On September 16th 2021, it was announced that Antigua and Barbuda had withdrawn from hosting the Caribbean region’s Festival of Arts, CARIFESTA, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. CARIFESTA, like other hallmark institutions, such as CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market), CXC (the Caribbean Examinations Council) and CARIFTA Games (Caribbean Free Trade Association) symbolize and connect our Caribbean community. The festival which has been running for nearly 70 years, aims to “gather artists, musicians and authors to exhibit the folkloric and artistic manifestations of the Caribbean and Latin American region”.
Arts in the Caribbean can be argued to be a dynamic force in which the visions and dreams of the Caribbean identity can be realized and affirmed. So, the expression of the arts is not only part of our tourism product, as is the case with Caribbean music, but the expression of the arts is bound up with our culture and expression of our identity as a Caribbean people.
The arts are expressed through the cultural and creative industries which encompass more than than the artists, musicians and authors initially targeted by CARIFESTA. It can include museums, heritage organizations, fashion designers, playwrights, filmmakers and photographers. In Antigua and Barbuda, governmental support for the practitioners and businesses that fall under the cultural and creative industries is subject to a cultural policy executed by the Department of Culture.
In February 2019, the Department of Culture began a cultural and creative industries mapping project in the twin-island state with the support of the UNESCO IFCD (International Fund for Cultural Diversity). This was halted for much of 2020 given the pandemic but restarted in November 2020. With a mandate to map and identify the practitioners and businesses in Antigua and Barbuda’s cultural and creative industries, the Department of Culture seeks insights and statistical data to inform their developing cultural policy.
There’s an adage that goes “what you can’t measure, you can’t manage”. The project manager of the initiative, Dr Hazra Medica, asserts that the economic impact of the cultural and creative industries on the island, is “immense” but there are no numbers to truly back that up. The challenge lies in that the data to measure that impact has been difficult to glean.
This project is timely and well needed and has been for years. Most cultural and creative practitioners lament not being able to support their work on a full-time basis and have to juggle their artistic and cultural work with other part-time work or full-time jobs. Despite the impact the sector has on the economy, there is no national account to support them.
The vision is that with a better-mapped sector, the Department of Culture will understand the needs of practitioners and businesses and can therefore better support them. That can be through helping them to create opportunities for themselves or access those of regional and international scope.
As of the time of publication of this article, there are about six months left for the initiative’s data collectors to identify, speak with and make notes on the concerns of practitioners across the country. Barbuda’s cultural and creative practitioners have already been consulted and it’s now to complete the consultations with those in Antigua. Data collection happens in three ways: in person, over the phone or by online survey.
With the corporation of governmental departments like that of Statistics and Information, the Department of Culture is also working with the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda and the Heritage Department of National Parks to get the word out. If you are aware of any Antiguans and Barbudans who work within the creative and cultural industries you can encourage them to get in touch with the team on their Facebook page.