Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dusty Final Reports - a Feature of Arts & Crafts Development

This article was third in the series I think, but I didn't link to it here, so I'm posting it now and hope you'll enjoy and leave your thoughts too!
Raku glazed traditional pottery - FAO/ Ministry of Agriculture Craft Packaging for Agro-Industries Training
Some people may wonder why, when we finally have a Ministry Department that is specifically dedicated to developing the ‘Creative Industries’ I’m ‘complaining’ about what hasn’t been done…well, yes, it is –hopefully- great that we have this department, but I know many people in my part of the Creative Industries are not holding their collective breath. I’ve had people tell me things like “I went to one of those consultation meetings and it felt like all they were interested in was getting a Rihanna so they could rake in the taxes” Now, granted, I wasn’t at that meeting, I didn’t make it to any of them, and though I did get to speak to the consultant anyway, I’m still concerned; I know many of us worry that our less glamorous arena will be left still to struggle for itself.

You see, it comes back to last week’s issue with the concept of what Creative Products are – or as we call more commonly call them ‘Arts & Crafts’. We think of these as low-income activities that mostly are done by persons who couldn’t succeed in academics, persons who want to just do a little thing and are generally not very professional, can’t run a business, etc.

It was put to me by one of my peers that “…’they’ really don't understand that the (local) music is primarily a local product; It doesn't export readily. Art & crafts export very easily and are able to reach other markets immediately, as we are ready.” In thinking about it, I thought there certainly is some local music that is ready to export, and these days with digital files, they can export super-easy… but that’s it for true, ‘they’ just don’t see the huge potential and much wider availability of ready and almost export ready product in the Arts & Crafts…we’re ready, and those that are not yet, there are relatively easy paths to making them ready … quickly. We even (maybe just with a little updating) have the plans…
Decorative Honey Pots waiting to be fired - Irene Alphonse
 A little history: In 1992 when I was the Craft Development Office in the Ministry of Community Development, I inherited several boxes of reports on an OECS project funded by FEDEAU – years of study upon study of potentially lucrative businesses in arts and crafts…all those reports did was gather dust. In 1997, I was asked to draft a plan for developing the ‘crafts industry’ to submit for STABEX (EU) funding: I did this with NRDF, FRC, SEDU involved, but it was, rightly, I believe, set aside for reconsideration under the bigger umbrella of the Heritage Tourism Project. In 1999, this project brought in a consultant, Annu Ratta, who spent six months doing the research, data collection, projections, etc and wrote up a full proposal. It had mostly the same elements as our original one – why? Because they were sound elements, the plan was based on knowledge of what was needed. It is still largely relevant…but the only ‘actions’ that have happened since are more meetings, consultations and a smattering of small, disjointed projects that barely scrape the surface and leave recipients momentarily excited and then dumbfounded when they realize all the infrastructure and institutional support they need to grow and succeed, just isn’t there and despite being recommended in the copious ‘Final Reports’ is never implemented. We need cohesive development.
Students dying Pandanus at FAO/Min of Agri training
So, to end, let me share an inkling of the size of this industry in St. Lucia …no comprehensive survey has been done so we have to gather and interpret incidental information:  A recent survey put practicing artisans in Choiseul, at just under 200; when I had shops I easily had 100 suppliers, of whom only a few were from Choiseul; In the last year or so, I’ve trained about 50 persons I did not previously know were artisans, there are another 20 or so in the Dennery Mabouya valley area, many in Babonneau and surrounds; each village has a handful or more, not to mention the numbers of people who make and sell crochet, dolls, fashion designers, photographers selling prints, painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, shoemakers…even from the above, you can readily assume there are over 500 individuals currently making part or all of their living from ‘Arts & Crafts’. I feel strongly that if you really made an effort to count, you’d find many more that do, did or wish to. This sector, treated right, could employ two, three or more times this amount and as I’ll talk about next week, provide value to St. Lucia far beyond the dollar earned. This sector needs a concerted focus for development.

And don’t forget, please, leave your comments, ask questions, get involved! Your input really counts!