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All Saints West MP to listen to creatives before making moves in new ministry

By Orville Williams

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Before taking any significant steps in his new Cabinet role, Member of Parliament for All Saints West, Michael Browne, assures that he will be giving a listening ear to creatives and other beneficiaries of his leadership.

Browne was officially sworn in as Minister of Creative Industries and Innovation during a ceremony at Government House on Monday, following a year-long absence from the Cabinet due to legal challenges.

At that ceremony, the minister was asked by Observer whether he would be moving immediately to put structures in place to support the embattled creative sector, which is among those worst hit by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He explained that he is planning to engage those who will be involved, either by carrying out his directives or benefitting from them, before making any moves.

“One of the things that I’ve realised, especially the way how we execute the All Saints West marketplace, is most times – before I start with the assumption of what people need – it’s best to sit down, talk to them and find out exactly what their needs are.

“I think sometimes, there’s this approach that you go into a situation and you think you know what people are asking for…but sometimes what they really need is just a voice.

“So, my first order of business is to listen more than anything else. I don’t want to go with preconceived assumptions, I just want to sit down and listen and hear what the concerns are,” he explained.

The All Saints West MP will certainly have his work cut out for him, considering the sustained disgruntlement from creatives in Antigua and Barbuda about the meagre level of support the creative sector receives and the lack of substantial avenues for their work to be recognised.

This has long been a problem for many – from graphic and costume designers, dancers and theatre performers, artistes and musicians, sculptors and writers, and many others – as Browne will certainly learn once he engages with those in the industry, but the minister is confident in the potential for growth.

“I thank the Prime Minister for his trust in putting me in such a powerful ministry. It’s a ‘little but tallawah’ ministry and I am one of those persons [who is] looking forward to the possibilities that can be created. [That’s why] I definitely want to start by listening first.

“I don’t want to articulate a policy without having spoken to the persons who will be responsible for carrying out the policy and who will benefit from the policy. It’s good to just talk to people first,” Browne said.

One of the early efforts the minister could make to support the creative sector, according to some creatives who spoke with Observer, is to recover the responsibility of hosting CARIFESTA.

Antigua and Barbuda pulled out of hosting the 15th edition of the festival in 2022, after being forced to postpone its original staging back in August 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Culture officials have told Observer that the matter is essentially out of the twin island nation’s hands and is now in the hands of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping, but the creatives say they would be overjoyed if Browne could ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ by bringing the festival and all that it could provide for the industry, back to our shores.

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