Starting with one simple notebook, Sheena Rose would eventually turn her house into an art-filled exhibition space, attracting hundreds of visitors and international attention.
That was only the beginning. In a country without a modern art museum, Rose took her creations to city streets, saw them featured on book covers and travelled south to create billboards in Suriname.
She exploded on social media, and her work eventually reached international collections and art biennales. Rose believes that the region’s talent can spur economic growth.
“I’ve been doing this for years to prove what creativity can do, to show how to be successful,” she says. “Dream, don’t give up and keep working. People are listening right now.”
The Caribbean has already distinguished itself on the international scene for its creative flair, from festivals to food to music. It is the birthplace of reggae and the source of inspiration for award-winning writers such as Derek Walcott and Junot Díaz.
According to UNESCO data, cultural goods amounted to more than 16 percent of Barbados’s total exports in 2016 – the highest percentage among all countries analyzed. Behind that figure is a steady trend of growth in recent years. Other Caribbean nations, such as St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic, also posted strong numbers.
Still, the business potential of the region’s creative industries has not been fully realized. According to Launching an Orange Future, an in-depth IDB study about creative entrepreneurship in Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 40 percent of business failure among those surveyed was due to lack of financing and strategic planning.
It’s a reality that Rose has had to contend with, too. She says she had to learn from friends about how to register her business, handle taxes and build a solid foundation for her creative work.
“Artists don’t see themselves as business, we just see self-expression,” she says. “You need to understand the nature of the business and make the right decisions for your career … Artists need to promote themselves and get more critical. We need to be educated, to have workshops and advisors.”
Alongside its industry studies, the IDB has supported initiatives to enable creative entrepreneurship and growth. Caribbean musicians have learned how to play to the tune of innovation with blockchain technology, and startups have found an innovation hub at TEN Habitat in Barbados.
Tourism is also a bedrock industry in the Caribbean, accounting for more than 10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. For Barbados, tourism is even more important, representing nearly 35 percent of the national economy.
Tourism and the creative industries are increasingly intersecting.
The cuisine scene in Barbados made it the first Caribbean country to earn a Zagat rating from the influential restaurant rating system. The island nation has also marketed the star-power of its most famous singer to attract further visitors. The campaign has been dubbed “the Rihanna effect.”
For Rose, part of the effort to re-wire the local art scene is to accept the island’s potent touristic lure, but to not have it condition the country’s creative products. She argues that tourism could be used to show Barbados and the Caribbean beyond just leisure, and instead expose people to an alluring creative and cultural landscape.