Arts of the Caribbean

The cultural industries of the Caribbean region have a long and textured past and are by no means nascent industries. While the Caribbean’s cultural product boasts a growing share of the world market, upgrading of current infrastructures and environments are needed to support its worldwide transmission (Nurse, 2002). What is called for is a development strategy that includes and capitalizes on the worldwide reach, unique strengths, and endless abilities for expression and re-creation found in Caribbean culture. It also enables the development of brands and brand loyalty based on worldwide consumer interest aligning with Caribbean-specific lifestyles, values, tastes, and opinions, all of which, when exported, impact and influence regional and international public opinion (Nurse, 2002).

Katherine Dunham

The Caribbean’s performing arts have become more widely accessible to audiences outside the region in the past 2 decades. This is due in large part to the rise of consumer demand for and increased interest in art forms introduced and transmitted through migration and transnational movements of people. Through worldwide integration and expansion of networks of artists and presenters, and the development of cultural facilities and festivals, the informal arts sector is being presented on stages and in venues worldwide. This has forced formalization of pricing, marketing, and overall capacity building. The informal sectors of the arts have helped develop the overall market share of the performing arts, sharing information, personnel, and financial benefits among the formal arts sector’s organizations and private/public institutions (Wali et al., 2002).

Historically linked to the process of nation-building and cultural identity, the Caribbean’s (largely informal) performing arts sector overflows with talent and indefinable qualities that distinguish it in the international marketplace. The level of specialization, core competencies, and teaching methodologies inherent to the sector thus represent a level of competitive advantage that brings “tremendous cache to us as a [Caribbean] people” (Dr. Rex Nettleford, February 2006). Problematically, however, the region’s surplus of raw talent is meaningless without basic infrastructure in venues, training and development, media capacity, and financial instruments that are appropriate for the performing arts.

How then, in an increasingly integrated and global economic system, can the arts be used as a catalyst and useful tool for socioeconomic development? How can the arts best be positioned in the development process, beginning in primary school throughout the educational process? How can the arts be enlisted for drivers of social change, and economic empowerment? How can Caribbean artists find new and unique funding mechanisms, opportunities, and marketing outlets for their product?

Rex Nettleford
We cannot speak for very long, with any exactness, about “one experience, one identity” without acknowledging its other side—the ruptures and discontinuities which constitute, precisely, the Caribbean’s “uniqueness”….Cultural identity, in this sense, is a matter of “becoming” as well as of “being.” –Stuart Hall

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