THE SWARMS of activity that took place all over the capital during the recently-concluded Carifesta XIV attested to the power of art to be an economic mover and shaker.
The sale of arts and craft, books, fashion, food and beverages may have dominated the aptly-named Grand Market, but the economic value of Carifesta, which cost $43 million, is more than skin-deep.
The spirit of the festival itself, with its message of regional integration, dialogue and free movement of Caribbean citizens turns out to be its most lucrative asset.
The exchange of culture and ideas, the fostering of ever-closer ties among artistic communities, and the development of an appetite – in each host nation – for regional content are all necessary precursors to the deepening of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). The CSME is, currently, the most viable means by which Caribbean nations can hope to come together to take advantage of economies of scale, creating better distribution networks, activating larger, more lucrative markets, improving competitiveness, efficiency, and productivity, refining the matching of skills with demand, and generating opportunities for the movement of liquid capital to parched areas while relieving stagnation and build-up.
Tourism, natural resources, and offshore services – the Caribbean has long relied on all three to prop up the internal affairs of its strangely isolated and estranged territories. But a more sustainable path, in which revenue generation is not subject to the vagaries of international factors beyond our control, is possible. Carifesta is a crucial cog in the wheel of progress.
Carifesta is also an important laboratory in which creatives can gain exposure and experience. Talent that would hitherto remain hidden even if located a few miles away in a neighbouring island stands to benefit from exposure to the sunlight of appreciation. Performing for wider, more diverse audiences is a crucial part of the development of any dancer, writer or performer. Carifesta provides a challenging yet nurturing platform.
The same applies to nascent traders who respond to the challenge of tailoring their products to the demands of a foreign market. Such a challenge is an important way of gaining an appreciation for the nuances of the regional marketplace, giving these traders important information that can be used when seeking to develop export lines.
The timing of Carifesta this year, just before the commemoration of Independence Day, added poignancy to the festival. The arts have helped us to appreciate and define our cultural identity, playing a key role in removing the shackles of a colonial history that saw our society formed on the basis of slavery and indentureship. At the same time, artists help us understand our links to other societies, whether in the Caribbean or beyond, providing a more balanced perspective when it comes to independence. Independence has never meant isolation. Though there are many lessons to learn from Carifesta XIV, inclusive of those relating to its ticketing system, it has fanned the flames of economic and social change.