The finale of the 2022 Crop Over Festival takes place over this long weekend and there is no doubt that it has been an important boost for thousands operating in the creative industries and those whose businesses depend heavily on the related activities.
The fact that even a remarkable 10.5 per cent economic growth in Barbados over the first six months of 2022 was not enough to erase the catastrophic contraction during the near three years of pandemic slump, explains just how bad things had become.
But as we have tried to explain on many occasions through these editorial pages, Barbados’ economic pillars are very interrelated, and we often rise or fall on activity in the dominant tourism sector.
Yes, we are cognizant of the need to diversify the Barbados economy. It is critical that we do, however, in the meantime, debt has to be serviced, foreign exchange has to be earned, social services have to be provided to our people, and our children need to be educated.
And so, every foreign dollar generated from tourism, travel, entertainment, cultural activities, and heritage tourism, is extremely valuable to our continued survival as a small developing nation.
The National Cultural Foundation (NCF), the state agency tasked with the development of our cultural industries, must be complimented for its ability to adeptly respond, and deliver a well-organised national festival after a two-year hiatus.
Part of the NCF’s response included significant funding of events that might not have been sustainable without the hand of state intervention and support.
The agency was involved in supporting popup shops which provided space and opportunities for exposure and sales by various craft persons, artists, and service providers.
The region’s lead development financing agency, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) provided Barbados’ creative industries with significant funding to survive the worst effects of the pandemic.
In fact, statistics provided by the Barbados-headquartered bank showed that Barbados creative industries professionals represented the second-largest number of requests for emergency grant funding.
There were 43 such applications from Barbados. The only other CDB borrowing member country to submit more requests from its creatives was Jamaica, from which 45 applications for emergency grant funding came.
There is no doubt that Barbadian artistes and creative professionals suffered significantly during the near three years of COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.
Lisa Harding, the CDB’s Coordinator of MSME Development commented recently in the bank’s MSME newsletter: “Many MSMEs have had to pivot, as well as institutions, and they’ve done so seamlessly. There were others who required a little more support, but the intent and the willingness were quite evident.”
It is heartening to know that the CDB recognizes the strategic importance of small businesses, and more specifically, those in the creative industries to the overall economic activity in countries like Barbados.
“MSMEs account for up to 70 per cent of employment across the region. The statistics tell the story of the importance of this sector. Without MSMEs functioning, we can only imagine the impact this would have on GDP, employment, crime, social cohesion, and the incidence of poverty,” she emphasised.
And so, as we prepare to enjoy the final days of the festival, it is important to contexualise Crop Over 2022 in economic and social parameters, and not simply as entertainment.
On Friday night, one of the biggest and most anticipated events will occur when 18 calypsonians will battle reigning monarch Classic for the right to wear the calypso crown.
While there has been valid criticism that the social commentaries, which form the bedrock of the Pic-O-De-Crop Finals, have been tame, in comparison with past festivals, the line-up and content of the works are still top-notch.
Even more important is the fact that of the 18 contestants, vying for the crown, are five former Junior Monarch winners. They are Quon, Raanan, and Doyenne from the C O Williams House of Soca; while Sammy G and Teri, hail from the Payce Digital/COB Credit Union All Stars Calypso Tent.
They will be coming up against Colin Spencer, De Announcer, Donella, John Yarde, Jude Clarke, and Rudifus from Payce Digital/COB Credit Union All Stars Calypso Tent; Crystal Cummins-Beckles, I-Web, Mr Blood, and TC from First Citizens/Digicel De Big Show; Billboard from C O Williams House of Soca; and Imara from Carter’s Shining Stars.
The elevation of the former Junior Monarchs is a tremendous achievement and is indicative of the popularity of the artform among young people. It also signals that the NCF is achieving its goal as a cultural development agency.