A vision based on culture as Haiti's competitive advantage

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • October 8, 2012 6:56 PM EDT

Did you know that in North America the film industry has generated 40 billion dollars last year according to The Guardian? The video game industry in the US alone generated 17 billion dollars in 2011 according to NPD Group. New York and Los Angeles are viewed as image producers for American cultural values. They also encompass a vast concentration of creative resources by clustering arts, entertainment, and cultural organizations. These regions for the most part dominate the American and global cultural scenes. They have truly developed their cultural industries.

Haitians love and believe in their rich culture as well. They believe in the cultural value of their visual arts, music, dance, food, traditions, etc. However, they don't seem to believe as much in the economic potential of their arts and culture, as cultural industries are not major drivers of Haiti's GDP.

Marcel Wah, artist and entrepreneur, member of the Haitian Diaspora, and the founding members of Kylti, an arts and cultural organization, have developed a vision for Haiti: To become the "Arts, Design, and Culture Capital of the Western Hemisphere".

They believe that Haiti's spiritual, but also economic strength lies in the potential of its Cultural Industries.

"We are very strong in arts and culture and we are known for that in our music, our food, in our visual arts and design. This is an area that's not even exploited as much as it should. If there was more focus into just that one sector, when you combine that with Haiti's interests in tourism, great economic benefits can be derived from it," says Marcel.

Foreigners exploit it more than Haitians do

Marcel notes that foreigners have exploited the economic potential of Haitian arts and culture far more then Haitians have themselves.

An example is the "Heart of Haiti," a product line made of Haitian crafts launched in 2010 by Macy's, a well-known American retailer. They sell Haitian crafts products online and in their stores. They also make use of the how-its-made stories, as well as stories of the Haitian artists, in their marketing strategy.

Hollywood and other players have made good use of Haitian Vaudou symbols, often in a distorted way, to create a sense of magic, mystery, and the unknown. New Orleans has a store that sells everything Voodoo (the negative spelling originated from American media and film; the correct spelling is Vaudou, or Vodou) and it gains economic benefits from its uses.

"We need to focus on our culture"

In 2010, Kylti organized in Washington, DC, its first Haiti Cultural Economy Forum to raise awareness amongst Haitian Government, the decision makers, as well as the general public on the economic potential that Haiti's cultural industries have.

This year, on December 10-12 in the Washington, DC area, Kylti is organizing the second edition of the Haiti Cultural Economy Forum and Fair. The focus of this year's forum is on The State of the Arts, Tourism and Sports as economic drivers for Haiti.

"We are focusing this year on the arts, tourism, and sports to give people a more focused look into the potential of these three areas. We will examine the impact that the arts and sports have on cultural tourism, which according to research draws the greatest number of people to a country, plus they spend more money when they travel for cultural purposes," says Marcel Wah

Invited Forum speakers are the President of Haiti Michel Martelly, who is a musician himself and known internationally for his music; Minister of Culture; Minister of Youth, Sports and Civic Action; Minister of Tourism; and the Haitian Ambassador in Washington, DC, among others.

There is a lot of work to be done

Marcel believes that artists and people involved in cultural industries need both government and private sector support in order to improve the infrastructure: to create a market for the cultural industries, professionalizing the industry, developing the legal framework to protect intellectual property in terms of copyrights, etc.

"There is a lot of work to be done to formalize the marketplace and educate people overall. Right now it's very loose and there is not a concentrated effort to turn culture into an industry," says Marcel.

"We need to focus on our culture. Our culture is the richest thing we have, and probably the only thing that us Haitians believe in because it identifies who we are. It's not as if we need to be convinced that we have a rich culture. Haitians already know they have a very rich culture, probably the richest in the Caribbean and many other places. However, we haven't truly exploited it. Foreigners have, and maybe because they see and believe in its economic potential, whereas we believe in its cultural potential alone. That's the key difference: we are not thinking about economic potential."

The Haiti Cultural Economy Forum and Fair make up part of several Haiti-related events taking place during "A Week On Haiti", which includes the TDG Business Symposium and Expo (December 13), and the Haitian Craft Show (December 13-17).