Oct 09, 2020 Editorial
The news has been filled the past two weeks with nurses in the public health system protesting for allowances and better benefits, considering the critical role they play in fighting COVID-19 and the considerable risk they face in doing so.
Just as the healthcare worker is critical to our physical health during this pandemic, the creative worker is critical to our mental health. Who can say that they have weathered the lockdown without the considerable help of the products of the creative imagination, whether we are talking about movies or books or music or some other form of art?
Technology has served over the past half year to bring arts and entertainment – products of the creative mind – to us at a time when we would have otherwise been cut off from them. Increasing connectivity, and hopefully soon speed, to the Internet in the past few months has brought home to Guyanese the concerts we could not go to, the movies we would have watched at the cinema, the arts shows we would have visited.
This year has taken a toll on the creative community, both locally and internationally, both incidentally and as a direct result of the pandemic. From the death of legendary Dutch-American guitarist Eddie Van Halen last week from cancer to that of Guyanese master of letters, Michael Gilkes from COVID-19 complications earlier this year, the international creative community has been critically diminished. Moreover, the global creative economy – one which in the pre-COVID era had seen more growth than the petroleum industry – has been harder hit than most sectors.
The new Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson has started off with the relatively solid first step of a virtual concert featuring some of Guyana’s best and brightest musical acts and featuring at least one talented young visual artist, an initiative that he has been reported as saying served the dual purpose of keeping a focus on local creative talent as well as providing some small but necessary economic assistance to the artists involved. As commendable as the gesture is, Minister Ramson has to understand that this is an initiative that has to be properly structured, consulted on and expanded upon for the new budgetary year.
The reality is that the creative community and economy that was stagnated in the pre-2015 era under the previous avatar of the PPP/C in government, began a considerable descent under the APNU+AFC in government, with initiatives like the Guyana Prize for Literature and the National Drama Festival crudely phased out without rationale or excuse. A creative arts grant that was budgeted for in the final year of the Granger government was incompetently executed and has had little or nothing to show in terms of impact on the creative community. And then COVID came and changed everything. The Minister therefore is starting on a deficit when it comes not only to creative arts development but on developing and sustaining the creative community and economy.
The perhaps ironic thing is that at this time when the creative community is harder hit than it has ever been in this country, it has also responded with resilience and, of course, creativity. Charmaine Blackman and Bonny Alves, Guyanese entertainment icons of an admittedly older generation were the first this year to use social media streaming technology to throw a virtual concert that attracted tens of thousands of views in one night. We’ve seen musicians like Poonam Singh, Jackie Jaxx and Samuel Medas turn to the internet to market themselves even more, and creative entrepreneurs like Clinton Duncan use new media to bring out the best of social media’s collaborative potential.
If we are to emerge from this crisis, mentally, physically and economically whole, we cannot do so without focusing, developing and sustaining the creative sector. With strong state sector policy guidance as well as a carefully crafted and sustainable economic stimulus, the creative community in Guyana can and should rightfully take its place in creating the future that our citizens deserve.
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