On the need for cultural capital - Richard Florida on Montreal’s Creative Class

I've already blogged about why I think that our government's cancellation of CARIFESTA was a bad idea. (I think the word I used was "terrible"). Now the rumours I am hearing about the future of Bahamian culture and its development are as bad or worse. Rather than serious investment in the development of our cultural identity, "economics" appear to be inspiring the exact opposite -- the dissolution, real or effective, of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Government of The Bahamas.Now there may be not much wrong with a government's decision to gut the only agency that is even vaguely (if poorly) equipped to deal with cultural development. At the very least, it moves us one step away from the hypocrisy that has inspired cultural decisions throughout the 21st century (lots of lip service paid, no money, personnel, or real plans to back it up) and allows the Bahamian people to see the true value of our culture and identity to the people who we have elected to make decisions for us. There is something to be said for ending the pretence; honesty is good, and encourages honest decisions.However, it betrays once again what the cancellation of CARIFESTA made clear: that our politicians and our leaders, the people who make those decisions, have no comprehension whatsoever about the world, about history, or about what will keep our nation successful.Just in case people think I'm making this stuff up, here's a little something-something from Canada, where the citizens have sussed it out better than we have. (The highlights are mine).

We are living through a great turning point in world history. In just a few short months, our economy and our society are on their way to being transformed.The U.S. and Canadian stock exchanges have lost as much as a third of their value. Gone are the days when regions will grow wealthy from ephemeral finance capital. Only those that build their real economy from the only true capital we possess – the creative energy of our people – will enjoy sustainable prosperity.Gone, too, are the days when one’s identity can be purchased literally off the shelf through designer brands and a Sex and the City lifestyle. Times are tight, credit is no longer freely available, and the house is no longer an infinite piggy bank that can be used to finance luxury consumption. The regions that will succeed and be attractive are those that offer history, authenticity and realism – and where the price tag is more affordable.

via Richard Florida on Montreal’s Creative Class « THE INCUBATOR

You will note that the above has very little to say about harbour extensions or road improvements. The capital that Florida is advocating is not infrastructural; it's human.

And to say that our most recent track record in the development of our human capital is poor would be kind. From the Minister of Education's statement that the College of The Bahamas will not become a university for "two to ten years" to the Prime Minister's assurance that the only things he has not cut from this coming budget are the hundreds of millions of dollars his government will spend on roads and on dredging the harbour, while everything else, everything that has to do with laying the foundation for social or human development, has been slashed, our leaders are dancing us into obsolescence.

The solution? We, the people, need to show them they are wrong -- and we need to do that without waiting for 2012. We, the people, need to develop ourselves. We need to change the discussion, and we need to invest in the human capital that our leaders refuse to amass.

How do we do that? Pay attention to the world, to what our tourists tell us we want, to what we know we need in order to survive in the twenty-first century, in order to sustain our wealth. Invest in our own culture. Think out of the box. Support the initiatives that cultural artists are taking. Spend our money on Bahamian creative activities. Call Ivory Global Promotions this week and buy your ticket to one of this weekend's events during Jazz Summer Festival. Skip a movie or two and buy a ticket to see Light, or Guanahani, or Treemonisha, or the concerts put on by Eurhythmics Dance School or any one of the National Cultural Entities. Contribute to the discussions on Nassau's revitalization going on here and here, invest in the development of Creative Nassau, believe in the festivals that will occur as this year and next year develop. Spend your cultural money at home; believe in our culture, and support the music festivals that will take place on the Wharf this summer, attend the Seagrape Bahamas Literary Festival in September, Shakespeare in Paradise in October, Islands of the World Fashion Week in November, the Bahamas International Film Festival in December.

There's a good Bahamian saying that we'd do well to take to heart, especially if we believe that the world has changed, and that culture now lies at the heart of economic prosperity. I'm referring, of course, to the statement "I could show you better'n I could tell you." If you don't believe me now, believe me when you see the fruit -- Bahamian cultural artists are taking that attitude as we move forward. CARIFESTA may have been officially cancelled, but the festivals that will unfold as 2009 and 2010 go on will demonstrate that even though our leaders have committed themselves to wasting our money on frippery and nineteenth-century foolishness, we know which century this is.

Back to Montreal and the creative class, and imagine what could happen if we believed this here at home (again, I've highlighted what I like):

Creativity is in the region’s DNA. More than just about any other region, Montreal has the underlying capacity to broaden the reach of the creative economy to service business, manufacturing plants, and even agriculture.

But the city and the region need a government that can help get them there. Governmental structures in Montreal and most other places are not up to the task. They are fractured and fragmented and filled with contradictions – complicated and clumsy. Hardly anyone who isn’t involved full-time can understand them. In Montreal, there are local boroughs, municipalities, the agglomeration council, and a regional administration as well.

I saw similarly overbearing structures in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and many other places. It leads to what people in Montreal call “immobilisme” – the tendency for nothing significant to happen because governments, business, social groups and unions are so at odds and so stuck in their ways that no one can provide clear direction and make anything happen.

Many people say a strong leader is the answer. They look back to Mayor Jean Drapeau and the successes of Expo 67 and other landmark projects. They ask what’s happened and worry that Montreal has become gun-shy. How does the region get its mojo back?

But today’s regions are too complicated for top-down, single-leader strategies. The key is to create a broad shared vision that can mobilize the energy of many groups – an open-source approach that can harness the energy and ideas of  networks of people.

Some may say the region needs a large-scale marketing or branding campaign to overcome this legacy. In the creative age, the best marketing is viral.

We live in an age of true democracy -- where power truly resides in the actions of the people. Let's not complain about our government -- we after all get the governments we want. Let's focus once and for all on changing ourselves.

Brussels Declaration by artists and cultural professionals and entrepreneurs

Just FYI.from the Newsletter on Cultural diversity

“Today, all countries face a profound crisis: financial, economic, and social. In addition, particularly for developing countries, there are climate, energy, food, and human security crises. Current policies on development cooperation do not respond adequately to the challenges of sustainable development. We must, therefore, rethink our approach to development. And, without wishing to overstate the power of culture, we are convinced that, as already stated by Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘culture is at the beginning and the end of development.’“Many surveys and studies show us that culture and art is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in terms of employment, economic growth, and wealth creation. It also promotes social cohesion and democratic participation in public life. Finally, unlike mineral resources, social and cultural capital is a renewable resource. Regarding North-South cooperation, it can not succeed without the improvement of human rights, democracy, and governance. By stimulating individual and collective imagination and creating links between communities, culture and artistic creation contribute to the establishment and development of democracy.“Because culture contributes to economic development, well-being, and social cohesion and impacts other sectors of development, we, artists, professionals, and culture entrepreneurs are making three key requests:
  • First, that culture be the subject of public structural policies at national, regional, and international levels
  • Second, that the cultural dimension be taken into account by other sectoral policies and defined in a integrated approach to development
  • Finally, that artists and creators be fully recognized as actors in development and have a professional and social status adapted to their own context

Download the PDF here.