The trinidad Guardian / Diversifying the T&T economy has been a much-discussed topic for a long time. These conversations usually take place in the sterile environment of hindsight after the collapse of a boom or during a depression when everyone’s main focus is survival. The creative industries is usually held up as a starting point for diversification but what are the views from those who already make a living in the creative arts? Rubadiri Victor, president of the Artists Coalition of T&T and long time advocate for a pivot towards the culture-backed T&T diversification policy, often touts an industry with the potential for generating billions of dollars in hard currency.

“Currently the creative sector brings in between $650 million to $1.3 billion into the economy,” said Victor. “We know that if we put some of the basic, critical enablers in place the creative industries can be bringing in about $6b annually-and that’s a conservative estimate-in as little as three to four years. That’s how fast the returns are in the creative economy.

“Every time we have done the international best practice enablers, we see an immediate return. For example music: with a $5m investment we saw a return of $150m. When it was done in the film industry we were bringing in upwards of $100m a year in foreign exchange.”

And his is not a lone voice. Since the start of this new millennium, successive governments have pitched a variety of funds, policy positions and tantalising visions of a creative arts giant slowly unfurling from the bedrock of the Carnival arts, pan and soca…heralds for a brand T&T on the international marketplace of things.

Once again, in his recent Budget 2018 presentation in Parliament, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert hearkened at kick-starting this industry under the framework of a revamped Vision 2030 policy.

But how much closer are we to realising this vision? Can we realistically monetise our seemingly intrinsic flare for the creative?

One person taking a bet on exactly that is Richard Cornwall, executive president and founder of Acknowledging Caribbean Talent; the organisation behind the T&T Caribbean Music and Entertainment Awards scheduled to take place tonight at Napa.

Cornwall’s vision starts off with the assumption that there already is enough of an arts and entertainment industry here that he’s seeking to reward it for excellence in the past calendar year.

Said Cornwall: “What we are doing here is planting seeds. They say if you want to invest in the future plant a tree. We are fostering this vision of our future by planting seeds and building a network. We have so many diverse talents in this industry that stand apart. Discombobulated. Disjointed. There is seldom ever any unity except when they come under attack from outside.

“What the TTCME is doing is putting them all under one space; one night; to share in one goal, under one banner-and that is excellence.”

An entertainment and creative arts industry cannot be negotiated on behalf of a select few artistes, bands and producers alone. To activate a true, self-sustainable industry all sectors must be covered and encouraged to prosper. As done in the past, it cannot just be about the singers and songwriters either. Cornwall’s concept addresses a much wider industry footprint.

“The promoter is now there, sharing in excellence, with the bandleader, with the product providers, service providers…we have created a platform for all to share in our own excellence. Bar none. There are too many gaps in the Caribbean arts and entertainment industries. No one is building bridges. This is not about ‘ole talk’-the TTCME is us trying to fill an empty plane so that we can all take off from the tarmac.

This is not a threat to anybody; this is an opportunity for everyone to get aboard,” said Cornwall.

Victor said, “Award shows like this are a good place to create the hierarchy of excellence so that we can identify players in our marketplace. There are those who are crowned-in our marketplace-for the things that we do already, and that’s all well and good. But there is another set of players who are internationally ready, and those are not necessarily those who are popular within the status quo in T&T. These awards shows can help curate and identify that type of talent on the ground. That these are the people who are really ready for next. These are now ready for investment-not just by money but by the audience,” said Victor.

Can we truly expect a T&T creative arts industry to take flight from the ashes of a stagnant oil and gas economy? Well, to put it in the perspective of the thousands of panmen, DJs, soca, chutney and gospel artistes and the scores of other TTCME Award nominees vying for recognition in a few short days away; don’t bet against it.

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