The United Nations: “2021, International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development”

For all creatives around the world and Aruba, this new year starts with a bang as the United Nations declares 2021 the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This decision originated on November 8th 2019 at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (Full UN article available: https://undocs.org/A/C.2/74/L.16/Rev.1). Back then COVID-19 was still not declared a global pandemic and since then the corona virus amongst many other economies has detrimentally impacted the Creative Industries around the world, leaving it and its professionals completely vulnerable and fragmented. However, with this new light shining on the Creative Industries, the aim is to find innovative solutions and opportunities for developing countries like Aruba to empower its people and to recover economic impact post-covid.

Interestingly, the Eastern World is catching up on the Creative Industry train and according to UNCTAD (2020) “Indonesia was the main sponsor of the proposal, which was presented by a global grouping of countries, including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines and Thailand. The proposal recognized the need to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, foster innovation and provide opportunities, benefits and empowerment for all and respect for all human rights.

It also identified the ongoing need to support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in diversifying production and exports, including in new sustainable growth areas, including creative industries. It encourages all to observe the year in accordance with national priorities to raise awareness, promote cooperation and networking, encourage sharing best practices and experiences, enhance human resource capacity, promote an enabling environment at all levels as well as tackle the challenges of the creative economy” (https://unctad.org).

By focusing this year on the Creative Industry, the United Nations General Assembly sheds light on persisting need to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, foster innovation and provide opportunities, benefits and empowerment for all and respect for all human rights. By recognizing, acknowledging, and recommitting to innovation through creative and cultural output and knowledge-based output we ensure equitable development. This would mean:

1. Recognizing that the creative economy, known as the “orange economy” in a number of countries, involves, knowledge-based economic activities and the interplay between human creativity and ideas, knowledge and technology, as well as cultural values or artistic, cultural heritage and other individual or collective creative expressions.

2. Acknowledging that creative industries can help to foster positive externalities while preserving and promoting cultural heritages and diversity, as well as enhance developing countries’ participation in and benefit from new and dynamic growth opportunities in world trade.

3. Recommitting to sustaining and supporting developing countries’ economies to transition progressively to higher productivity through high-value-added sectors, by promoting diversification, technological upgrading, research and innovation, including the creation of quality, decent and productive jobs, including through the promotion of cultural and creative industries, sustainable tourism, performing arts and heritage conservation activities, among others.

Aruba and the creative industries

The development of the Aruban CCI has been a lengthy process. Aruba has yet to formalize its Creative Industry, however in the meantime has identified the Creative Industry as a prospective economy for a diversified economic future. However, now that the United Nations has declared this year as the year for creative services, creative economic growth, creative jobs, creative development, creative export, and creative innovation for developing countries; where will Aruba stand?

On Monday, the Prime Minister of Aruba announced that 2021 will be the year of recovery. Undeniably, considering the devastating impact Covid-19 is continuing to leave on the world, recovery seems exactly what we should aim for moving forward. Nonetheless, to my surprise the Prime Minister presented a new policy plan titled “Aruba Outdoor Amenity Economy”. She further explains that a small committee was in charge of bringing new ideas, out of the box ideas that could contribute to Aruba innovating its economy. With the Aruba Outdoor Amenity Economy, the government wants to create a new economic pillar based on natural, cultural and monumental amenities Aruba has to offer. This policy and strategic plan will be implemented in cooperation of 3 different ministries (tourism; economy and culture; and environment and infrastructure) with the hopes of stimulating creative, recreative and cultural activities that will have a socio-economic impact on the island. Some of these activities include beach galleries, arts and crafts galleries located at the Aruban beaches that reflect Caribbean history and culture, especially that specific Aruban amenity.

While listening to this press conference, I felt a bit disappointed that we are still trying to reinvent a wheel that is waiting and ready to be implemented, and that wheel has a name: THE ARUBAN CREATIVE INDUSTRIES. It feels as though walking in circles and coming up with new unknown economies while we have prospective economies in the pipeline just eager to be developed. This not only further confuses people, but is just not necessary. The Creative Industries is a umbrella industry for a collection of smaller niche economies that rely on creative content, products, and services, which have economic, social and cultural impacts on society. Aruba cannot diversify its economy with singular economies as we seen with the refinery industry and the tourism industry. We need to diversify in collective economies that together contribute sustainably to the Aruban GDP. This way we become less dependent on specific economies, we become less vulnerable to external shocks, and we diversify the labor market to provide opportunities for all.

This entire idea to indirectly stimulate the Arts and Crafts Industry, which internationally is considered one of the niche economies within the Creative Industry, by introducing a “Aruba Outdoor Amenity Economy” instead of just considering this a strategic policy in order to develop the Aruban Creative Industry, in my eyes seems as a missed opportunity. By doing this, it only confirms that Aruban stakeholders are still not aware of what the Creative Industries is and what its impact potential could be for the island. We can’t ignore the current struggle most of our local craft artists and souvenir enterprises are experiencing.

Not too long ago in October souvenir and artistic craft artist were all over social media expressing their worries for the decrease in sales and interest from the tourists in purchasing local crafts and souvenirs. So, this new “Aruba Outdoor Amenity Economy” strategy might help stimulate more economic development for local artisans, however, claiming that this will become another successful economic pillar for Aruba, seems a bit far-fetched. Through, developing the Aruban Creative Industry Policy which includes these types of strategies specific to each niche market like the crafts industry, seems more cohesive and makes more economic sense.

Moving forward

It has not been an easy process for Aruba to diversify its economy. Many times it seems easier said than done. However, I still believe that we as a people can accomplish economic growth and social development for our community. The responsibility is shared between all stakeholders, but the Aruban government has the main responsibility to initiate this process to empower the sector to self-sustain the development. That small steps have been made?, yes, hence why I constantly express that the Aruban Creative Industry Policy should make an appearance sooner rather than later. A holistic and evidence-based policy plan that includes targets for guidance, strategies for implementation and indicators for evaluation and monitoring.

By introducing the “Aruba Outdoor Amenity Economy”, we will not only further confuse people, we will again miss the opportunity of joining other developed and developing countries in solidifying a Creative Industry and to finally structurally partake in this international multi-billion economy. If we want to become an innovative island we should develop a Creative Economy in synergy with the Knowledge-based Economy. Not only for economic growth, but for social equality, cultural development, and environmental conservation.

2021, the year for the creatives of the world!