Thursday, December 27, 2012

Freedom Through Expression

There is an independence about being an artist; artisan; crafter; designer; entrepreneur – you make your own living, you make your own decisions, take your risks and some would say, tend to be less bound by many of the social ‘norms’. There’s a Facebook poster that goes around once in a while and it apparently quotes Queen Victoria; it says “Beware of Artists, they mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous”. There is something about expressing yourself – whether it be visual art, literature, articles like this or poems, song, dance – all of them – that bestows a freedom on the artist. Sometimes that is revered, but sometimes it is also feared by those who don’t have that freedom, or who don’t understand it. Should it be allowed? What is the value or conversely, the danger to society of this artistic freedom…thinking outside ‘the box’, reshaping boundaries and redefining normal?  
Kaftan by SonJ's Wearable Art for CD Cover for Shirley Ann Cyril-Mayers

We can, if we make a diligent effort to collect information, get a statistical value for the Creative Industries or any section there-of; granted, artists are notoriously hard to pin down, don’t always keep records, far less, accurate records and often operate ‘under the radar’ when it comes to taxes. Why is that? Is it that we, the artists don’t want to pay our dues? I know there is reluctance to reveal information for sure, but I think it is more rooted in misunderstanding of ‘what’s in it for me?’ There is a fear that we might appear to be ‘alright’ and no-longer receive assistance perhaps. This begs the question, what is ‘alright’? And for artists/artisans, I get the impression we are expected to be happy being ‘starving artists’ or at least living a meagre life somehow, as though the gratification we get from the ‘freedom’ of our chosen career should compensate us when we can’t pay the rent on time or can’t go to that fete or take a holiday because the income just isn’t there.

So, that tide is changing, there is no doubt about it; when I speak to my peers, they want to be on the books, want to be operating as a ‘real’ business, want to know they can take a couple weeks off for a holiday and things will be fine even without a ‘real job’.  And this is where we ALL need to be – Government, Artist, Consumer – we need to get to grips with the FACT that being an artist IS a ‘real job’!

So, if even just as a ‘real job’ sector, there needs to be appropriate support and planning for the healthy development of the industry; subjects covered in schools, departments properly equipped and supplied with materials for learning; tertiary and certificate learning; facilities for growing and running business; purpose built facilities for training, display, sale, administration, etc – and, accept that the nature of this business is specific and has specific requirements and seek and follow the counsel of experts in the field.

Handmade sandals by Claudius Edgar
But aside from the very real potential to earn significant amounts of local dollars and foreign exchange, provide substantial employment through staffing and creation of new businesses, and improve the diversity of product to support our tourism product and industry, there is another invaluable aspect to the Creative Industries and Arts & Crafts/Creative Goods are no exception: The development of a creative thinking, problem solving, appropriate solution finding, healthily able to express society. This is a reality.

I remember at a Visual Arts Teachers meeting around 2006 or 7, the Ministry official saying that the World Bank had identified the lack of teaching of the arts from Primary School level as the root cause of the problem with the island being able to come up with appropriate solutions for all aspects of life, planning, commerce, engineering etc. Now that just stuck with me, because I think, if we are honest, we can’t deny that we have ‘built’ some pretty inappropriate systems and infrastructures over the years and we seem caught in a repeating cycle of the same mistakes over and over again – another popular Facebook poster comes to mind; Einstein “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again.” 

Art and creativity exist not just for their own sakes, but as the foundations for useful thinking, the catalysts for appropriate action, the fashioning of the heart and soul of a Nation, giving depth to life and opportunities for real and rewarding careers to many that suffer from not being able to find a place within the limitations of mainstream business and the halls of the Civil Service.
Department of Creative Industries, you have a tall order to fill and the potential to achieve unprecedented positive change for our island nation.

Looshan Expressions T-shirt and CWAD Crochet Wrap
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