Renowned calypso and soca composer Stedson RPB Wiltshire has accused both governments and people in Barbados and the Caribbean of disrespecting the creative industry, declaring they do not show the same level of interest and appreciation as for tourism and other industries.
Wiltshire made the remark as he joined regional figures in the creative industries in a forum on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.The discussion reached the consensus that there would be no major return of promotions and other revenue-earning potential for entertainers before 2023.
He said: “For me, the top challenge has always been the level of respect and regard for what we do. Most of the stuff that I am involved in is really Soca music, and it is my view that there still has not been a warm embrace of art and culture in this part of the world. It seems as if we have developed a culture for disrespecting culture in this part of the world.”
He was speaking on Monday as part of a panel on World Intellectual Property Day during an online discussion hosted by the Association of Caribbean Copyright Society (ACCS) under the theme Caribbean Creative SMEs Post COVID-19.
Wiltshire conceded that in order to better survive during times of hardship artists needed to put out a “broader” range of content to be consumed outside of festivals, and to a wider cross-section of the globe.
But at the same time, he issued an urgent call for Governments to provide more assistance to the creative industries to help them survive and grow.
He said: “Since we are at the point where we have to rebuild we have to make sure that government embraces what we do in a bigger way and make it a bigger cog in the economic wheel. I think what that will do is help to provide a framework in which to operate. It cannot just be the private sector all the time driving art and culture. Art and culture have to be seen as just as important as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism and all these things.
“I also believe that hotels that get all these concessions should be made to employ our artists. They don’t because they don’t want to pay. All these are things we can actually look at, but it is really an opportunity now to do some introspection and look at what we are producing.”
In addition to a lack of respect, panelists also identified the lack of a one-stop-shop for getting approvals for hosting events, too few linkages between creatives and other sectors, lack of education and brand awareness among artists, and the lack of a “strong regional market for all genres of music” as other major challenges.
Noting a “huge drop” in the number of live performances since 2017, Wiltshire said the COVID-19 pandemic only made matters worse “and I can’t see it changing in any drastic way before maybe another 18 months or so, for any level of great activity to come back”.
Former director of the Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Inc.(COSCAP) Derek Wilkie also painted a picture of the creative industries at the brink, saying “without live performances the whole creative chain is going to suffer”.
With sponsorship slashed by about 90 per cent over the past year, the music production veteran predicted that the crisis facing promoters, entertainers and other creative industry officials would “go [well] into 2023”.
Calling for a lowering of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on the industry, Wilkie said he was willing to be a part of a body to “quickly” develop a regional plan to save the entertainment industry.
Wilkie said: “I really think this need to be a very serious lobby to government because just take the annual Crop Over we have in Barbados, which the spin-off is supposed to generate about $100 million, that is $17.5 million in VAT [Value Added Tax] in the treasury “What I am saying is that they need to understand how to kick this off and get it back on the road. Just like the concessions given to hotels and restaurants, hundreds of thousands of dollars – that really didn’t need it because the majority of them are still shut and have their staff laid off – this industry is so important Government needs to stand up.But it has to be a strong lobby that is unified regionally.”
Nigel Roach, Operations Specialist at Ultimate Events based in Trinidad and Tobago, agreed that the pandemic had made things worse for artists and promoters, but insisted that it had also created an opportunity for them to become more innovative.
He said he believed a mixture of digital and physical gathering would be the new norm for the entertainment industry going forward, stating that “I don’t think that things will be as they were pre-COVID”.
St Lucia-based promoter and producer Rankin Morgan agreed that artists will “have no choice but to venture into the [digital] space”, adding that they should expect the numbers to be “limited” at first but grow over time as it becomes the new norm.
“What we have to do now is to educate the patrons, the online users, basically changing consumer behaviour . . . if we are talking about the virtual events, some are free as you have seen, but I think that there will be a charge in the near future where people use their debit cards or credit cards to purchase.
In order to attract the numbers, the event itself must have some sort of value and marketing campaign behind it,” said Morgan. During the discussions, the participants also agreed to a proposal that creative industries look for new ways to earn revenue.