Patronising our craft industry

Our local craftspeople, including those from Amerindian communities will doubtless appear in their numbers at the upcoming Guyana Festival at the Providence Stadium and later in the year at GuyExpo at the Sophia Exhibition Site. One might well ponder the wisdom of holding two showpiece events, which are bound to be similar in some respects, so close to each other; particularly given the likelihood that many of the same exhibitors, vendors and visitors are likely to turn up for both events. That, however, is not the substantive purpose of this editorial.

Coming so close together, the two events afford us an opportunity to examine some aspects of the local craft industry, including those that have to do with its growth and development and its profitability.

The first thing that should be said is that craft has long been the go-to industry for adding colour to local fairs and exhibitions. Both the Guyana Festival and GuyExpo will see the government the offering Amerindian craftspeople some form of subsidy without which it will be economically infeasible for them to participate in these events. This has been the practice for many years, which raises the issue of our failure to create an economically sustainable craft industry in either the hinterland or the coastal communities.

Those one-off windfalls that have been afforded our Amerindian craftspeople by events like GuyExpo do no more than serve, sometimes, as inadequate pay cheques for being window dressing at those events where we seek to ‘display our cultural heritage.’

Surely a point has long been reached for us to stop, take stock and concede that for years we may well have been doing little more than patronising our Amerindian craftspeople. We should begin by raising the practical and pertinent question as to how their skills can become vehicles through which their lives can be enhanced, materially, that is.

We can talk all we want about showcasing our cultural heritage, the truth of the matter is that our Amerindian craftspeople often make physically demanding and materially unsatisfying treks to the city to be part of these events. Afterwards they return to their dwellings without any meaningful material reward where they wait to be summoned again.

If we really value our craft and particularly our Amerindian craft as a part of our cultural heritage then we must bring an end to the prevailing regime that reduces their work to window- dressing and appears to take no account of the importance of the entrepreneurial dimension to what they do. When – as is the case with the Guyana Festival – we boast about the prospects of a tourist market and none materializes, we hurt the economy of the craft sector. But then that is not something to which we appear to give a great deal of thought. Over all these years we have not even done anything meaningful to support the growth of the indigenous creative industry by creating facilities and providing the various other requisites that can help them refine their skills and better assure their economic well-being and the sustainability of their endeavours. Mind you, in the process we would be helping to equip our Amerindian craftspeople to participate in events like Guyana Festival and GuyExpo entirely on their terms rather than as officially summoned window-dressing. At the same time they can better satisfy the objective of helping to promote our cultural heritage.

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