Will the Cultural and Creative Industry get a Chance in the Next Aruban Government?

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Yesterday the Aruban community was completely paralyzed by the fall of the coalition government, “Gabinete Wever-Croes”. The cabinet was represented by three political parties on the island, namely MEP, POR, and RED. Over the years it has been proven to be more difficult to govern within a coalition than ever before. It seemed like it was a constant struggle to keep all parties in line and to make sure that there was consensus on issues that impacted the Aruban community. Aruba has for the most part only experienced one party cabinets. However, four years ago the people clearly wanted a shift in regards to this. Now, the Creative Islander has never really discussed political developments individually, but only when it related to the local cultural and creative industry. Besides the fact that the United Nations has declared 2021, the year of the creative industry, this new political development does raise the question: will the Cultural and Creative Industry (CCI) get a chance in the Next Aruban Government?

Just as a refresher, “the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) fall under a wide-ranging definition of the creative economy. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the cultural industries include sub-niche markets such as music, writing, art, fashion, design and media industries and are inclusive of technology and craft-intensive production. Whereas, the creative industries consist of a wider range of production activities including goods and services that rely on innovation, research and development (R&D) such as film, museums, galleries and photography” (UNESCO/LUMEC, 2021). So the CCI is a combination of these two worlds. A place where culture and creativity meet innovation.

For three years I have been advocating for reform on aspects such as Aruban public policy, the tax system, the economy, education, social improvement, and especially on the Creative Industry. For more than eight years, Aruban governments have indicated that the Creative Industry is a potential economy to consider on the island. It not only has less environmental impact compared to all other economies, it could stimulate the island to have a better skilled labor force (less cheap labor, more specializations), and also increase innovations within the community through culture and creativity in order to reach more sustainability for our people.

However, it has been a struggle for academics like me to get this movement going, not because people do not understand the potential, but there has not been enough political will to endorse the development of the CCI on Aruba. Simultaneously, over the last four years the cultural and creative sector has been roaming and surviving without a proper national cultural policy. For months on end I have been requesting the ministry of culture to work on developing a vision, strategic workplan with adequate indicators for implementation and evaluation.

Unfortunately, the cultural sector was never attended to by the current de-missionary government. Maybe the will was there, but the capacity and expertise were lacking. An interesting observation is also to note that the Minister of Culture was also the Minister of Finance and the Economy. It would not surprise me if it was the case that her attention and expertise was on the latter and that the financial pressure took more of her time. However, that is not an excuse. I do acknowledge that COVID-19 has impacted the island, but this pandemic erupted at the end of the first quarter in 2020.

During the pandemic, the cultural sector and all professionals in the field took a huge hit and I could notice the consequences of not having a structured (formalized) creative and cultural economy. Let’s start with the lack of representation of creative professionals at the round table. With no surprise, other economic pillars such as the tourism industry did and still does have a (big) seat. Even though that the country depends heavily on tourism for economic growth, this situation does shed light on the detrimental situation and this is something that needs to be remedied quickly.

As a consequence of the pandemic, international rating agencies have downgraded Aruba and express that “the downgrade reflects the sharp economic downturn expected in Aruba from the loss of tourism receipts in 2020-2021 and the severe deterioration in fiscal and external accounts as a result” (Fitch, 2020). We can’t continue to remain a one economy island. We are currently surviving, but today we have COVID-19, but what will the future bring? Culture (in the future) cannot continue to suffer simply because of the political heat with the Netherlands, lack of local political will, Covid-19, or lack of funding. Do these issues impact the development?, yes, but for years we have seen limited financial and capacity investment in the cultural and creative sector.

In the beginning of March, as an academic I attended the Abu Dabhi Culture Summit 2021 virtually. What an amazing and inspiring week that was to be in a (virtual) environment with other creative and cultural professionals from all angles of the world coming together to discuss how we can move forward with the current pandemic without limiting the development of creative industries around the world. This summit was the perfect space for experts to share their best practices and to share how they are mitigating the pandemic’s residual effects on the industry. While I was taking in the knowledge I was wondering when Aruba will also participate and be part of this movement.

As a lecturer, researcher, policy specialist, and as a columnist I will keep advocating for evidence-based policy reforms and for the development of a cultural and creative industry on Aruba. We know from best practices around the world that:

  • The CCI has cultural benefits, creates economic value and demonstrates relative resilience to external shocks over other industries as evidenced by its continued growth in the past 20 years.
  • Creatives play a role in preserving the history of areas, foster diversity in terms of culture, race, age and encourage social cohesion because their expressions tend to bring people together and build communities.
  • The CCI play an important role in helping individuals and countries shape their identities.
  • Technology is an integral part of CCIs in the global market because much of the content for the digital economy is generated by these industries. Examples of this include the consumption of videos and movies, music and books on digital platforms as well as online and mobile games.
  • CCIs are also important for employment by simulating more expertise, social inclusion and less cheap labour.

Many international agencies such as UNDP, CARICOM, and UNESCO have suggested several strategies for developing countries, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East to explore in order to make the most of opportunities presented by the creative economy and promote growth. This includes developing islands such as Aruba. Overall they propose “that developing countries should integrate CCI opportunities into their national strategies, policies and budgets; boost the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR); expand regional ties; develop, retain and attract human capital required for CCIs; lastly, collect data for CCIs in order to magnify the dynamics of these industries, improve planning and policy-making” (LUMEC, 2021).

This is what I will keep advocating for, because I strongly believe that Aruba can! When this will happen will remain a mystery. Hopefully a lot more progress can be achieved in the next Aruban government. To be continued.