There’s an old saying that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
In the fall out of Covid-19, economic diversification has become a national talking point. It’s a subject close to Glenda Tuaine’s heart, who’s long advocated for our creative industries.
“Ten to 15 years ago I was talking about this. My phone’s run hot in the last week with people now wanting to talk to me about the creative economy,” says Tuaine. “Hallelujah!”
With a successful career spanning three decades in the creative sector, it’s no wonder Tuaine’s expertise is being sought out.
She established Motone together with her husband Mo Newport 12 years ago as a vehicle to build the Cook Islands creative economy and to showcase and champion Pasifika artists, musicians and creatives.
“I’m a firm believer that a community flourishes when you have an active and strong arts and culture community or industry,” she says.
When Covid-19 hit, Motone was forced to shelve a number of live public events such as a planned Tiki Taane show and performances by the Hawaiian Airforce Band. Hardwired to innovate, the company accelerated its online activity.
A series of live streamed music sessions, featuring local artists like 1 Inch Funk, Rudy Acquino, Kiljoy, Trigger Fish and Kahiki, are now drawing in enthusiastic audiences across the globe and creating new potential. “You’re finding access to an audience learning and understanding what you can do. From a nation’s perspective, what’s so brilliant about that is that we’ve opted to live stream musicians from the island. People from Michigan, Marseilles, Berlin, Sydney, New Zealand, the islands and Tahiti are watching us.
“We exist in a digital world and even more so now because of Covid-19. That requires we understand how we can accent our abilities and talents within that creative spectrum and then apply how to monetise it.”
With the Manatua One Polynesia fibre optic cable scheduled to come online soon, the potential for the Cook Islands to lead the Pacific in areas such as coding, gaming, online retail, web design, film and digital photo libraries are within reach, Tuaine says.
When talking about unleashing the commercial potential for the creative economy, Tuaine draws a distinction between the long-standing cultural sector that focuses on heritage, museums and libraries, and the modern creative sector. Cultural industries sit inside a creative economy, she says.
“The creative economy really is building the potential of activities that trade with creativity, knowledge and information. The spine of the creative economy is the arts, culture, business and technology industries but what comes from that backbone are commercial entities.
“It’s about putting something into your bank account. I am about careers in the arts and making that a tangible, real product so people are able to survive and able to live and have flourishing careers in the industry.”
With an eye on creating opportunities for our younger generation, she’s calling on the government to establish a standalone agency that focuses on creative issues, backed by policy, investment and a commitment to action.
Tuaine points to the growing momentum behind the New Zealand government and business supported WeCreate partnership model, which is geared towards recognising and growing the creative sector’s contribution to wellbeing and prosperity.
Like any emerging industry, it would require funding and sustained focus, she says, on its journey to a self-sustaining future.
“If we don’t do this, what are we setting up for our future generations? Because one of the really big things I identify with is the next generation’s place and position in nationhood and nation building.
“It needs to be an innovation space with a mandate to focus on creative economy to take those people who are going to be unemployed for quite some time – the photographers, the videographers, the musicians, the architects, the graphic designers, the animators, the MCs, the presenters, the TV people. People who are able to transfer what they do into something else and look at how we can assist to build new futures.”
Tuaine shakes her head at the old-fashioned attitudes towards creative careers that persist in pockets of the community. “Every single person wants to download something and stream TV. How do you think that stuff happens? It’s about backing potential.”
The creative economy could be this generation’s taro plantation, she says. “Years ago when tourism first came to the country, we were a planting nation. Tourism was this new and exciting thing.
“In those days the new taro plantation was tourism. Shift to now, tourism has become the plantation that our children don’t necessarily want to plant in.”
Through school education programmes and career expos, Tuaine has been sharing her message with the next generation. “Careers in the arts are viable. Don’t let anybody tell you that they’re not. I’ve had 30 years plus of working in an arts industry.
“I often use the example of Taika Waititi. Taika is a product of a community supporting him and supporting his crazy ideas and supporting his career and now look where he is.
“And anything like that is achievable as long as you back yourself and you have ways in which you can create that career.”
* Prepared with the support of the Private Sector Taskforce.