The Caribbean needs culture, especially in times of uncertainty and crisis

Port of Spain/20 May 2021. With its colorful traditional shows and masquerades, including Jab Jab, Fancy Indians, Moko Jumbie, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is considered the biggest and brightest in the Caribbean sub-region and attracts thousands of international visitors every year. In 2019, Port of Spain was named a UNESCO City of Music. This has created a year-round opportunity for artists, musicians and entrepreneurs to promote the art of music and culture as a driver for sustainable urban development.

In 2020, everything was different. Restrictive social distancing measures, travel bans and island-wide lockdowns to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus came on the agenda. In 2021, Carnival was suspended. This deprived Trinidadians of one of the most important social events, and a large part of the local cultural industry lost income and livelihood.

'You so busy with pleasure, you don't see the level of employment. That coulda save life when yuh think this thing woulda' destroy them'. In his latest hit, 'Heart Of The People', Trinidadian soca artist, Bunji Garlin, celebrates the informal service providers who make a living through the carnival season.

Many artists and creators, especially those who work in the informal or gig economy, are now unable to make ends meet, much less produce new works of art. Dancers, musicians, and event organizers had to re-invent themselves to either create their art marketable online or put their creativity on hold, for the time "after corona". Cultural institutions and event organizations are losing millions in revenue. The devastation brought to the entire culture value chain will have a long-lasting impact on the creative economy.

COVID-19 has brought into stark relief, as crises often do, the necessity of culture for people and communities. Yet even as we rely on culture to get us through this crisis, culture is also suffering.
Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture.

As the world works to address the immediate danger of COVID-19, it is imperative to put in place measures to support artists and access to culture, both in the short and long -term.

We need to work to ensure that culture is accessible to all and that the full diversity of humanity's cultural expressions can flourish, both online and offline. We need to encourage countries to ensure that artists can access global markets and be fairly remunerated for their work. With one-fifth of those employed in cultural occupations working part-time and often on a contractual, freelance or intermittent basis, we need to rethink the labour and social protection frameworks surrounding artists to consider the unique ways in which artists work. We need to ensure that artists and creators' economic, social and human rights are respected. This includes their right to free expression and protection from censorship.

We need to equip young cultural practitioners with the skillset for creative entrepreneurship. We need to promote cultural exchanges between Caribbean artists and international markets to promote Caribbean cultural goods, establish an inter-regional knowledge exchange and built on lessons learnt from other regions.

We need to safeguard the Caribbean's cultural heritage and environment while supporting the tourism sector. We need sustainable eco-tourism that allows the visitor to discover the cultural resources of the Caribbean in harmony with its natural wealth.

Culture makes us resilient

Culture has the power to positively change the lives of thousands of people in the Caribbean, build lasting bridges and overcome language barriers when integrated into development strategies. By placing culture at the centre for sustainable development, the UNESCO Transcultura programme, with the financial support of the European Union, aims to harness diversity and connect artists and culture professionals from different linguistic areas in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and interregional.

Now, more than ever, people need culture. Culture makes us resilient. It gives us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone, that we are part of a larger place in life. That is why we should do all we can to support culture, safeguard our heritage and empower artists and cultural workers to recover from this crisis and build back better. We all need to join hands by supporting culture in our family, our community, our city, our county; however we can.