Sunday, August 14, 2011

Brand Jamaica and the Politics of Protest

Today one of the Jamaican papers carried an article titled, "The Smallest World Cultural Power" in reference to Jamaica's impact on the world. This is quite a common fare these days and parallels the title of the cultural policy, Towards Jamaica the Cultural Superstate, that outlines an approach to have Jamaica benefit economically from the influence it wields globally. What might not be evident to the ordinary Jamaican is that in many respects these documents rely on the associations the Jamaica brand conjures, which among other things is that of protest; speaking out for truth and rights, and also standing up in defense of them. Jamaica can't, therefore, divorce itself from these associations because it might be convenient to do so, rather, offering clarification of what values of protest the brand represents would be more strategic. However, I recognize that this may be asking too much within the current construct.

This global influence is far from merely being a figment of the imagination in the minds of a few Jamaicans. Some are not at all surprised that in the midst of the recent four days of rioting in the UK the Jamaican culture would have been singled out as a culprit. Charles HE Campbell in another of today's papers cites the bewilderment of a French promoter that Jamaica's contemporary music has stepped away from the "glorious tradition of promoting progressive world causes". There will be a price to be paid for that stepping away later, but for now many do associate Jamaica and its culture with progressive protest. This is not a bad thing. However, it gets worse when we cross the line into thuggery. It appears then that the lines are being blurred and the Jamaican authorities have a responsibility to clear it up. Surely, mention in the context of the razing and looting in Britain is not the most complimentary, but thankfully the emerging accounts go a far way in contextualizing Jamaica's influence upon these events (see Of Riot Rastamouse). When the truth is told Jamaica cannot bear the blame for the mayhem that ensued.

Unfortunately, it did not help that these riots occurred smack in the middle of the Jamaican independence celebrations in the UK, a period where the flag and other patriotic symbols were being proudly displayed in some of the affected communities. The article "Who Are These Rioters? Jamaican Brits Give Their Take On UK Riots" provides a perspective. It is by no means definitive but their first-hand accounts mean something.

Among the many media accounts and discussions that I have read or seen is the discussion captioned "England riots: 'The whites have become black' says David Starkey" on BBC's Newsnight aired on August 12, 2011. I have included the discussion below.

Among the outrageous points made by historian David Starkey I found it intriguing that he sought to introduce and blame what he describes as a "wholly false" Jamaican patwa as the language of the "black culture" that is responsible for the mayhem. He was clearly mistaken and very imprecise in his expressions as he attempted to describe what was happening in Britain. Lots more may be inferred from all he has said. Suffice to say that listening to him was a painful experience. His entire approach was unfortunate. He is a dangerous man.

At this juncture, I don't believe the solution is a simple one. There are a number of threads to sort through and it will require nuanced understandings of the intersections of cultures from Africa, Britain, and the Caribbean. It will also require an appreciation of the histories and the economic legacies that endure from these relationships. It is always disappointing to me when privileged persons who you would expect to have an appreciation of these factors don't. Nevertheless, life must move forward. With this in mind, I thought it useful to share a link to a March 2011 interview with the brilliant Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall who spoke to Laurie Taylor on the program Thinking Allowed. The interview provides a useful framework from which one may get a more nuanced insight into some of the issues that might be informing the context of the UK at present. Use this link to listen to their discussion of culture, politics, race, and nation.  

We are in the moment of a backlash, in live and living color. How it is negotiated will impact the Jamaica brand.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management: An Account of Its Becoming

This short version of the development of the bachelor of arts degree in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management (ECEM) at the University of the West Indies, UWI, Mona should have been told long ago. It is entirely my fault because there has been many a word of encouragement from Professor Carolyn Cooper to write it, and in fact her suggestion is that I should use the experience to pursue my PhD. That I am not currently a PhD holder in the first place is also entirely my choice as in fact I was a candidate with a full scholarship in the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cultural Studies PhD program. I opted out, taking the MPhil instead, I think much to the displeasure of the then Director of the Institute of Caribbean Studies. One factor that went into my decision was that I had always maintained that I did not want to pursue a career in academia. Perhaps that was shortsighted, but I felt I was being true to myself. I had seen the promise of black liberation in the culture business and so my mind was made up that I was going to pursue my masters in entertainment business, even if it sent me to the grave; well I did, a few years later.  The story of the present ECEM bachelor's degree began in this period of my life.

The Idea
In November 1999 I attended the inaugural Caribbean Music Expo (CME) meeting in Ocho Rios. It was there, while listening to the grouses of Jamaican and Caribbean music sector players about the lack of support for them that the idea of offering training support for the sector began to stir in my thoughts. I asked myself the question why didn't the UWI have a program that prepared personnel for this sector, which on the surface was so definitive of what it meant to be Jamaican or Caribbean. It was shortly after my return that on a casual ride on my bicycle I ran into Prof Carolyn Cooper. In conversation I posed the question to her about the absence of a program at the UWI to service the entertainment industry. "Den why yuh nuh develop suppen", was her response. As it turned out that was all I needed.

I immediately set about researching similar degree programs from other universities. My main inspiration was to come from NYU's Entertainment, Media and Technology program, which had both a MBA and an undergraduate component. I also looked at other US university programs such as Columbia University and a few in the UK. I must confess that at the time there was not the many that exist now from which I could draw. I enlisted the support of Mrs. Carolyn Hayle who was then the Special Programmes Coordinator at UWI - presently Dr Carolyn Hayle is the Executive Director of HEART/Trust NTA. Mrs. Hayle was extremely supportive and allowed me her time and access to resources that would have otherwise been difficult to obtain.

My initial approach was to use the model that had been followed for the then two year old African and African Diaspora Studies major, assembled by Profs Maureen Warner-Lewis and Rupert Lewis. Essentially, they sought to bring together existing African and Diaspora courses within the UWI system to offer the concentration. The program has been a success and I am proud to stand as its first graduate. This precedent was to serve the ECEM initiative well. I was able to comb through courses that were offered at all the UWI's then three campuses (Cave Hill, Mona and St. Augustine). This was important because it meant that if a course that could serve the ECEM program was already on the books in Cave Hill or St. Augustine, then on the surface the hurdle of course approval was already behind us. Therefore the major concern would become provision for its delivery at Mona. Much to my surprise I found a fair number of courses on both campuses that would have been beneficial, some of which did not make their way to Mona. Nevertheless, the innovative ECEM degree still remains a respectable offering.

The Philosophy
The program was developed in the context of a personal academic quest to understand the nature of our collective identity as a Caribbean people, and it evolved as more knowledge was unearthed to inform that understanding. In my quest to understand this identity, much of my thought, and the paradigm through which I analyse the Caribbean context drew heavily upon the regionalist (not global in this instance) perspective of Jamaica's national hero the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It was therefore very important that a program such as this, while including the content that is necessary to function in the international arena also ground its majors in the unique demands that face our Caribbean region. In the original document I wrote that:

The specific goals are to produce graduates who will become innovative business and industry leaders. A major focus of the programme is entrepreneurial development and innovation. Graduates will have gained a full appreciation of the importance of the convergence of media, computer based technology and culture within the global context and be prepared to harness their benefits for the Caribbean.
These goals were not arrived at arbitrarily, but were informed by articulated sector needs. Up to that point scholars such as economist Dr Keith Nurse, first operating out of UWI St. Augustine, and now Cave Hill had done commissioned research on the way forward for some of the Caribbean entertainment sectors. Lloyd Stanbury and Andrea Davis were also among those who had put out work on this subject. UNCTAD, WIPO, JAMPRO, TIDCO and the Caribbean Export Development Agency are some of the funders for some of these studies, the results of which remain shelved waiting on an elusive government buy-in. After more than ten years many regional governments have still not moved to take these sectors seriously. With the benefit of hindsight one is forced to acknowledge that conducting the research for presentation to government representatives has failed miserably. We have little meaningful progress to show for it. It would appear then that the current approach needs review albeit the research is necessary.

Giving Form
To put this in context it should be understood that the ECEM program was deliberately focused away from a reliance on government, and what they should do, towards the very broad scope of the capitalist entertainment enterprise; and this ought to be seen as a significant break in the focus of cultural studies as it was then practiced at Mona. Cultural studies had hardly engaged business except to critique the underlying assumptions of its practice. Evidence of this can be seen with the more traditional arts oriented content of the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management developed virtually in parallel (not known to me until months after I had gone through a few drafts) that is offered at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI, St. Augustine campus.

The bold stance of the ECEM called for me to outline in very clear terms the kind of graduate we could expect from the offering. The targeted groups of the offering were to be current industry practitioners as well as entry-level individuals. The ideal graduate would be poised to become:
  • A dynamic leader and innovator within the entertainment and culture industries.
  • A highly self-motivated entrepreneur and product manager.
  • A balanced dynamic leader/entrepreneur who understands and is appreciative of both the Caribbean cultural context, as well as, the business of culture industries regionally and globally.
  • An individual who is capable of creative application of the knowledge of technicalities within his/her specialization.
  • A sensitive presenter of the culture, who eschews demeaning and insensitively commoditizing the product.
It was very important to me then, and remains so today, that the ECEM program not be seen as a music business focused degree. I am very aware that within Jamaica the word "entertainment" and "music" are used interchangeably. However, entertainment takes on greater meaning globally. It was with this in mind that I included what I labeled the "culture and industry areas of focus", which were:
  • Computer-based entertainment (gaming, etc)
  • Film and Television
  • Music
  • Fashion
  • Tourism
  • Sports (in association with G. C. Foster College)
  • Visual and Performing Arts (in association with Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts)
Upon completion of my first draft the offering was designed and laid out with the options of a special (four years) and a major (three years). However, the powers that be suggested the option of the major for moving forward, as the university had by that time decided that they were moving away from offering specials.

Beginning the Approval Process
By far the approval stage of bringing this program to reality proved to be the most difficult part of the task. By March 2000 (approximately three months after the idea had been born) I had a first draft of the program ready for presentation to the powers that be. The program as initially designed would have best found a home in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Mona. This was so primarily because many of the existing courses were to be found in the Departments of Management Studies at Cave Hill, Mona and St. Augustine. It was in fact designed as an entrepreneurial business management degree. The Humanities courses were drawn from the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), the creative arts (CA coded) and two general arts (AR coded) courses. It is useful to mention here that since there was a need to develop some specific courses, any department that took the program on board would have effectively become owner given that they would own the courses as coded, at least for the moment. Unfortunately, this was a fact that never helped us in the early stages.

My first approach was to present the draft to the head of my department, the Institute of Caribbean Studies who happened to also be the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education. He lauded the effort but in a frank response he said he would not pursue it in the faculty because of a prior experience with one major they developed that ended up in the Faculty of the Social Sciences. He graciously suggested I present the draft to the then Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, the late Prof Barry Chevannes. A meeting was arranged with his assistance. Both deans, Prof Cooper, Mrs Hayle, and I attended that meeting. Prof Chevannes welcomed the initiative and was seemingly excited about the prospect but as he explained it would require a department to take it on board. He sent us on to meet with the then Head of the Department of Management Studies, Prof Alvin Wint, who made a lasting contribution to the name of the program. He suggested the insertion of the word "enterprise" rather than "industry", indicating a focus on the units of economic activity rather than their collective output. Up to that point the initiative was called the "Programme in Caribbean Entertainment and Culture Industries Development and Management", a name that I am sure most will agree was very unwieldy.

The years 2000, through to 2004 were to come to a close with me not being able to garner any further support for the program. All was not lost however. The floating drafts foreshadowed some meaningful developments in the Department of Management Studies. From a January 2001 edition of my draft I extracted the following analysis I wrote:
From the survey done on the Mona campus offerings, one is yet to find a course that speaks directly to entrepreneurial development and innovation. The focus has overwhelmingly been on product management, rather than product “creation”, harnessing and development. One cannot emphasize enough that it is of prime importance that this programme gives focus to issues such as new venture creation, financing new ventures and the science of successful entrepreneurial practice.
The analysis was followed up with a note acknowledging that:
Subsequent to this suggestion the course Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation was introduced at the Mona campus for summer 2001.
It was also satisfying to see that in 2008 the Department of Management Studies began to offer a minor in Entrepreneurship.

In October 2001 I left the UWI to begin my job at the Ministry of Culture as Coordinator of the Culture in Education Program, a post I held until July 2003 and subsequently on to the VTDI as Lecturer/Coordinator of their very own Entertainment and Events Management diploma until October 2004. I followed that up by becoming the Program Manager for the CARIFORUM Cultural Support Fund until November 2005. By the time 2005 arrived, Prof Cooper and I had agreed that a BSc via the Faculty of Social Sciences was not likely to materialize and so she felt it best to move the program forward under the Reggae Studies Unit in the Faculty of Humanities and Education given that this was a unit that she coordinated. As it turned out Reggae Studies was to be the program's mother and Prof Cooper the mid-wife. Of course, I was the willing baby-father.

Up to that time, I had earned my own stripes within the cut and thrust of the sector through my jobs and had attended my fair share of meetings and business development initiatives that got their funding from the government, non-profits and international development agencies. Not least of all was my stint at VTDI in developing courses, coordinating their new diploma and a sustained set of entertainment business professional development courses. With the wind of these real world experiences to back me I expanded the plan for the Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management initiative. The program was now associating specifically with the Reggae Studies Unit and started to include the Post Graduate Diploma mentioned earlier as a offering here at Mona, through a partnership with the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, a series of short courses designed specifically for the music sector, the delivery of consultancy services for the entertainment sectors, as well as the BA program. In May 2005 a whole set of meetings began at the University of the West Indies and this time the players were different. The tourism interests had come to the table.

Rays of Hope
In April 2006, the tourism concentration in the Department of Management Studies, Mona asked for my help in developing the course that is now Entertainment Management and offering it to their finalizing students. Work on the outline began initially with the help of Mr Wayne Wright who was then the Music Business Consultant at JAMPRO. The course was approved and with much behind the scenes anxiety I began delivery in September 2006; it was show time! Fast forward to November 2007 and I was ecstatic when the second cohort of students in this course successfully mounted the inaugural Entertainment Expo. The video below captured a few moments from this historic event.

Inaugural Entertainment Expo, November 2007, UWI, Mona.

The successful start of the Entertainment Management course in September 2006 was a small victory, but it was important in building our cache of courses. Unlike the African and African Diaspora program, the ECEM major was one that I realized from very early would have needed the support of its own courses to make it more relevant. In the very first draft while bringing together the many courses existing on other campuses I outlined the need for some new courses that were to support this major. In that draft I asked for,
  1. a specific survey course possibly titled “Caribbean Entertainment and Culture Industries”, which gives the historical development and introduces theories of the specific entertainment and culture industries that are the subject of the program’s focus.
  2. a course examining the legal issues within Caribbean entertainment.
  3. a course to be named The Business of Producing Culture: Event, Festivals, Music and Film.
  4. a specific entertainment and culture industries accounting/finance course, and
  5. the inclusion of an internship.
All these have been achieved with the exception of number four. In fact, to date other courses have made their way to the books, namely Entertainment Business Law; Entertainment and the Digital Convergence; Fashion, Culture and Development; and Creative Industries Marketing.

With tourism expressing its interest with a patently clear tourism agenda Prof Cooper and I realized we needed another game plan. I was very clear about what the objective of the program was and it could not have been subsumed under a tourism umbrella. Ultimately, we negotiated a minor that would suit the tourism interests, while we began to look elsewhere for institutional support.

In August 2006 CARIMAC became our next stop. In spite of my expanded 2005 Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management initiative that was centered around three distinct entertainment industry empowerment projects in the Reggae Studies Unit, we still made the effort to bring other departments on board. In retrospect, these overtures must be ranked among the most selfless that I have undertaken in my time. In my generosity I passed on the entire program and the foundation course I had developed so that CARIMAC would have pursed approval and taken the program as one of their offerings. Though we had cordial meetings to help this process along we were not successful in having them bring the program to light. The conclusion then was to go it alone using the Reggae Studies Unit as the base. It worked. Prof Cooper had managed to get the succeeding Dean, the late Prof Aggrey Brown interested and in turn he began to throw the weight of his office behind it. With the help of Dr Camille Bell-Hutchinson, then Deputy Dean, the program would ultimately gain approval in July 2007 after many meetings.

The Students Come
The program began with twenty-one students in its first intake in September 2007. It was an exciting process and I had a hand in the selection of them all. There were many who wanted in but could not have been accommodated. Selecting the 2008 intake was even more difficult. My colleagues and I were amazed at the outstanding academic strength many of the applicants had. The Faculty of Humanities and Education had found a new winner. Many who were prime candidates for UWI’s prestigious law program, with excellent grades in nine Ordinary Level subjects and Advanced Levels pending, were opting to do the ECEM as their first option, and many very good ones had to be turned down. The writing was on the wall and the program was going to be a contender if it lived up to its promise.

As fate would have it I chose to exit the program at the end of July 2008 despite Prof Cooper's counsel to stay on. But this was not before I had ensured that even more courses had been written and approved. In my mind the foundation was laid and so it was time for me to be on my way to answer the call of my dreams.

In 2010, the ECEM major put out its first set of graduates. I was not on hand to witness this but it must have been a moment like few others for those who attended that inaugural graduation ceremony and fully comprehended the arduous journey. Finally, the sacrifices had shown themselves to be well worth it, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have made this bit of history in the exemplary spirit of Marcus Garvey. I am proud of the fact that, because of my initiative, these graduates had been given an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

“The world has a habit of making way for those who know where they are going”
- unknown

updated: June 3, 2012

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Caribbean Cultural Economy, What shall we do?

We are said to be in the era of the cultural economy.  As one of the  regions/nation of the world best known for our culture...we still have a lot of work to do.

Caribbean, and in particular Jamaican cultural industries are an untapped/underutilized/underdeveloped/marginalized resource that can kick-start the growth agenda if properly facilitated. 

Unfortunately, this lament has now become cliche. Development requires more than just the observation that this is so. What it requires in the reexamination and redevelopment of policy(ies). It also requires the d...evelopment of specific programmes, with specific deliverables emanating from that re-conceptualized policy and a clear plan of action.

First of all it requires clarity about what 'creative' and 'cultural' industries mean and  - their ideological differences.  That will help us to decide what we see as cultural/creative industries - ie is sport a cultural tourism a cultural industry for us?  Can we leave it all to the 'market' or is a greater level of state facilitation required?  Are what we have actually industries?  How do we make them so? All critical questions left unanswered and well, un-asked.

Then it requires the hard and complex task of really engaging the players within and without the formal 'industries'. A labour market survey and mapping research are required.  I'd like to test it,  but if you go into any community and offer a young man (or woman) the choice of a job as a welder or a carpenter,  or a sound technician or stage manager...they would trend towards the cultural industries, within which there are hundreds of categories of jobs.

Training and professional development are therefore  an important part of that process - but not willy-nilly, based on the needs of the 'industries'.

There needs to be an examination of the integration of the cultural industries agenda and social/cultural/economic development - "culturization" is what its called 'officially'. We can solve problems of health, security, education, housing, environment etc. etc etc. by sorting our the cultural industries.

We can address the economic woes of so many time you go to the airport, have a look around you.  I bet you'll see a musician en route to tour...thousands of people are making their living  by simply using the talent they have.

We have to teach people how to become effective entrepreneurs rather than embarrass them into it.  Many persons who have not filed taxes either don't know here to start or just cant even afford to engage the professionals who do, much less pay the taxes themselves. Many are simply afraid of or intimidated by the registration/taxation/capitalization processes.  This can be fixed with training and professional development.   These are real issues.

Funding and capitalization are also critical issues. Many proposals have been made for funding options.  Those have to be engaged.  Public/private partnerships need to be developed on a planned and structured basis.  The Culture Health Arts Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund has introduced an important funding source but it is not nearly enough... and is increasingly propping up the central budget.  In this regard (and others) government is competing with industry for resources.  This has to be re-examined.

Most importantly, building the cultural industries takes will and work.  Every week a young person calls or comes into my office, or students engage, just seeking guidance as to how to get a project off the ground, looking for creative work, outlets for their creative work and funding for projects...hundreds, thousands of fantastic ideas - stunted.  What do we do with these ideas?  Do we send them back into the realm of the hopeless?

In my production management class at the Creative Production and Training Center (CPTC), I ask students to develop a treatment for a film or television programme that they would produce if they had the complete budget...some fantastic ideas have emerged - with no outlet.

Many of these ideas are not original...this fight has been going on for about thirty years, before I even became interested.  Studies have been written, meetings have been held, task forces have been formed, policies and programmes have been drafted....but the struggle continues. We just have to do what we can until the political will becomes, well,  willing.

It is now time to engage. If we must grow, and we must, why not do it by emphasizing the things we as a people love to do?  If our competitive and comparative advantage lies in just being who we are, we are further ahead of the game than we even realize.

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