The diversified heritage economy

IN my last article I revealed parameters for the creative and cultural sector masterplan synthesised by the Artists’ Coalition from stakeholder consultations. The plan identifies a series of interventions to grow the GDP contribution of the sector from $1.9 billion to $7 billion in four short years. One of the pillars of this growth is the “Heritage Economy”—which currently operates at a net loss to our economy. We anticipate we can grow this to a $1 billion earner annually. Here’s how…

Wikipedia defines heritage as “something inherited from the past: natural heritage—the inheritance of fauna and flora, landscape and landforms and other natural resources; cultural heritage—the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group; man-made heritage; food heritage; industrial heritage; and virtual heritage.” This heritage is economised through: museums, heritage sites; by merchandise like books, toys, and clothes; and by restaurants, events, etc.

This nation has been blessed with phenomenal heritage in each category. As the last piece of the Andean rainforest we’ve amazing natural diversity for a small island. We’re said to have: one of the most varied bird and butterfly populations in the world; the world’s hottest pepper; the richest cocoa; etc. We have the 7,000-year Banwari man fossil—the oldest human remains in this part of the world. We have the magic mixing of five ancient civilisations. We have legions of interesting heroes. We have incredible sites of global interest like the observatory where latitude and longitude were calculated for the western hemisphere, one of the first commercial oil wells in the hemisphere and the site where television was being invented…

We’ve made an absolute mess of these riches. We’ve spat on heritage. We have no proper destinations. Our leaders feel by painting a thing and putting a plaque in front makes it a heritage site. Radical rethinking is necessary. The masterplan conceives of T&T having 365 premium sites in 20 years. Antigua has 365 beaches—we’ll have 365 sites! These must first be gifts to ourselves—before they are to foreigners. Heritage sites must be seen as vectors of memory, citizenship, art, and commerce. They would include re-conceptualised sites like: Minshall’s mas camp; Sundar Popo’s, Sir Learie Constantine’s and CLR James’ homes; Sparrow’s Hideaway; Rain-o-Rama; and many more…

The first part of the process is capturing the memory and skill of elders—especially our golden age geniuses from 1930 to 1956. This is the content for the sites. Located in their stories are maps to achievement—and billions of dollars of patents and “trademarkable” material. Units and methodologies like the guild of masters were conceived to capture this data with integrity.

Our built heritage is operating at a huge deficit because of neglect. Because we have no preventative maintenance we only deal with buildings in extreme crisis when the salvage cost is astronomical. These are our current rehabilitation costs: the Red House—$241 million; President’s House—$80 million; and Mille Fleurs—$30 million—pending inspection… Each building can earn $10 million a year easily… This entails rethinking how they work. It means creating interactive museums and libraries; and at least ten internal sites with trained guides… Brilliantly designed brochures, websites and merchandise must be created… We can target 200,000 visitors annually for each site at $20 a visit! We can’t see it now—because we have no conception of best practice.

Let’s look at what that looks like: Since 2010 the Tower of London increased annual visitors by almost six per cent—to just over 2.55 million. Its popular attractions are the Royal Menagerie, displays of armour, and the Crown Jewels. About 6.28 million visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last year. They staged an internationally popular exhibition on the late designer Alexander McQueen which drew 662,000 visitors. That’s how you programme a heritage site!

The local artists’ plan visualises a series of premium museum destinations: a national hall of fame; a natural history museum; a national heritage museum; the carnival, steelband and festival museum; a national art gallery; and the house of music. Each would be magnetic—averaging at least 300,000 visitors per year. Before this can be implemented we must admit T&T has a terrible history with civic design— evidenced by bad public monuments—the Lara and Sparrow statues and the new Olympic monument.

Public works that are un-pretty, dysfunctional and fail every single test. There’s never been a sense from our local commissioning agencies of the civilisational, aesthetic and public functional imperatives located in landscaping, public works, monuments and public art work. There’re no procedural guidelines. CEPEP gangs can paint over 3,000-year-old heritage sites and place stones spelling “CEPEP” on them.

Nations have worked out procedural protocols to ensure excellence in these matters—we must adopt them. It isn’t that London, Manhattan and Paris are less corrupt—they have protocols to ensure merit, transparency, consultation and beauty obtains! We must engage these urgently. An archaeology plan and the national heroes policy being worked on by the Ministry of Diversity is the place to start.

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Posted on June 21, 2013, in President's Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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