This segment in the Reggae Month Open University series examines government and the entertainment sector. It provided an opportunity for the entertainment industry to come together and have conversations about moving the industry forward. This segment is in partnership with the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVA) and JARIA.
Fittingly, the moderator was Ms Coleen Douglas, Director of Marketing at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
The experienced panel included Andre Adman, Acting Dean at EMCVA; Othniel Halliburton Musician and Lecturer; Dr Debra Hickling Communications & Culture Development Specialist; Ewan Simpson JARIA Chairman; Mikey Bennett Producer Extraordinaire and Rassarella International DJ Selector.
Has Government Provided an Enabling Environment
“There are some fundamentals that have been lobbied with Government support. Examples are JARIA’s successful lobbying for tools of trade allowances and also some legal concessions, said Ewan Simpson. Additionally, the government demonstrates the industry’s enabling by partnering with JARIA on industry activities such as Reggae Month. “The question is, for a country such as this, where our diamond is our entertainment product, where our diamond is our creative and cultural industries, are we properly mining and marketing what we have? He drew a parallel between tariffs and tax incentives or tax breaks provided to other sectors, such as tourism and mining. “If the creative industry were considered at least as critical in terms of industry, we probably would be further along”, he said.
What About Government Support for Arts Education
Mr Adman contributed, “Government has made strides in terms of trying to help Jamaica project its art and culture on an international level.” From personal experience, he noted, “As a student, in attending Edna Manley College, the funding available for persons doing the arts was not always forthcoming.” He believes given the vital role culture plays; more investment is needed. The government can do more.
Dr Hickling stated, “Arts is the conscience for a nation”. The arts are crucial for diverse voices and perspectives as it’s an essential aspect of democracy, diversity and sustainability. She believes that we need a mature government to recognize this as an economic activity that benefits the people and country alike.
While attending Edna Manley, Mr Haliburton “benefitted and was awarded a scholarship for persons who were well rounded in the arts.” Adding to that, at times, teachers created opportunities for students to earn while performing ‘gigs’, (a live musical performance).
Formalizing the Industry
According to Mikey Bennett, Jamaica has an industry that needs to continue putting out new talent annually. Having the opportunity to experience the quality of graduates from Edna Manley, Bennett possesses knowledge of industry needs. Given this, he is not desirous to “focus on what the government can or cannot do.” Bennett argued that we should increase the number of sound engineers as much as musicians. Accordingly, he says that formalization comes in time and will take investment, which is currently lacking in the industry.
Gaps in Cultural Policies
According to Dr Hickling, “Policies have been established over the years for culture which included the formation of JCDC, CPTC, Festival, and other important activities. The Institute of Jamaica is one such institution. The question should be; For such a time as this, what are the policies and requirements for a big nation as Jamaica that possess such [a wealth] of talent.”
Lack of framework is a gap. While there have been more creatives in the industries, there is a gap. As an illustration, the gap highlights issues of inclusion and exclusion in the creative sector. “How do we fix this in a sector so that everyone can feel that it is there’s? We should consider the worth and input of individuals in the sector at all levels.” Dr Hickling mentioned that the informal economy, which is so much larger than the formal sector, has a role in sustaining the industry.
DJ Rassarella’s take on this topic is first, “We use the word industry loosely. Successive governments have failed to industrialize the entertainment industry. Industrialization of the craft would introduce elements such as quality control, benefits, and structure from all levels and all areas. Industrializing the sector would prevent recurring incidents where artists cannot go to the bank with their earnings, claiming them as legitimate earnings. Some artists are blocked from accessing financial services because the entertainers cannot provide a ‘legitimate’ source of income. While there is growth, however, it’s a Babylonian system. Artists still have not gained the respect they deserve after contributing and achieving so much in the industry and globally.”
Mikey Bennett likened the standards of competing in a sport to the entertainment industry. He said, “We need to set standards for our industry. Criteria to determine answers to questions such as a great singer, drummer, bass player, etc.” In addition, he stressed that if we love this country and its product, we should establish these standards. “Too many in our industry are not making money and are not at an international standard.”
Altogether, the discussion was candid. To emphasize, one salient point stresses that development of the creative industry should begin at grade one and continue through university levels.
Sponsors for the discussion include MCGES, CHASE Fund, VM Group, 876 On the Go, M-One Productions, Creative Foods, Footprints Café and Starlight Productions.