Harmony Village and the creative industries

Much creativity, little commerce

If there are still unmistakable indications that the socio-cultural cohesion that we continually seek continues to elude us, it is not for the want of pressing street fairs and cultural events into service in the hope that these might make some kind of contribution, however modest, to that elusive goal. On Thursday April 12 the Ministry of Social Cohesion staged its second ever Harmony Village, a public display of multi-cultural performances, food, fashion and art and craft in the Main Street Avenue that sought to place the spotlight on the respective creative contributions of our various peoples.

What emerged was the customary modest support for the range of creative talent which, above everything else, provided a modest, one-off market for the food, craft and other items that collectively gave shape to the event.

Events like the Harmony Village have never succeeded in delivering the social cohesion that we have sought for years; what they have done instead is to afford the vendors of craft and clothing short-term spurts of patronage that only do far less than enough to make any sort of sustained commercial success. Hence, they must return for the next event with little more than a faint hope that next time around it will be different.

What is really required (and what we have, by and large, not been able to achieve up until now) are markets for our assorted offerings in craft, food and clothing that provide a definitive take-off point for those intrepid vendors, who, during those times when there are no one-day events that bring spurts of patronage must find alternative means of making a living.

The problem is that while, over time, we have continually sung the praises of our creative people we have failed almost completely to muster the level of marketing acumen that affords them the patronage that can turn their talents into commercial successes. The vendors at events like the Harmony Village, short on both the capital and, too often, the marketing acumen to turn their talents into bona fide businesses fall into a kind of subsistence slot …so that they – at least the vast majority of them – must live for events like Harmony Village, or else, rely on the subsidy of a Go-Invest or some other state agency to take them to some regional or international fair where the fierce competition  to attract a more global, more potentially lucrative market tends, invariably, to push them to the periphery.

That surely wouldn’t do for people who spend much of their lives contemplating the gap between what they believe to be their creative and entrepreneurial niches and the strictly limited extent to which those talents bring them any real rewards. Meanwhile, these public displays of creativity invariably attract no more than strictly modest attendance, a function again of less than tactical marketing and fulsome praise that is never really backed by corresponding levels of patronage and remain decidedly unconnected to anything that can take the vendors and their creations forward from either a creative or a commercial perspective.

What seems not to have dawned on us, over the years, is that our creative industries have, remained more-or-less pegged firmly to the floor, the constant chatter about market potential notwithstanding. The chatter has not been accompanied by any  workable plan to make those industries a legitimate part of the mainstream entrepreneurial culture. After all these decades we still have few, if any,  indigenous entrepreneurial creative endeavours that have made a mark within the ranks of the local commerce. Those that have come relatively close have done so through sheer dogged perseverance.

What has left our creative industries lagging behind as far as real entrepreneurship is concerned has been our failure over the years to bring them into the business mainstream, to legitimize them, as both creative endeavour and as genuine excursions into enterprise so that they can attract all of the investment-related support from which other sectors have secured varying measures of state sector support.

One might add, in fairness, that the manufacturing sector – or more precisely the agro-processing sector has, in very recent years and for all its remaining constraints including expensive and unreliable electricity and markets that continue to prove difficult to break into, been able to make some commendable inroads. Still, the fulsome state support that the sector needs for seriously growing agro-business is still not forthcoming in the manner that is needed. We lag behind in terms of technology and, unquestionably, our local as much as our external marketing exertions  have traditionally been weak and ineffective compared to Trinidad and Tobago, for example, a country that has managed to persist in what often appears to be an instinctively protectionist trade policy whilst succeeding in deluging other markets, including our own, with a mountain of items which, in terms of local consumer taste, simply keep our own products at the periphery. It raises the question as to the extent of the effectiveness of our lobbying effort for external market access that presumably forms part of our economic

diplomacy thrust and which we are told is being treated as a critical plank in the marketing of what Guyana has to offer.

The truth is that we cannot continue to conveniently press our creative industries into service to facilitate initiatives like the Harmony Village without, simultaneously, understanding, that those industries must serve a good deal more than window-dressing purposes; their expectations, or more accurately the expectations of their creators – most importantly the commercial ones – must be acknowledged and taken account of. Amerindian craftspeople, for example, who take the time, trouble and cost to bring their offerings from the remotest corners of the country to take advantage of the hoped-for market opportunities afforded by these coastal events are entitled to benefit from their effort in a manner that goes beyond our admiration for their talents. We must create the demand – perhaps, more importantly, fashion the marketing skills – that offers them a measure of reward that goes beyond the patronizing wonderment at the range and the quality of their creative talents. Our creative industries (and here one includes the agro-processing sector) must no longer continue to be used predominantly as props for other socio-cultural events. They must, as well, be paraded for their own purposes, and those include materially rewarding the people whose time and talents are responsible for their creation.

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