Sunday, January 21, 2018

We already have the fish


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Controversy has developed concerning Government investment in the creative arts and culture and how we should manage the output of our participants in what is now called the creative industry.

I have frequently commented on our country's performing arts and urged successive governments to examine the significant potential of these artsnot only in terms of its potential as a labour intensive business but also as a means of turning around violent crime among youth.

I am certain that it is a fundamental misconception to view our performing artistes as parasites in a dependency syndrome and as persons in the clichéd category of those we need to teach how to fish instead of giving them the fish.

In fact the artistes are the ones who conceive and provide the fish in the form of their creative output. In this regard I agree, with the assertion of Fabien Alfonso, president of the Recording Industry of Trinidad and Tobago, that those involved in the creative arts sector have "worked tirelessly to independently create entertainment products and to establish their brand" and that they "are very empowered despite the limited resources available to them".

I assume that in his reference to independence Mr Alfonso is referring to artistic independence because many of our valuable artistic brands would not make it to the stage without State and sponsorship assistance. It is the deployment of State assistance that we must get right.

In order to get it right we must recognise at the outset that the funding mechanisms must be fashioned to bend to the will of the creative process, at least until the product of a creative process is given a fair and reasonable chance (but not a never ending or unaccountable subvention) to stand on its own two feet.

Let's look at theatre for example (and I declare my voluntary participation in the re-invigoration of the Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse). Theatre in Trinidad is doing well. On some weekends there are two or three shows simultaneously pulling sufficient theatregoers for the producers and players to make a part time living, but it is clear that without the sponsorship from State or private sector sources much of theatre would disappear.

Nevertheless the producers take and manage business risk when they take on the commitments of theatre space rental and other overheads of a theatre production and,notwithstanding sponsorship, they may lose money. These persons are already entrepreneurs and do not lack business acumen. Their problem is the small size of the market and the intense competition for the ticket price, frequently having to compete with other entertainment which is available free of charge.

The support requirements for theatre are clearly not the same as fashion, for example. There is a good case for declaring the Little Carib and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW) in Belmont as heritage icons and providing maintenance or upkeep subventions so that the funds that these theatres raise on their own can be invested in resident companies, a dance company in the case of Little Carib and a drama company in the case of TTW. The comedy producers should also be recognised in accordance with their reasonable needs.

The objective of support for theatre, dance, rapso and oratoryis to promote theatrical commentary on ourselves and our human condition, (Jean and Dinah, The Dragon Can't Dance), to learn about ourselves and our history (The Wine Of Astonishment), to maintain heritage art forms, to dilute foreign cultural penetration, to generate and maintain employment and to provide extra curricular activities for youth. Money spent on these objectives will also yield a peace dividend.

Our theatrical and musical entrepreneurs who have track record must be funded directly by reference to published criteria and be given non-monetary support in the form of a search for export markets, an areain which expertise external to the performing art groups would be helpful.

Many readers would know of Cirque du Soleil and I would like to mention Riverdance, which I saw more than a decade ago at Radio City Music Hall. Cirque du Soleil originated in Montreal and Riverdance in Ireland. They were the brainchildren of artistes themselves and nurtured on enlightened home country support.

Riverdance is not as grand as Cirque du Soleil. It is Irish step dancing, like tap dancing, so brilliantly executed that it has globe trotted to sell out audiences since 1996 putting Ireland and Irish tourism more firmly on the map, much more so than expensive ad campaigns, which cannot project the vibrancy of our people.

The existing export promotion agencies of the Government should be hustling to arrange export opportunities for our performing arts. As indicated before, we have musical productions ready for Radio City Music Hall. We do not need lessons in how to fish. Our performing artistes and other creative industry participants already have the fish. Let's fund it and get it to the international market.