Firstly, I want to give a massive Flag Woman salute to Mr. Steven Cummings of Radio 98.1 FM. Bless your heart, Sir and thank you for asking a question about the creative and performing arts sector at the last Ministry of Finance press conference on May 10th!
Yours was what I thought was an obvious question and timely given the sometimes omission of detail related to the arts on an ongoing basis at these conferences. Yes, all sectors are suffering, and also YES, the creatives are suffering extra bad! The main means of income generation is in jeopardy every time the country collectively humans the scene with new spikes in Covid-19 cases. So whenever our performing arts venues are unceremoniously shutdown and we cannot work to earn an income or when relief options are then announced and we don’t get a specific mention: stress, anxiety, uncertainty and frustration abound as we are left scrambling to figure just where we fit and how all the measures apply to us.
I’d now like to invite Mr. Cummings to the podium:
In his review of the 2020 – 2021 relief measures, Minister Imbert mentioned the specialized Creative Sector grant as follows, “In terms of relief to artistes, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has reported that so far almost 1,000 cultural relief grants, each of $5,000 have been provided to artistes and creatives and that is based on a fund established at the National Carnival Commission (NCC).” While “gratitude issa must”, at least 6 months or more have passed, and by some reports, grants due to be paid in that cohort of relief efforts are still outstanding in some quarters. *sideeyes the Ministry of Tourism Culture, and the Arts*.
Nevertheless, as you can see from the Honourable Minister’s response – considerations for Creatives are apparently a matter for cabinet decision. We’ll see if there’s anyone in that esteemed chamber who may come to bat for we, but at least Mr. Cummings got Minister Imbert to acknowledge that there are some sectors, (such as the performing arts and creative sectors) which have been much more affected than others.
So, I suppose we’ll see.
In the meantime… where might artists fit into the relief measures announced on May 10th 2021? Lewe go….
Income & Salary support for the month of May 2021
These 2 grants will only be for those were impacted (loss of jobs or income) by the Public Health regulations in the month of May. The Minister announced that they will be available from this Friday 14th or Monday 17th May 2021 via a fully online application system.
- Grant #1: TT$1,500. Income support grant for people who are not in the formal system (non-NIS). Apply for this grant ONLY if you lost income or employment at the beginning of May due to Public Health restrictions. Available from the Ministry of Social Development.
- Grant #2: TT$1,000. Salary relief grant for those in the formal system (NIS registered) Apply for this grant ONLY if you lost employment within “the last couple days” due to newer Public Health restrictions . Available from the the Ministry of Finance.
- Economic migrants and non-nationals are to be facilitated through resources made available through religious bodies.
- Micro enterprise grants (NEDCO) – On the issuance of business grants for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses the Minister shared, “We in Finance will work with NEDCO to see how we can accelerate the distribution of these grants, because we gave them an initial allocation of TT$35 million and so far, I’m told they’ve used up about TT$16 million, and the grants are up to $20,000 for small businesses who can satisfy the criteria. We are going to work with NEDCO prop up the fund, make more money available to NEDCO, and see how we can encourage micro entrepreneurs to access these grants. Again, it doesn’t make sense to have this facility available and people are not accessing it.”
So this grant facility may be expanded. Yay! For those who had shows or events cancelled during the month of May 2021, this may apply to you. Now, I said cancelledt, not postponed, eh. If you still having your show, go through hard! This was also the grant I applied for with Black Collar Creative and it was incredibly helpful in refueling contracts I had lost in the mid-year months last year. Once you can show your evidence for income lost in contracts or voided sales, you can justify the amount you ask for. Warning There is no guarantee to get the exact quantity you request. It’s totally at NEDCO’s discretion how much you receive.
- Ministry of Agriculture Food basket programme will be financed for the next 3 months (May to July) and onward once supply is available. 25,000 food baskets (vegetables and chickens) will be distributed through all Constituencies (All 41). These will be supplemented with food cards. If you know anyone in the Arts who is really in need of meals or food, please pass this information along!
- SME Loans – interest-free with a moratorium of 2 years – Did anyone in the arts even apply for these loans? If you did, I’d love to hear about your experience. Basically, the Minister of Finance revealed that people aren’t “accessing” these soft loan facilities. Now, saying that people aren’t “accessing” a loan is a nice way for some of the management agencies of these loan services to throw the cause of the loans not being used right back on the end user – the small and medium sized businesses who need them most.
Creative business owners are some of the MOST risk-tolerant business entities out there.
Conversations with some in the creative sector revealed that the Government provides great opportunities eh, but it’s the administrative middlemen in agencies, banks etc who create prohibitive processes, criteria and barriers to accessing these opportunities, with front line public sector employees who can make the experience even more challenging.
The end user you’re hoping to serve seems to require a different kind of format, system or facilitation in order to access what they need. If the criteria doesn’t work – customize it. If the process is resulting in too many denials – change it. As Minister Imbert admitted during the press conference, there is zero point in having TT$229 million dollars in a bank account and people are not able to access it because of either too-strident application criteria or administrative or procedural barriers.
Even so, creatives also have a responsibility to get ourselves in order on our business tings eh. Accounts, company registration, taxes – yeah allyuh. These things still important. Even basic sector registration – you can sign up for an Arts Association in your sector! Creative business owners are some of the MOST risk-tolerant business entities out there. Nobody takes chances on uncertain margins and prospects like a creative, and more often than not, they survive, thrive and dive right back in for more lessons and/or rewards. So a low-risk loan seems like suckeye to take. So why not protect your ongoing investment legally and financially by getting your basic business affairs in order? It’s a choice, guys. As you can see, you can potentially miss out on a lot of opportunities being provided.
At the same time, the Government agencies also need to listen to the Creative sector. When we say we need a service, or a project, or a piece of land, or an ear, or even a BLIGH, please take heed! We are workers in the arts. We work for a living in this sector. Our work may not be completely defined under the standard system, but we have our own economic markers. See below…
Creatives and artistes are about the business and heritage of the Arts, and the ongoing lack of consultation – or worse, fake consultation, where you hear us, but do what you want anyway, really serves no collective purpose. We lose so much in potential development AND revenue resisting each other, when we should be best friends in a relationship of deep abiding trust. In short: It have money out dey people. We can’t get it in any significant, economically impacting quantity, if we fighting each other or working as lone wolves.
Minister Imbert: “Regrettably, the vast majority of applicants were unable to satisfy these requirements, and the banks even relaxed their procedures to allow for the submission of management accounts in other words – did not ask for audited financials, even then… And it tells us something about the state of small businesses today. We all have to work together. The Government and small business have to work together to get their house in order.”
….and ya know what? He’s right. But “working together” means listening, working with those in the creative sector.
At this time, there is still financing available for these soft loans, which, if you have your house in order Creatives, can be a way to finance your creative business over the next 2 years. The Minister committed to working with the banks to find a way to make it easier for small businesses to access the loan facility. The purpose of the loans were limited to operational expenses but the Government will now possibly expand the criteria for use of the loan to other things, such as the purchase of equipment and maybe, if they listen, content creation and distribution projects. Fingers crossed!