PHILIPSBURG:— On Wednesday, March 21st the Belair Community Center was transformed into a creative landscape in image, movement, sound, texture and gastronomical delight at the first ever Creative Industries Interactive Exchange Forum (CIIEF). The forum, hosted by the Minister of Education Culture Youth and Sport Jorien Wuite in collaboration with the Culture Department, brought together under one roof the luminaries of the creative industries of St. Maarten to dialogue, brainstorm, explore, engage, and be introduced to the concept of the Orange Economy.
Beginning with an installation work created by artist Charisse Piper encompassing rocks, stones, and pebbles of various sizes colors shapes and dimension set in swirling patterns and cascading down the steps of the foyer leading into the great hall at Belair Community Center set the tone that something special was about to happen.
During her opening speech at the forum Minister Wuite expressed that seeing the impact of Hurricane Irma on the tourism industry the importance of diversifying the island’s tourism product was never more critical. “As the Minister of Culture, I see this as a unique opportunity for artists and our island to explore the possibilities that can be sourced through the Creative Industries. Through this forum, I hope that we can together organize, share our ideas, build on them and create the seedlings from which the Creative Industries can blossom and thrive.” Minister Wuite further expressed her hope that “the work done today will benefit us and those that follow as we take significant steps towards establishing St. Maarten’s Creative Economy. She further emphasized that “In order to expand on the creative industries we need to create a conducive environment that retains, attract, reproduces and rewards creative talent of highly mobile youth, a group that is often undervalued socially and poorly rewarded economically in our societies.”
The forum included a riveting keynote address delivered by Dr. Ryan R. Peterson, General Manager for Economics Policy at the Central Bank of Aruba. Dr. Peterson started his presentation by dispelling some myths of the creative industry. He discussed how innovation and creativity went hand in hand and how the creative economy was moving away from the traditional creative arts and moving towards digital artistry and as a way to offer great experiences to consumers. That experience, Dr. Peterson explained, combined with digital technologies is an extremely powerful tool that needs to be better utilized by especially the smaller islands that now need to do more with less. Dr. Peterson indicated in a follow-up discussion with the Minister the next day that with the right guiding the creative economy on St. Maarten could grow from its estimated 1.7% contribution to the economy now, to an impressive growth to 5-7 % in the next five years once the right incentives and support would be provided. He stressed the need for an economist in the Culture Department to help develop the monetizing of our creative industry.
The keynote was followed by an in-depth panel discussion featuring Jude Houston Acting Department Head of Economic Affairs, Alston Lourens President of the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation, Melisa Boasman pageant coordinator and co-founder Kalaboom Events, Rolando Bryson Director of the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau and Head of the Department of Culture Clara Reyes. Each Panelist was tasked with delivering a presentation that elucidated on how their industry intersected with the creative arts and how collaboration could further support the idea of an orange economy in St. Maarten. All presenters agreed that St. Maarten had the enormous potential to develop a vibrant creative industry that would greatly add to the economic GDP. Kicking off the panel discussion was a special video presentation from Lisa Harding, coordinator of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development at the Caribbean Development Bank in Barbados. The CDB recently established a special fund to promote the creative industries on Caribbean Islands.
The afternoon session at the CIIEF saw vigorous, stimulating and sometimes quite passionate participation in workshops lead by Fabian Badejo, Marlene Mingo and Josian Artsen Fleming. The workshops explored the vision and possibilities of the establishment of an artist guild as well as building toward a national culture prize. In the workshop guided by Fabian Badejo and Marlene Mingo, the gathered artists discussed the different configurations that a guild could develop, from a completely private association with artists as members to a public/private type composition with the possibility to generate income that can support the development and interests of artists. Notary Marlene Mingo shared practical steps on how a proposed guild could be incorporated and structured and was met with an enthusiastic round of applause when she offered her complimentary services in the setting up of the proposed guild. Josian Artsen Fleming led talks on how the Culture Prize on St. Maarten could be further developed into a yearly award given on a consistent basis. She challenged the audience to gather into smaller groups and discuss their ideas which culminated in the sharing of their collective visions. Many ideas were shared including the expansion of the prize into multiple categories, turning the recipient into a regional and international cultural ambassador and awarding lifetime achievement awards. Both workshops were closed with a call to action where interested persons were asked to identify themselves to attend a smaller follow-up session to spearhead the development of both discussion points.
The day concluded at 6 pm with an inter-disciplinary digital art exhibition featuring notable artists living and creating their work on St. Maarten. The works ranged in varied disciplines from digital mix media to animators, visual artists, sculptors, fashion designers to poets. The highlight of the night was the awarding of the 2018 Culture Prize. Young Xochiquetzal Gonzales-Toro an 18-year-old student of the Charlotte Brookson Academy was awarded the prize for her digital art piece. She was presented by Minister Wuite a plaque designed by local artists and a cash prize of NAF 2,500.
Minister Wuite ended the evening by extending her appreciation to the organizing committee, Dr. Ryan Peterson and Lisa Harding, the workshop panelists, moderators, contributing artists and all vendors. “Today is an important day for our island. It is my sincere hope that the ideas, enthusiasm, and vision displayed here today is carried on in the weeks and months to come so that at next year’s forum we would have made a significant impact in furthering St. Maarten’s Orange Economy.”
The Orange Economy, identified by Paulo Buitrago and presented in the book Orange Economy written by Felipe Buitrago Restrepo and Ivan Duque Marquez have identified the creative industries as an economic power and a vehicle for empowerment “as it encompasses the immense wealth of talent, intellectual property, interconnectedness, and cultural heritage of the Latin American and Caribbean region.”