Pakistan’s creative economy has huge potential but current structures don’t provide the flexibility these businesses need to achieve that potential
ISLAMABAD — Entrepreneurs, cultural policy makers and experts across Pakistan, together with UNESCO are engaging in talks to revitalize support for the country’s creative industries through a project funded by the Danish Centre for Culture and Development (CKU).
‘’Empowering people through active participation in art and cultural activities’’ will run over a 2 year period and will focus on how the country can benefit from UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions to strengthen creative industries and support sustainable development in Pakistan.
A series of consultations, seminars and workshops took place in July 2016 in three major cities across the country, Islamabad, Karachi and the cultural capital, Lahore, and brought together around 150 people from the digital arts, film making, video gaming and the music industries together with leading figures from academia, provincial governments and the federal Ministry of Information Broadcasting and National Heritage. This followed an initial assessment of Pakistan’s creative scene at the start of the year led by Andrew Senior, the member of the 2005 Convention’s Expert Facility.
Representatives worked together in the three cities to identify the strengths and weaknesses in cultural and other relevant policy areas and to forge plans on how to secure the 2005 Convention’s ratification.
‘’It is expected that consultation meetings will result in policy recommendations and working groups that will present evidence to support the Government of Pakistan in a decision to ratify UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions,’’ Mr Mohsin Haqqani, Secretary of the National History and Literary Heritage Division, Ministry of Information Broadcasting and National Heritage, Pakistan, said during the Islamabad consultations.
While 21 % of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, the steady economic growth of the country’s creative industries is encouraging. According to a recent UNESCO UIS report on the “Globalization of Cultural Trade”, the total exports of cultural goods have increased over the years from US $60 million in 2004 to US $437 million in 2013. In support of this increase in trade, during the discussions in the three cities, case studies were identified by entrepreneurs that further showcase the potential of Pakistan’s creative economy to contribute to the country’s economic and social development. Participants acknowledged the potential of the industries as well as the challenges, particularly with youth as 39.1 % of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 15, representing a large domestic market for its diverse creative goods and services.
‘’We don’t give our creative youth enough support or exposure. Before it was unthinkable for young people, especially women, to work in the creative industries, but now things are changing and it’s a good time to move on the ratification of the 2005 Convention as this can bring employment opportunities and promote development in our country. We also need a strong cultural policy in Pakistan as we have a lot to offer the world in terms of creativity,’’ says Michelle Tania Butt, from the ‘’Kuch Khaas’’ arts organization based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
‘’We have also been organizing creative exchanges with our Afghan neighbours where young pop singers from both Pakistan and Afghanistan came together last year to perform to together, promoting peace and understanding between the two nations,’’ she adds, referring to the impact of creativity in transforming societies.
In the workshops with young creative entrepreneurs, international expert Andrew Senior briefed participants on the purpose of the 2005 Convention and worked with them to identify the barriers to growth and trade that are inhibiting their development.
“Pakistan’s creative economy has huge potential but the framework within which it operates needs to better reflect the sector’s needs. The rapid expansion of 3G and 4G mobile networks has created new opportunities in a vast new market, but current structures simply don’t provide the flexibility that these businesses need to achieve that potential. The legal framework – structure, tax, copyright and a raft of other issues – within which these businesses operate doesn’t reflect their commercial reality; it is in danger of becoming a tale of lost opportunities, whereas it could be a win-win situation in both economic and social development terms,” Andrew Senior said.
Pakistan’s creative talent has made international headlines in the past, notably with the rock group Junoon performing alongside the likes of pop star ‘Sting’. The group was also presented with an award for “Outstanding Achievements in Music and Peace” by UNESCO and a BBC award for their contribution towards Asian culture. In 2001, Junoon also became the first band to perform at a concert for peace at the United Nations General Assembly. More recently, renowned Pakistani documentary maker, Ms Sharmeen Obaid, again put the country on the international creative map after winning two Oscars for her documentary work.
Experts and entrepreneurs in the workshops agreed on the need to build on these successes and to find new ways of promoting Pakistan’s creative professionals.
“The 2005 Convention ensures the introduction of policies and measures that nurture creativity and it will provide access for creators in Pakistan to participate in domestic and international marketplaces where their artistic works/expressions can be recognized and compensated financially. It also ensures that these expressions are accessible to the public at large,’’ highlighted Ms. Vibeke Jensen, UNESCO Representative to Pakistan.
The findings from the countrywide consultation workshops held in July will be presented to the Government in meetings and a conference this autumn, with the intention of building the evidence to support Pakistan’s ratification of the 2005 Convention.