Financing creativity-a webinar, plus some further thoughts

I’m not a night owl, so when I was asked to do a webinar I was gungho till I heard it would start at 7.30pm ‘backstage’ and go live at 8pm. We seniors need our rest; I’m up before 5am most days. But, the hosts were so charming and when I had the run through with Kenia Mattis on Monday, I told myself to ‘man up’ and take an even longer nap so that I would not be all droopy eyed. Well, so much for the nap and my mind was racing all over the place as Parliament opened and bits of news filtered through about the latest shenanigans in the PNP.

Anyway, we got underway as scheduled, so watch the recording and I’ll be happy to field any questions or comments on what I had to offer.

As an economist, I see the ‘financing’ a bit differently from Gary Peart and Dahlia Harris, in that I think about what support needs to be in terms of its ultimate value. So, as I tried to explain, a person seeking support for a creative venture is seeking money as a means to an end, but may find life easier being direct about getting the support for the ‘end’, say the building of a workshop. So, a supporter who’s prepared to provide materials and labour is better in that this removes a layer of negotiating to get to the real objective. That’s just to stress that those demanding support need to be nimble in seeing what opportunities present themselves and not be fixated on that support being in monetary form.

My economics training helps me understand the importance of various forms of economic integration. Much of this happens spontaneously—I mentioned last night the clustering of car component firms in the metropolitan area around Hagley Park Road. Sometimes, it needs some help from the State or other interest support groups.

I think such integration is important going forward and see glimpses of it in Jamaica is the beginnings of ‘incubating’ communities, where creative people can integrate and build synergies. I mentioned communities known for being the homes of many creative spirits, such as Greenwich Village in New York City. But, the Village is the home of many ‘fringe’ elements, and is seen as ‘counter cultural’. I’d like to think of it as Bohemian, and think of places like Notting Hill, in west London, in a similar way. But, world-wide, creativity can originate anywhere, but it sometimes needs some clustering to be better nurtured.

There’s interesting literature on ‘creative clusters’ and the idea has useful pointers for generating economic growth and urban renewal. But, it’s not all upsides and can also be trigger for socioeconomic friction (as with gentrification, in general).

One of the features in many developed societies is for such clustering to be part of the resurgence of urban areas (aka ‘gentrification’). Though not really a feature in Jamaica or many developing countries, I’m looking at what groups like Jamaica Creatives are doing in downtown Kingston to see if it is planting such ‘green shoots’. The government now has a Cabinet minister in charge of urban renewal, so let’s see what he brings to the table.

That said, Jamaica’s cultural heritage is national and its rural roots and underpinning are as important and anything that happens in the capital and the metropolitan area.

#COVID19Chronicles-104: July 27, 2020-WI Global ‘In the Living Room’ discussion: Reboot, Rethink and Refocus

I was a guest yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion live streamed on the WI Global Facebook platform. We covered a lot of ground in over two hours on how to reboot the English-speaking Caribbean island economies: regional integration, investment thinking and oppportunities, dependence on tourism, and education—all within the framework of what the future focus should be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a listen, in full or in part, and feel free to get back to me with any reactions.

How many crabs in the barrel?

I like to say to my youngest daughter that I want to give her chances to succeed, not to fail. Jamaica seems hell-bent on doing just the opposite. I read yesterday a report about one of our premier athletes, a Taekwando fighter, Nicholas Dusard. He’s been caught up in a controversy about whether he should have been nominated for ‘sportsperson of the year’ honours. The national federation was up in arms that he’d not been nominated. Now, he has come forward to tell a bit more of the story, which is basically that the national federation have been neglecting, even hampering, his progress. Here’s the story briefly.

Dusard won gold at the 2013 International Sport Kickboxing Association World Championships in North CyprusScreen Shot 2014-01-06 at 9.15.27 AM, in November 2013. But, he says he has suffered years of neglect by the body responsible for national sporting honours despite his achievements on martial arts mats all over the world. In other words, he had succeeded DESPITE lack of support.

In his words, “I was barred from representing Jamaica at the World Taekwando Federation (WTF) World Champs in 2013 despite being a WTF black belt and having full sponsorship, just because I could not attend a five-day training camp in Boston, in May, at my expense.”

Why did he have to go abroad to get national assessment? Jamaica Taekwon-Do Federation (JTF) president Chris Chok confirmed that Dusard was omitted due to his not attending the Boston camp, which, Chok said, was a necessity. He added: “We appointed a coach who had a dojo in Boston. We took up this opportunity to train there to evaluate the guys. We already had four athletes representing Jamaica in Boston. Would it be fair for them to come to Jamaica to train?” Chok also said, “Yes, he would have to travel at his expense because we don’t have that amount of funds.

So, our premier athlete in a sport was forced to go abroad at his expense to meet the needs of an appointed national coach based abroad. These are IMPOSITIONS, if you make them necessities. The national federation claiming poverty as part of its rationale is just laughable.

In making strategic decisions do leaders in Jamaica ask themselves some basic questions?

  • Is what I am doing really necessary?
  • Is what I am doing truly reasonable?
  • Is what I am doing helping to develop that for which I am in charge?
  • How will what I am doing appear to a neutral person?

If they are and coming up with good answers, then let me be silent. But, let’s just put the Dusard case simply in a different context. Imagine if our national athletic association decided to appoint a coach who was based abroad. Would it seem reasonable, sensible and good for development to have as the ONLY OPTION our top athlete(s) go to his/her training facility AT THEIR EXPENSE? Would we refuse them the chance to be assessed locally?

We have to stop these processes that set us up to fail rather than to succeed. Our talent is an asset that is being wasted all too readily. We are not investing properly and our priorities are skewed, and we will rue this because we cannot develop without investment, in the economy and its people. Either we’ve been crabs in the barrelcrabniggas so long that we do not know that we can do things otherwise, or we somehow get perverse pleasure from constantly shooting ourselves in the foot.

The land of look behind: Jamaica reaping what it’s sown

An area of Jamaica, The Cockpit Country, is also known as The Land of Look Behind. The well-respected Encyclopaedia  Britannica describes this area as ‘difficult and inhospitable terrain’. It’s where slaves went when running away from the British in the 17th century, and from where they waged successful guerrilla attacks. The Encyclopaedia adds that the area has ‘dense scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above depressions and sinkholes with sharp, precipitous sides’. Without being too unkind, all of Jamaica could be regarded as the land of look behind.

It’s almost a tautology to say you must invest in your future: it makes little sense investing in your past, except for the sharp-witted, if you invest in heritage. Jamaicans lament how things they want to achieve seem stymied at many turns. People look for someone to blame, and it’s not usually hard to find at least one ‘person’ who has let the ball drop, so to speak. One of those phrases that comes too easily to the lips of Jamaicans is “It not ready yet…” Usually, that would mean food, job that should have been completed, new outfit ordered, items ordered, etc. We get accustomed to things not being really fit and ready to go even though an event has been scheduled and is underway.

A few weeks ago, my church rector was lamenting that the finances were worse than expected because various fund-raising events had not taken place: dates had been set; venues had been booked; fees had been paid; but somehow the events did not take place. Net outcome: a bigger loss.

Jamaica’s national football team has just been dumped out of the qualification rounds for the 2014 World Cup. Observers, keen or casual, want to take to task everyone associated with the sinking ship–the Jamaica Football Federation and its president; the current coach and his predecessor (who was ditched mid-campaign); players, both local and foreign; the supporters, who were ready to hail the new conquerors after early results, but then abandoned the  boat,w when things looked doomed.

I watched the Finals of a prestigious professional football match last night, between two giants of local football–Tivoli Gardens and Waterhouse. Many things struck me about the match, and they were mostly negative. First, the field looked more set for gardening than for letting a large ball run truly. Bumpy would be a kind term. The players have very good skills and they needed them to master these rough conditions. But, you can only push a rock uphill a short way. A free kick taken by one star, Jermaine (“Tuffy”) Anderson was rolling tamely to the goalkeeper, when it suddenly took a huge hop, as if a ghost had given it an extra kick, and within a blink the ball had gone past the goalkeeper, who had been poised on his knee to pick up this ‘dolly pass’. 2-0. What? TV replays showed what had happened in horrific slow motion. water-fieldWhat to do? Tivoli pressed on. They eventually hauled back the deficit, and the game went into extra time, then penalties, after which Waterhouse won 3-1 on kicks. Victory!

In the audience were the president of the JFF, the national coach, and many dignitaries. I really wanted the broadcasters to do what they do in the US, and go with a roving microphone to get instant reactions from important figures at the event. Let’s assume, however, that the ‘think tank’ of Jamaican football felt sufficiently embarrassed by the incident and the spectacle of this top-level match played on a cow pasture. Do they expect to be putting out top-level players if this is where they have to hone their trades? If so, the success will be ‘despite’ not ‘because of’. But, honestly, it’s not good enough. It’s a disgrace. It’s a travesty. It’s Jamaican. How can you build hope in a nation this way? One of the local radio stations (Irie FM) has a jingle about “extraordinary people doing extraordinary things”. If you have to do extraordinary things all the time, you will be burnt out in no time. Years of talking about what needed to be done, what was to be done, and yet. After the World Cup debacle, I heard the JFF president talking about plans for the next campaign. All good-sounding, but talk without substance? Right now, we could see what happens if you don’t put your money where your mouth is.

Many things in any country show signs of being ‘tired and worn out’. What is often important to get a country moving forward is not just new investment, but reinvestment. What often excites and energizes people are signs that things are being renewed or improved. In a real and metaphorical sense, the football field is so much about Jamaica. All the signs are there of little investment and little or no reinvestment. Yet, the expectation is that things will improve. It can’t work!

As luck has it, today will see government measures aimed to deal with this problem as far as businesses are concerned: new tax measures that should reduce some of the costs of doing business will be introduced by the finance minister. The positive side of me says that “It’s never too late to start to do the right thing”. We’ll have to see how that measure has its impact.

We can see clearly enough what happens when you don’t make the investments at all or in good time. Simple things don’t happen–the ball takes a wicked bounce and all the hard work goes up in a whiff of dust. The field was probably in its best condition, which was terrible.

Crumbling begins and then the whole edifice falls down. Putting players in smart uniforms and nice boots, can’t compensate for playing on a junk heap. Jamaican football is now a fallen edifice, and it should be used as a very timely metaphor and clear indication of what happens when you talk too much and do too little.

Why you doing diss?

When public frustration starts to rise in the face of things done by politicians it’s always worth watching carefully. Jamaica does not tend to explode suddenly when political figures perform badly. Public demonstrations are one of the ways that people use to vent their displeasure. People complain vociferously, using print, radio, and television media, as well as social media now. Their complaints can be very pointed and filled with very offensive remarks. But, the frustrations do not boil over often into situations sometimes seen in other countries, with mobs burning tyres, or having major confrontations with police or military forces, or mounting demonstrations outside Parliament or the Office of the Prime Minister, for example. In that sense, Jamaicans seem very orderly for a nation supposedly filled with hot heads and murderous people.

Recent discussions about the prospective development of a logistics hub in Jamaica are tending towards familiar rocks. The general public is being forced to acknowledge, if not accept, that their elected officials are not as good at governance as they ought to be. The Caribbean has a long tradition of paternalism when it comes to institutional life, meaning that those in power or control are often very protective of information that they have, often holding from the electors much vital and important information about decisions taken or to be taken. The belief is that “We know best” or “The people cannot handle this information”, neither of which would take much to be proven wrong.

20130904-134708.jpgOne of the local reggae stations (Irie FM) made the point this morning that, if after 50 years certain things have not happened why would people think that today it would be different? The basic point is many doubt that politicians have the electorate’s concerns at heart.

If you have a strong political bias, which many people do, the government of the day if not our party is a ‘bunch of liars’, or ‘all thieves’, or some other breed of miscreants.

20130904-135228.jpgIn Jamaica, political figures often show themselves to be craven. So, it takes little for people to revert to a “What do you expect?” stance.

What does it take to get people really worked up against politicians? A few clear incidents exist. Hiding things, especially about restrictions in deals that really impact lives. Who knew all the limitations associated with building the toll road? Selling out national interests or assets. Are people getting incensed about apparent moves to take over a piece of land, maybe making it an enclave?

The process of moving ahead with the hub has several instances of politicians doing plenty to annoy their own people. You have to wonder why they’d do that to voters.

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