In theatre it is not uncommon for an actor to miss a line and then improvise. But the State seems to have missed its cue in a big way when it comes to elaborating on its vision for culture in the budget.
The Prime Minister himself had only, mere days before, announced Carnival 2021 was “not on”, triggering a firestorm of debate and discussion about this marquee cultural event and how it can be re-monetised. So, some bold announcements were expected about culture as a whole on Monday.
It was not to be.
However, Finance Minister Colm Imbert did announce some key measures.
The $5,000 income relief grant and income support programmes are to be extended to year’s end. A local content guideline is to be established to help distribution of work by TT artists. A tax allowance for corporate sponsorship of fashion and entertainment projects was doubled to $12 million. And a range of “support” is to be given through encouragement of training, intellectual property awareness the promotion of guilds.
Some of these measures are not new but they are steps in the right direction.
Yet several recent events have brought home the need for even more profound interventions.
Another saying in theatre: the show must go on.
It should come as no surprise that there is a yearning on the part of many for Carnival to take on a new guise in 2021. The question is, how can the State make use of this clear willingness to embrace a “new normal” in the arts?
While there are questions about what form Carnival can take outside of the traditional parade of the bands model, it is clear the festival, in whatever form, provides many opportunities to not only market TT but also provide revenue streams through music, online experiences, even film screenings of Carnival productions.
Therefore, it would have been useful to receive a clearer sense of some of the matters touching the festival, though that may be forthcoming in the budget debate from the minister of the now merged Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. Fashion, film and music – creative arts – fall under the Trade Ministry. It will be interesting to hear how they will be incorporated in the discussions as sectors with export potential.
The recent scare over the archives of a longstanding television station also underlined the need to support infrastructure used to preserve our cultural heritage.
Such a need was dramatically brought home by the death of Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall. The range of Mr Hall’s craft is a palpable demonstration of the need to preserve and analyse the output of our artistes.
An opportunity was missed.
Mr Imbert and the Cabinet may well contemplate further discussion on exactly how the creative industry might help foster diversification. Such a process should not be limited to merely Carnival and grants, it must also consider the capacity of our artistes to provoke debate, discussion and, ultimately, a re-imaging of our sense of self.
Imagination, then, was what was missing from Mr Imbert’s presentation, a shortfall which can hopefully be remedied as the debate goes on.