Mashramani is here again and given that it is one of our major national cultural events, now is as good a time as any to think about the direction of this historic festival and the cultural sector in general.
This is even more relevant given that recently the Head of the Mash Secretariat, Mr Lennox Canterbury, is reported to have said that Mash 2009 is gearing to revive Guyanese culture. Taken at face value, this statement is problematic from both conceptual and historical standpoints. Nevertheless, Mashramani is only a festival and I believe that what Mr Canterbury and his colleagues at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport intend are efforts to improve quality and enhance participation.
While this is commendable, we need to have some idea of the general framework within which our cultural revival and Mashramani are taking place. I want to suggest that in the modern era they must be placed firmly in our efforts to develop a modern cultural industry.
A summary of a proposed study of this industry in the European Union situates the issue well: “Given the recent increase in cultural production and demand, the industries represent an area of social interaction and economic activity… The cultural industries are both a driving force behind employment and the catalyst of regional, national and European identity. This dual role of culture in the development of European integration is the starting point for our study.
The conceptual framework justifies commitment by the public authorities, which should invest human and financial resources in it since cultural fulfilment is more than compatible with the desire for economic and social cohesion in modern societies. Cultural life may become an economically viable public and private service as well as an identity catalyst and social integrator.”
Festivals are only one genre of the modern industry which also consists, inter alia, of painting; sculpture; architecture; poetry; music; dance; museums; galleries; libraries; theatres; nightclubs; books; journals; magazines; newspapers; film; radio and television, and the activities that link these together, such as advertising and the production, distribution and display processes of printing and broadcasting.
In 1991, the cultural industry in the United Kingdom was said to be equal in size to the construction industry, and a 2006 study by Keith Nurse, et al, for the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, noted that. “In economic terms the cultural/creative industries sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world economy. In the years 1994 to 2002 the sector grew in exports from 39 billion to 59 billion. Best estimates value the sector at 7 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and forecasts are put at 10 per cent growth per annum.” The authors considered it a regional ‘sun rise’ industry but recognised that much more needed to be done if its potentials are to be realized.
For example, they argued that investment in human capital development is critical because the cultural industries start with the creativity of the artist. In addition, intellectual property protection and administration are essential to prevent copyright infringement and ensure the recovery of investment. Branding based on genre and heavy marketing are necessary to build audience loyalty and create successes, and innovation and technological upgrading are vital to boost global competitiveness.
I believe that an approach that adopts and sensibly attempts to develop our incipient cultural industry would not only bring us many tangible benefits but also add both width and depth to the Mashramani experience. Of course, this is not new: last year’s Carifesta was set on this broader canvas in terms of a Caribbean reality.
It is obvious that the implementation of this kind of process at the national level will require much time, thought and creativity and it would be good to know that something in this direction is in the making.
Dr Henry B. Jeffrey