By Earl Bousquet
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) earlier this week announced that its Cultural and Creative Industries Innovation Fund (CIIF) has launched a program in Haiti to support related industries in one of the Caribbean’s most diverse national cultural communities.
With initial funding of US $250,000 CIIF-Haiti aims at ‘increasing the competitiveness of Haitian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in three creative industries sub-sectors: visual arts, festivals and fashion.’
The multilateral regional entity, unlike commercial banks, concentrates instead on identifying and nurturing Caribbean developmental needs over time – a mission adopted when it was born five decades ago that remains 51 years later.
Responding to constraints faced by the Creative Industries (CI) sector in 2017, CDB in 2018 approved ‘a pilot intervention’ through creation of CIIF as ‘a multi-donor fund to support the development of the CI sector’ and assigned an initial US $2.6 million as ‘an initial contribution.’
The CIIF’s main objective is ‘to awaken a Caribbean cultural consciousness, supporting sustainable socio-economic growth of the region.’
How do I know?
I was among senior Caribbean journalists invited to the CDB’s 2018 regional press conference at its Wildey Complex in Barbados, where the CIIF was introduced with the intention ‘to build on the innovation that has taken place in the CI sector by re-establishing, reinventing and expanding successes through collaborative ventures with development partners in CDB’s Borrowing Member Countries (BMCs) and in the Caribbean Diaspora.’
The CIIF’s goal was ‘to foster increased competitiveness and innovation within the region’s cultural and creative industries and to systematically reduce poverty through social and economic development.’
The CIIF was presented to the regional press at appropriate visual arts museum in Bridgetown also attended by CDB directors, regional and Barbados private sector representatives and members of the resident diplomatic community.
Over creatively prepared Caribbean food, drinks and in-between mouth-watering servings that included everything but my favourite ‘Flying Fish Cutters’, the regional press learned the CIIF’s three pillars were ‘innovation, collaboration and sustainability.’
And applications were invited from ‘governments, business support organizations, universities, non-governmental organizations and legally-registered creative enterprises from all of the CDB’s 19 BMCs.’
‘Priority sub-sectors’ included ‘fashion and contemporary design, visual arts, audiovisual design (film, animation, gaming), festivals and carnivals and music.’
Indeed, the CIIF was (and still is) looking for proposals for ‘digitization, intersectionality, clustering. Co-working and synesthesia, cultural heritage, continuations, regional integration and collaboration and impact.’
Its grants (at the time) would be (up to) US $150,000 each for ‘enabling environment’ and ‘data intelligence’ and (up to) US $50,000 each for ‘improved competitiveness of creative MSMEs.’
The launch heard several encouraging presentations, including reminders that calypso and carnival, reggae and steel band – and the wider region’s numerous other national variations of Caribbean culture – have always been, but were never treated as creative industries with economic, cultural and social potential always worth developing.
Until the CIIF…
I told the colleague next to me it was a good move, but we should do more than just report the event, ‘because many if not most actual creators of Caribbean cultural industries may not even be aware of CIIF, or interested in or capable of applying, if only because help has never been offered like this – and given the related comparative 21st Century sophistry of applying for financial assistance online.
I hosted the island’s best-known producer of local films on my TV show ‘Earl@Large’ the very next Sunday.
And later, I contacted a few leading creators of related visual arts CIs – including an actor/director/producer, two accomplished film producers, an accomplished popular Kweyol (Creole) singer/performer and the low-lying leader/tuner/arranger of an entire extended family of three generations of steel-band players, as well as a member of an All-Women Steelband.
Nearly three years later, I’m glad to see the CIIF take the bank’s mission and goals to Haiti, a CARICOM nation and CDB BMC globally appreciated for possibly having the widest and longest range of CIs worth rescuing and preserving, promoting and developing today.
Outgoing CDB president Dr William Warren Smith, who explained the bank’s overall mission with simplicity, will demit office in May with the CIIF launch as one of the many leaves in his laurel of achievements during his decade at the bank’s helm.
I’d been very impressed by the way the president treated the press, making all directors available and accessible on that one day, at the same place and time.
My only disappointment was that for the first time in 44 years, I was unable to eat a Flying Fish meal in Barbados, each waiter at the hotel’s dining room informing me (with sincere apologies), each time I ordered a ‘Flying Fish Fillet’ from the Menu, that ‘The last one was just served…’
The story behind that experience is like a CI about to become a proud memory, as Barbadians come to grips with the culture shock that flying fish have long flown out of Barbados territorial waters and Bajan fishermen risk arrest-at-sea for pursuing the winged pelagic species into other Caribbean waters.
But alas, the next day also turned out to be my last in my last job as editor of The Voice of Saint Lucia, the second-oldest newspaper in the Caribbean (after the Jamaica Gleaner) – which is why I was so pleased to have resumed here where I left off that day…
The CDB was established in 1970 ‘to contribute to the harmonious economic growth and development of its BMCs’ and in addition to the 19 BMCs, its membership also includes four regional non-borrowing members (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela) and five non-regional, non-borrowing members (Canada, China, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom).
CDB’s total assets (as at December 31, 2019) stood at US$ 3.59 billion, including US$2.1 billion of ordinary capital resources and US$1.49 billion of special funds resources.