CARIFESTA offers us great possibilities

Once unwelcomed Tropical Storm Harvey makes its exit, an expected 3,000 plus regional neighbours and international friends will open the region’s premier festival, the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (CARIFESTA) here.

We extend the warmest Bajan welcome ever to all of our Caribbean brothers and sisters and special guests from further afield, as we look forward to a potpourri of art, literature, dance, film, craft, cuisine, services and so much more.

This is the second time Barbados will be holding the ten-day event; the first time being in 1981 and, according to officials, it “will be the best yet”.

Tantalizing the imagination, Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley touted big plans for the spectacular opening, the super concerts featuring some of the region’s top artistes, and sultry country nights.

But more than that, patrons will be treated to a fresh and improved Grand Market and Buyers’ Mall, the centrepiece of the showcase. Here, patrons will not only be able to purchase art, craft and other products from around the region, but buyers from around the world will be afforded the opportunity to see what products the Caribbean has on offer for world markets.

This year’s theme is Asserting our Culture, Celebrating Ourselves.

It gives us the perfect opportunity to loudly tell the world we are indeed creative, innovative, and world class, despite our size.

Four decades after it was born out of an appeal from a regional gathering of artists participating in a writers and artists convention in Guyana in 1970, CARIFESTA is still worth the effort.

For all we bemoan about the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), this cultural melting pot is a powerful, unifying force – like West Indies cricket, like the University of the West Indies.

Unfortunately, it has taken a while for this region to recognize the immeasurable value of the unique offering of CARIFESTA, which has suffered many a setback.

We can’t change the past, but we can certainly correct our mistakes.

What’s needed now more than ever for this cultural extravaganza is a groundswell of support, financial and otherwise, from the political directorate, the region’s private sector, our talented artistes and, of course, ordinary citizens.

We support Mr Lashley’s view that CARIFESTA is no longer a festival where artistes meet and just have a show or display a few cultural performances.

He suggested it must connect with the vision of Caribbean governments to use their cultural industries to “propel us to new vistas of economic growth and development”.

“Our hosting of CARIFESTA at this time is certainly key to our strategic platform for economic growth, and using creativity is a key plank of that . . . ,” Lashley added.

Yet, there’s not much evidence that the Caribbean understands the business of culture.

Over the last few decades, our economies have moved from agriculture to tourism, and now the next step must be innovation. But are we developing our young, productive minds to be creative and imaginative?

For too long we have allowed our culture to be treated as a mere token.

Cultural industries, sports among them, are lucrative businesses and must be treated as such.

Who can measure the brand of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt; the cricket legend, Sir Garfield Sobers; reggae icon Bob Marley; soca giant, Arrow; and our cultural festivals – Crop Over, T&T’s Carnival, Junkanoo in the Bahamas – that attract thousands from North America, Europe and beyond?

Then there’s the renowned literary works produced by our writers, the unique styles of our fashion designers and our delectable cuisine. The Caribbean certainly does not lack.

At a time of serious economic challenges, which require policymakers to make significant structural changes, we have little choice but to tap into the enormous potential of our cultural industries.

If Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours dare to become innovators – producing new products and services – we need to be creative.

We have to stop thinking about arts and culture as simply nice conveniences.

This will, however, require a new mindset. In our schools, the academics still reign. In our society, doctors and lawyers are still the preferred professions. In the economy, banks will hardly lend to artists and Governments will not allocate substantial sums to arts and culture. Our cultural practitioners often have to wait for handouts from Government or awards from some competition.

Yet, our economy benefits tremendously from the sector.

Our artists too have an important role to play in raising the importance of the cultural industries. They must recognize that they are entrepreneurs and get serious about their business. Consumers too must see their value.

What is sure is that we are losing out by underestimating the worth of our culture. As we celebrate, dance, sing and mingle over the next ten days of CARIFESTA, may we be persuaded that we need to harness its vast potential and share it with the rest of the world.

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