Tobago’s creative sector calls for respect

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Tobago Festivals Commission technical production officer and dancer Kimmi Potts. –

“How do we position ourselves to capitalise on the creative sector?”

This was the question asked by THA Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Farley Augustine at Monday’s virtual pre-budget consultation – the second instalment of a seven-part series titled Make it Make Cents.

The session was focused on the creative industries and was themed Dance for yuh Lover, focusing solely on the orange economy.

Responding to the question, Tobago Festivals Commission technical production officer and dancer Kimmi Potts said that the island is not where it should be. However, she said that the island is bursting with potential.

“People are willing to put in the work, but I don’t think that the performers themselves are given enough respect or even just the buy-in from the general public to be where we should be.”

Potts said what most people don’t understand is that the creative industry needs investment.

“That is where most of us are going wrong or maybe one of the reasons why we are where we are today.”

She criticised members of the public who devalue the work of artistes.

“Somebody would call you and say, ‘I just need a little dance.’

“What is a little dance? There is no such thing as a little dance.”

She said an artiste would charge a fee for a performance and a promoter would say it is too much.

“They don’t know that you have to rehearse – that’s a cost attached, you have to get costume – that’s also a cost attached, and then there is the performance fee. So they don’t factor in those things and because of that, it turns us off from wanting to do more.”

She added: “If the right investments were given then, I believe that the orange economy of Tobago could have been in a much better position than it is right now.”

Former cultural officer and independent senator Annette Nicholson-Alfred believes that that the industry in Tobago was better off many years ago.

“We did not make much money, but I think we got more support from the powers-that-be to do whatever we were doing. Tobago would have had a number of cultural groups. Tobago would have had people playing in the hotels….Tobago had an opportunity because at schools we were taught about our culture.”

She said even during her stint at the THA Culture Department, there were some ties between education and culture. She lamented that this seems to be totally absent now.

“I am not seeing it. So my little grandchildren are suffering from the absence of that kind of training. I could see talent in especially one of them but where is the opportunity for him? Why doesn’t our curriculum respond to the call for us to learn what is ours so that we can make some money out of it.”

Executive co-ordinator at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex and promoter Kern Cowan said the industry has always had challenges for funding.

“Funding is something that have always been non-existent. Many times, we have hundreds of letters and you get responses from six – some would even tell you that they’ll sponsor a case of water.

“Mind you, you have a big bill, then when the show is actually happening, half your tickets are give-away tickets because the sponsors want ten tickets for their friends, ten tickets for their staff, 100 tickets for this. They’re giving you $10,000 but your bill is half a million dollars, and the expectation of quality is still there so you have to provide quality with very minimal support.”

He recalled working with local artistes and getting paid with cake and ice cream or juice. “In those days when you’ll tell a promoter or even entities like the THA that your cost is $5,000, they’ll ask you why. There is a lack of understanding of what the creative sector brings to the plate…”

He said when one travels outside of the country, there is a certain respect that is received that is not replicated at home.

President of the Tobago Visual Arts Association and teacher at the Speyside High School Tomley Roberts said young artists need training.

“I think we really need to have artisans in all spheres really do some kind of mentorship on one hand and training on the other hand. We really want to push the orange economy but if we really are to formulate an orchestra right now for tomorrow, can we go in every single school and pull our 40 students who could read music and so forth? No.

“So what that means, immediately as the administration, we need to put some measures in place to ensure that we have this type of training so that we can harness all the possibilities from our students.”

He said the visual arts has not been supported as it should.

“I want us to do things differently – I want Tobago to really step out and really show the world how we’re supposed to pay homage to our creative sector, to our visual artist. We must invest that fund in building sculptures to identify our icons and so forth, have these things established.”