It has been exactly twenty years since the UN placed the problematic of “culture” on its agenda and resolved to have its members appreciate its fundamental role in all aspects of human development, including economic development. But somehow our policy makers in Guyana have studiously ignored all the exhortations even as our lagging development was bemoaned.
In 1996, UNESCO published the Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development, “Our Creative Diversity”, which established the culture and development agenda, and identified culture as a development priority. In the years that followed, the new agenda was supported by several policy papers and reports, the names of a few which suggest the contours of the debate and discussion:
“From the Margins: A Contribution to the Debate on Culture and Development in Europe”; “Culture, Creativity and Markets”; “Cultural Diversity, Conflicts and Pluralism”; “Creative Industries and Development”.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an explicit resolution on culture and development. It emphasised the important contribution of culture for sustainable development and for the achievement of national and international development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.
As it stated, “Indeed, culture is a powerful economic tool which generates employment and income through cultural industries, cultural tourism and local traditional know-how. Moreover, it contributes also in fostering dialogue and social cohesion. Cultural dimension, as an essential component of human development, remains, nevertheless, not sufficiently included in development policies and activities.
“This UN resolution invites, thus, the main development stakeholders to: Incorporate culture into all development policies; Promote its positive value, as an essential investment for the world’s future; Raise public awareness of the importance of cultural diversity for sustainable development; Support and assist the development of a dynamic cultural and creative sector in developing countries by encouraging creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and providing technical and vocational training for culture professionals.”
As stated before, to a large degree, this recognition of the pivotal role of culture in development was not evident in Guyana even as the experience of several countries that pulled themselves out of poverty illustrated that the traditional “factors of production” needed to be augmented.
In line with the trend of thinking summarised by UNESCO, the main factors of economic and social growth were posited to be knowledge, creativity, originality and skills.
This new development paradigm for what has been called a “post-industrial society” in those countries such as Britain which had witnessed the diminution of traditional manufacturing, not only changed the economic structure of societies, but also the concepts of growth and development.
As far back as the later 1980s one theorist had deployed the term “cultural industries” to tie the “cultural turn” to economic development. He explained he was referring to industries” in our society which employ the characteristic modes of production and organisation of industrial corporations to produce and to disseminate symbols in the form of cultural goods and services–usually as commodities”.
The main characteristics of those industries are “to use capital-intensive process, technological means of mass production and/or distribution, highly developed divisions of labour and hierarchical modes of managerial organisation.”
From the above perspective, we can consider the cultural industries sector to consist of four circles that may intersect each other in a dynamic fashion. One circle would encompass what may be considered the core “creative arts” that are not usually seen as “industrial”: literature, music, performing arts and visual arts.
Another circle, consisting of film, museum, galleries, libraries, photography would be easier visualised as “creative industries” since they already “provide employment”.
Even more so would be heritage, publishing and printing, sound recording, television and radio, video and computing game which form the wider cultural industries network.
Rounding it off would be the circle of related industries – advertising, architecture, design, fashion, etc.
It was mentioned recently, en passant, that Guyana has been engaged in a Caricom initiative on “Cultural Industries”. Would sharing this engagement also expose us to “industrial appropriation”, a la the parking meters?