I don’t want a J.O.B: A look into the creative industries for economic development

I had the pleasure of meeting the coolest  guys last week, Dan and Victor, both budding artists from Kenya. The two were showcasing their work at the High Level Youth Policy Dialogue on SDGs at the UN. To say that their work is amazing is an understatement!

Stopped by to marvel at their pieces as well as have a short conversation with them. Dan tells me that he has been painting for only a year now which comes as a huge surprise while as for Victor; he can barely remember when his love for art came about. He states that he was a very little boy. They tell me that they’re both in school and that painting is their favorite past time. Fortunately for them they get to sell their pieces from time to time.

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This then brought me to the question of whether they would do this full time or as a part time hobby and subsidiary source of income when they’ll have completed their studies. Both of them seem pretty unsure of this and this nudged me to ask them on what they would do better or what could be done better to make their answers a resounding yes.

Dan feels that art should be reintroduced into the school’s curriculum. He knows he would be a much better artist if this was the case. “I want people to want my art more, art needs to be taught in schools again,” he states with such strong conviction.

In Victor’s opinion, he wishes that there were more art institutions that would enhance and complement his talent, he wishes for more mentorship and an access avenue to showcase his talent. “Not everyone is cut out for office jobs and one can get an income without having to rely on anyone for a job,” he quips.

This brings me to the question. Are our policies enhancing and strengthening the creative’s industries for development? To begin with it has been proven that with arts being included in school curriculums, it boosts self esteem among youth and enhances communication skills. It also increases cultural understanding, enjoyment, a sense of achievement and identity amongst other attributes. I am a product of the 8-4-4 system and I have my strong views on it. In my opinion, most of it taught me how to cram and to look for a J.O.B rather than learn how to use my talents to create wealth and employment. I do resonate with Dan as he says that art needs to be reintroduced in schools.

Without a doubt the creative industries is a fast growing economic sector that holds enormous potential for youth and countries as a whole. From an economic perspective; it promotes economic diversification, revenues, trade expansion, innovation and contribution to employment. Creativity is a strategic asset that can offer a comparative advantage in the globalizing world and help maintain a country’s cultural identity. The creation of new products opens up access to global markets and would leap-frog any individual and country into new areas of wealth creation.

According to UNCTAD, the creative industries sectors of the developing economies have significant potential to contribute towards the achievement of 5 out of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. The creative economy has a multitude of dimensions and it contributes to economic, social, cultural and sustainable development in a number of ways. The tangible and intangible cultural capital of a community, a nation or a region of the world is something that must be preserved for future generations just as natural resources and ecosystems need to be safeguarded to ensure continuation of human life on the planet.

Despite the abundance of talents, the creative industries in Kenya and Africa as a whole are relatively small and very fragmented. Art as Dan and Victor muse is a multi-billion-dollar business, and it should be seen not only from a cultural perspective but also as a profitable economic activity responsible for creating jobs and generating revenue and export earnings. There is need for effective public policies to be put in place to harness the potential of the creative economies. I do commend all the organizations in the public or private sector that are actively advocating, marketing and enhancing public awareness on the importance and potential of the creative’s industries. However, there is still need for an increase in knowledge and appreciation of Kenyan and African art as a whole.

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