The importance of cultural policy and why developing Caribbean nations should pay attention

Culture (which is often closely tied to artistic expression) is that part of our identity as individuals and groups of peoples that speak to the pieces that make up our total way of life. Cultural policy speaks to government public policy and decision making that oversees the way cultural and artistic expressions and symbols are managed locally and treated with when international entities (namely, potential stakeholders such as investors or businesses) come into play. For developing Caribbean nations where culture and art factor as significant contributors to the gross domestic product (GDP) and national identity, a firm cultural policy is particularly important. Strong culture policy helps developing Caribbean nations:

  • Define and profit from national brand identity and generate revenue-building economic activity

The cultural draw of Caribbean countries is undeniable. For many Caribbean countries, like Jamaica, their cultural symbols and expressions (eg. art, activities, food, lifestyle practices, monuments, etc.) are indelible parts of the total national identity. This is true both locally and internationally. This is particularly important considering the significance of tourism to job creation and economic growth in Caribbean nations in an age of growing diversity and tolerance. Without strong and clear cultural policy, these identity shaping cultural symbols are not sufficiently protected at the level of the government of the people who ‘own’ them.

In the same vein, without strong cultural policy, the collective identity (for eg. ‘brand Jamaica’) and all it represents is left to be used and misused in local and international marketplaces and can even serve as sources of profit for entities not associated with the ‘owners’ of the same.  However, through detailed and firm culture policy, governments can ensure that when symbols of national identity are used in various forms elsewhere for profit, there is some monetary benefit to the economy of those who own them.  Trademarks, issues of copyright, terms of use, among other issues should be contained within the policy. Of course, as culture evolves, so too should policy governing the same.

  • Help local arts and culture creatives build profitable businesses

Whether it is the steel pans of Trinidad or the red, gold, and green of Jamaica’s Rastafari religion, local arts and culture practitioners (artists) and businesses will use established cultural symbols as part of their expression and various product/service offering. As such, producers of art and culture products and arts and culture businesses should be catered to in cultural policy. This is particularly important considering the nature of arts and culture businesses and products when compared with other industries.

Arts and culture businesses differ in many respects from businesses in other industries. For starters, many arts and culture business practitioners (such as performing artists) are both the product and the creator of the product. Additionally, the product is sometimes consumed as it is being produced/created (eg. a concert performance).  Other factors making arts and culture businesses unique lies in the fact that each created product is unique and hardly ever able to be mass produced. Picture trying to reproduce a unique painting (eg. The Mona Lisa) or a concert performance in large volumes and you will quickly recognise the limitations. Finally, producing arts and culture goods is expensive. Unlike other industries where costs go down over time, arts and culture production costs may continue to rise.

Finally, producing arts and culture goods is expensive. Unlike other industries where costs go down over time, arts and culture production costs may continue to rise. This is due largely to the fact that many art and culture goods (think sculptures, concerts, paintings, museum tours) are labour intensive and it is hardly possible to try cut labour costs without sacrificing quality. This is where culture policy can be handy.

Considering the above, culture policy geared towards ensuring arts and culture businesses are able to survive and thrive through sufficient funding is important to keeping the sector going. Providing grants and being a direct source of funding is not the only (or necessarily best) way for a government to go about shaping policy – especially in resource-strapped developing economies. Instead, culture policy can include tax-break incentives for corporate and private entities that support arts and culture enterprises and production in a variety of ways.

In addition to financial support, other creative means of support can be considered. Perhaps auditoriums or company spaces can be made available twice per year to entertainment groups or pop-up exhibitions or showcases, or media houses can have specially-reduced advertising packages available to arts and culture enterprises. These, of course, are oversimplified examples. However, as profitable commercial enterprises support the arts and culture sector, the costs of doing so can be filed as a part of company tax returns. 

Thinking along these lines can help to form strong cultural policy that allows developing Caribbean nations to keep cultural identity intact and generate business activity in the creative sectors and by extension stimulate the economy. Importantly,

Still, thinking along these lines can help to form strong cultural policy that allows developing Caribbean nations to keep cultural identity intact and generate business activity in the creative sectors and by extension stimulate the economy. Importantly, strong culture policy will also ensure that art and culture enterprises meet certain requirements to benefit from such policy statutes. For example, they should be legally registered, keep proper records, and so forth.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kei Dubb
Kerri-Anne "Kei Dubb" Walker is a multilingual jazz-fusion musician, writer, and arts and culture management technopreneur. An astute business woman skilled both in the business and practice of the arts and entertainment, Kerri-Anne is the owner and face of Kei Dubb - which in part manages her Kei Dubb Forever (music) and The Short Girl Code (musings) brands, among other affiliated trade and service marks.