Any talk of advancing culture and the arts in Barbados will always be welcomed. After all, the creative industry, if tapped into and managed properly, could provide much-needed revenue for our ailing economy.
But while we praise such talk, we will get even more excited when the talk is followed by action.
This is because in many instances a lot of what the current Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration is saying and promising to do, lines up squarely with what the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government also promised and didn’t do.
This week on the floor of Parliament Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that Queen’s Park is to be renamed and become the new home of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and the national centre of cultural and creative activity.
The PM said: “I believe Queen’s Park needs to be redeveloped for the people of this country; it must be the home for creative activity in Barbados because it is central… People rehearsing music and doing whatever they have to do – and to that extent, over the course of the next two years, we want to relocate the headquarters of the National Cultural Foundation back down to town, but we also want to build out different performing and other spaces.”
But we heard similar sentiments back in October 2017 by the then Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley who had suggested that Queen’s Park be renamed the National Heroes Park when he spoke about the redevelopment project.
Lashley noted then: “Further plans of expansion and refurbishment of the Queen’s Park buildings under the purview of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) calls for the earmarking of additional funding towards the redesign of the restaurant area into a culture centre, a designated rehearsal space and the official home of the Barbados Youth Orchestra.”
This Queen’s Park pronouncement is akin to the June 2019 renaming of Spring Garden Highway to the Mighty Grynner Highway. The renaming of the highway to honour the seven-time Road March king was first spoken of in 2015 by then DLP Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley.
And it was in 1994, in the heady days of the Owen Arthur administration, that a newly minted Minister of Education and Culture promised that the Empire Theatre would be refurbished and returned to the glory days of the arts and culture scene.
Mia Mottley’s promise survived through the succeeding three administrations, remaining unfulfilled.
We like it when our politicians get excited about the creative industry. But too often it seems sporadic. Entertainers and artists should not only be remembered occasionally on the floor of Parliament or when a “special” occasion comes around.
We reported this week that DLP President Verla DePeiza had lamented the fact that even with the Cultural Industries Development Act in place Government had done little to push the industry.
She said: “One of the last things we did was the Cultural Industries Development Act which was designed to create more economic space in a different direction. When we speak of cultural industries, we are not just talking about singing and calypso and what happens at Crop Over time.
“We are looking at building out the economy and giving options via entrepreneurship. I see it as limitless.”
So, it would appear that both the PM and DLP president are on the same page as it relates to advancing the sector. So, this begs the question: Why are we still here? Why is there no tangible evidence of action that indicates the creative industry could serve us well at a time like this?
And like DePeiza, we don’t only mean singers and staging fetes. The creative sector covers fashion, jewellery-making, cosmetics, dance, theatre, craft, culinary, visual and literary arts as well.
We are talking about a grouping of people who are often forgotten and only remembered when Crop Over or the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) is staged.
Although the renaming of facilities may be seen by some as a huge deal, there are others who could care less. While the upgrading and redevelopment of the physical plant would be of great benefit to practitioners, some folks have grown extremely weary and simply want action.
For instance, those promoters and artistes who complained to Barbados TODAY a few weeks ago that they were still to get the much-talked-about reimbursement of funds spent on Old Year’s night event-planning, prefer action.
In our report, they complained, and rightly so, that the vendors, shopkeepers and others who were promised the $250 a week had started to receive their funds from the Ministry of Small Business and Entrepreneurship. However, they were still like Bob Marley: “waiting in vain”.
The fraternity is weary because they have endured years of lip service while very little has changed or improved. The sector faced its harshest economic period last year and it is still not over. Little, if any, money was made since the first COVID-19 case was made known in Barbados on March 17.
Chief Executive Officer of the Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (COSCAP) Inc. Dr Erica Smith said in this week’s edition of Today’s BUSINESS that the society stepped in to provide some assistance to some of its roughly 1,000 members last year.
COSCAP provided allowance/stimulus payments to members in the amount of $6,125 and provided “additional assistance allocation” of some $25,600.
“It has been devastating because if there are no entertainment-related activities then the royalties’ collection will fall significantly,” Dr Smith said.
She explained that entertainers earned little to no income as they continue to be barred from holding any public events. The situation has been made worse with many of them not being able to collect much in royalties due to the closure of nightclubs, periodic shutdown of restaurants and other businesses, as well as a falloff in advertisements that would generally support royalty payments from radio stations.
Such sad news for the creatives. We hope that those tasked with policy-making and implementing can sit down with key stakeholders and come up with a plan of action that can ease the plight of those who depend on their creativity for a daily living.