It is quite possible that the failure of individual enterprises and support organizations in the art and craft sector to respond positively to the invitation from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) to become members of that organization was a serious error which the sector will come to regret. This argument is made on the grounds that the art and craft sector has always found itself under-represented in the local business sphere. Most of our craftspeople, particularly, have always dwelt largely on the periphery as far as commerce is concerned. While one accepts that a thriving art and craft market requires a far greater number of visitor arrivals, the real failure of the sector has as much to do with its failure to make a case for itself as a viable economic sector as it has to do with anything else.
After the announcement had been made that a window had been opened for small but vibrant art and craft commercial enterprises to become members of the Chamber, a group of three craftspeople sought additional information on the membership requirements from the Stabroek Business. As far as can be recalled they were given information regarding how to engage the Chamber. Nothing more was heard about it after that.
Much of the reason for the Chamber’s invitation had to do with the role it felt it could play in furthering the business interests of the art and craft sector. 0ne idea that had arisen was that the GCCI might be instrumental in fashioning relationships between the local art and craft community and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) since that organization might have been instrumental in working with the sector to ensure its greater accessibility to the tourist market. Just around that time (around early 2013) a small group of creative people had expressed their uncertainty as to whether membership of the Chamber by artists and craftspeople did not amount to a commercialization of art in a manner that undermined its creative purpose. An artist from outside that group whose opinion was sought declared the view to be “a lot of nonsense,” since, she argued, what artists and craftspeople in Guyana wanted “more than anything else” was to produce their work and have it sold on the market.
Another reason why it might have been to the advantage of the local creative industries to become members of the Chamber has to do with the success which the Chamber has realized in lobbying support organizations including organizations like Caribbean Export. There is evidence elsewhere in the region of the creative industries benefitting from the support of Caribbean Export. Perhaps our own creative people might benefit in similar ways if they position themselves in a manner that allows the GCCI to serve as a lobbying force for them.
It seems too, that the ability of the art and craft community to move single-mindedly in any particular direction – like in the direction of membership of the GCCI – has always been undermined by divisions within their ranks. Before this article was written interviews were conducted with four members of the Guyana Art and Craft Producers Association (GACPA) each of whom appeared to have their own ‘issues’ with the umbrella body. As best as could be determined there are considerable differences over the manner in which the promotion of local creations is being done.
What the sector lacks – and desperately needs – is the dedicated and sustained patronage of the public and private sectors. There is no reason why there should not be (for example) public/private sector-supported national craft centres/markets in the various regions of the country through which visitors to those regions can secure direct access to the art and craft that is indigenous to those regions.
Were such an initiative to be pursued in tandem with efforts to increase visitor arrivals in the interior, that might help to salve the age-old logistical problems associated with moving volumes of hinterland-made art and craft to the coastal regions.
It would also do the sector a power of good if we were to invest in a properly designed and presented urban craft market, a single generous space where local art and craft (to the exclusion of imported trinkets) can be displayed for sale. Here, allowances should also be made for locally designed and made clothing, jewellery, footwear, books and music. A facility of this type should benefit from public/private sector financing and should be managed by a Board comprising the creative people, the vendors and public and private sector representatives. It should, too, be a venue for public shows, creative performances, book launches, craft and clothing displays and various other appropriate public events that would help to suitably market the facility.
It has to be said that it almost defies belief that over many decades we have been unable to create a suitable space for the permanent and sustained display and marketing of our creative resources, a place to which visitors can automatically gravitate to get a sense of the creative and cultural dimension of who we are as Guyanese. In the region and in various other parts of the world there are such ‘identity spaces’ and each, in its own right, serves its own profound purpose.
There are examples from elsewhere in the world which suggest that the creative industries lend themselves ideally to the promotion of a country. We can, perhaps, think of the role that our foods can play in marketing our country and attracting visitors. In this regard it is worth wondering whether next year’s regional Home Economics forum due to be held in Guyana cannot be used to help promote Guyana through its multi cultural cuisine. That is something for the organizers and, perhaps, the Ministries of Education and Culture to think about.
In the final analysis it is not just a matter of thinking that our creative industries can be used as a vehicle for marketing Guyana to the world, attracting visitors to the country, generating more economic activity, creating markets for our art and craft and (to use the term somewhat loosely) helping to put Guyana on the global map. The problem is that we never seem to get much beyond contemplation as far as these issues are concerned. There is, it seems, a need to come to this discourse from a policy standpoint, a need to arrive at a national understanding (at a policy level) that our creative industries are best suited to the effective marketing of our country. It is a discourse that must involve the creative people, the business sector and the representatives of all shades of cultural opinion. The idea, of course, must be backed by political will, manifested in a range of ways including a preparedness to invest in a project of profound social, cultural and economic importance to the country.