative ideas, rather than traditional resources. He further defined it as all sectors whose goods or services are based on intellectual property, such as architecture, advertising, crafts, publishing, performing arts, music and design.
Creative goods and services are the fifth most traded commodity on the planet, worth an estimated US$646bn in 2011. It is also a less volatile market than most industries, capable of weathering the financial crisis as well as fluctuating oil prices and energy costs. Harnessing the region’s heritage not only generates employment and capital in an often overlooked area, it can also strengthen regional and domestic economies.
In 2011 the Latin American and Caribbean orange economy was worth US$175bn according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and had exports totaling US$18.8bn. Saint Lucia had one of the strongest creative sectors in the Caribbean, contributing 8 per cent to the country’s overall economy and boosting employment by 4.4 per cent.
Writers, musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, investors and curators – the orange economy has a wide reach and encompasses people from all walks of life. The uniting feature of these orange producers, however, is innovation.
While there may be a wealth of innovation and ingenuity in the Caribbean, it is not always easy to monetize that talent. The region’s innovative entrepreneurs have long been stifled by lack of access to capital, unfavourable business processes, the high cost of energy, a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure. It is difficult to convince financial institutions to invest in creative endeavours as they are typically seen as very high-risk. Banks find the high sunk costs off-putting, and are unwilling to invest in ideas, especially given the unpredictability of the market. Orange economy consumers can be a tough sell, with many unable to recognize the cultural value of a product.
To overcome these obstacles and truly grow the orange economy, it is vital that it receives institutional support from governments and public policy bodies at both the local and regional level. However, a sector characterized by creativity and innovation can be difficult to fit into the traditional economic template. Developing an adequate framework for the creative industries means adopting an equally creative approach.
One of the top priorities for Caribbean states must be developing strong Intellectual Property law to protect producers. Saint Lucia has been progressive in this regard with a suite of legislation including the Trade Marks Act 2001, Patents Act 2001, Industrial Designs Act 2000 and the Copyright Act 1995, which was amended and updated in 2000.
Once the necessary legislation is in place, governments must then look at what they can do to fiscally support the sector. This can take the form of grants, training, tax incentives, investment in R&D efforts and creating accelerators and incubators to support entrepreneurs. It’s also important to showcase each island’s talents with national festivals and other arts and culture-related events.
In Saint Lucia many of these activities fall under the purview of the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) which was established in 2002 under the Cultural Development Foundation Act 2000. The CDF’s mandate is to celebrate Saint Lucia’s culture, while simultaneously growing it as a business. It does this through training initiatives, promotional activities and marketing. The Foundation also hosts a number of events including Carnival, Festival of Flowers and the National Arts Festival.
All of which helps to spread the word about the opportunities available in the orange economy. Growing jobs in this area is a priority for Saint Lucia, whose unemployment rate hit 21.6 per cent in 2016. It also dovetails with the country’s new push for more heritage tourism. With the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA) reviving the concept of ‘village tourism’, it is hoping to open up more opportunities for small, creative producers who are able to offer tourists something uniquely Saint Lucian. The new generation of millennial travellers want history and culture along with their beach getaway, and this shift in consumer attitude opens up a profitable avenue for island creatives.
Producers and supporters of the orange economy will have to work fast, however, as the landscape is already changing. As we head into a more digital age, the widespread use of technology, and its constant evolution, is shaping every aspect of life in the region – from how we bank to how we create. The internet gives creative producers access to a global market, as well as fostering collaboration between artists, producers and creative communities. It also offers artists a digital toolbox. The art, architecture, music, fashion and film of the future will use innovative technologies such as 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality. In a competitive market, the ones most at ease with the new media will be the ones who succeed.
So what does this mean for the Caribbean? The region has to ensure it understands, implements and gives its artists access to digital infrastructure. It must capture traditional knowledge, and learn how to repackage it for a new generation. This will include improved data collection and analysis to give governments a better picture of how the orange economy has developed, and enable them to identify further areas of growth. A new regional marketplace should be explored, which will help countries build their own brand and collaborate, where possible, with other producers across the Caribbean. Social media is also a crucial area that can yield further growth by giving artists a wider audience and new pathways to their consumers.
In the past, creative industries were often sidelined as a ‘luxury’ product – something that took a back seat to basic goods and services. Now countries across the world are waking up to the potential in the orange economy. For too many years culture in the Caribbean meant carnival, but times are changing. In the past decade, the region’s innovators, entrepreneurs and creative producers have made a huge and growing contribution to the Caribbean economy. This growth can only continue with the correct institutional support. Governments, businesses and communities must work together to leverage their homegrown talent, and ensure a sustainable and inclusive future.