The Role of Cultural Industries in the Samoan Economy

Samoan Arts Council,
06 Diciembre 2014, Samoa

The cultural industries (traditional and contemporary arts) have the potential to play a vital role in Samoan society and economy. While a few individuals involved in the production of handcrafts, fine arts and fashion are succeeding, there are many gaps and constraints inhibiting a more productive and holistic development across all the cultural industries and often the producers themselves are not being sufficiently recognized or rewarded.

The report – Creative Economy Report (2010) confirms globally the cultural industries infuse US$592 billion into the global market and since 2008 this has been climbing at a rate of 14% annually. There is limited coverage by Least Developed Nations (LDC) and Small Island Developing States, (SIDS). A ‘Situational Analysis of the Cultural Industries in the Pacific’ (2012) painted an unrecognisable and incorrect picture of the industries in Samoa. So data thus far has been unreliable and development continues to be fragmented and confused.

There is considerable room for growth and improvement of the cultural industries in Samoa and in order to succeed these sectors need all-inclusive development programmes to improve the value chain at each level. Before products reach the public or export market they must be flawless, from the product concept, to the design and production and the marketing. 

Samoan cultural industries are the traditional and contemporary arts, tattooing, siapo, weaving, carving, plus new artistic expressions such as film, paintings, photography, prints, and sculpture, to name a few. If properly developed these cultural products could be a centrepiece for economic activity. Producers, and operators and the private sector would benefit from a growing and dynamic tourist market with the potential to develop export markets. 

Despite the potential for the cultural industries to be a tool for economic growth the industry remains underappreciated and poorly supported, equipped and developed. The cultural industries are inadequately represented at governmental level and by the private sector. Government is slow to advance new innovative commercial approaches needed to develop the cultural industries. Ministries could be working together to develop and market the cultural industries but a cohesive approach between ministries and the private sectors is not imminent. The strength and dynamism of trade in the cultural industries is not realised and while there are only minuscule glimpses of improvement. 

Those involved in the tourism sector continue to ignore the value of the cultural industry. Producers are not invited to workshops, conferences and regional meetings. Those involved in the cultural industries should be developing a number of exciting Art Trails for tourists. Instead Samoa copies Hawaii and provides tourists with contrived village experiences behind the government building. Nearby villages that could benefit from showcasing their traditions in a real village setting have lost out, culturally and financially.

Those involved in the cultural industries furthermore need policies that will assist their development with tax incentives for all their imported materials, opportunities for public financing and markets and infrastructure to foster their growth and development. It is critical that the Ministries of Education, Commerce Industry and Labour, and Revenue to fully understand the needs of the cultural industries so that appropriate policies can be developed that support their growth. To date some traditional artists receive tax breaks for their materials but contemporary artists do not.

Educational institutions in Samoa are slow to build and promote tertiary institutions that focus on the cultural creative arts. New Zealand has been promoting Samoan artists nationally and internationally for over twenty years. In Samoa talented artist needs to go offshore in order to be heard, seen, promoted and make a living. You may recall the thrill of hearing Sol3 Mio sing last year in Samoa? If you do you will understand how Samoans are thirsty for a broader range of new on-shore cultural experiences.

Samoans also need to be pushing for a “Made in Samoa” approach to the manufacturing of goods. Our artists and artisans are competing against cheaper imported items and machine-made products. Houses no longer have locally made hand-woven mats, papalaufala, to cover their floors. In the last ten years or more cheap Chinese mass produced mats have replaced these beautiful hand crafted mats. 

Samoan cultural producers face many challenges and these are to do with quality control of the product, ‘fair trade’ markets places, fair pricing and meeting the supply and demand. If cyclones destroy the plant material this can inhibit production for months. There is no control for intellectual property rights and design appropriation has become a serious issue in recent years.

When talking about the Visual Arts one is referring to painting, print-media, photography, sculpture, and new emerging art forms. The average annual growth of this sector is 12.8% and growing. This market is very much dominated by diaspora Samoan artists as international curators and critics by-pass local artists when selecting artists for major exhibitions and Biennales. 

Sales in the music industry have declined 7.4% (Price Waterhouse Coopers 2010) mainly due to illegal piracy. In New Zealand the Samoan and Pacific music world is dynamic and making a large inroad into the national consciousness. The Internet and digital technology has changed the music industry and made the sales of tracks and albums harder to control and police. Here is Samoa there is a scarcity of innovative and locally cultivated performers. 

The dance and performance industry has the potential to be the largest earner of the arts in Samoa. Already it is an industry that Samoans understand and appreciate. The Dream Show of 2013 attested to a growing of new types of dance and performance and also the raw talent waiting to be tapped into. 

The cultural industries remain a largely untapped industry in Samoa. Cultural producers require venues worthy for showcasing their creative products. A multi-purpose exhibiting hall was hoped for after the gymnasiums (at NUS) were built for the South Pacific Games 2007. This did not eventuate and for over twenty years it has been dreamed about and discussed. With many conferences about to occur in Samoa cultural producers for one are scratching their heads trying to locate a secure and suitable venue for a professional exhibitions and performances. Shack-like stalls are not adequate. Cultural producers need to be appreciated and provided with the infrastructure that supports their creative expressions and growth in a dignified setting.

Reference: J.F. McComb, Development and marketing Strategies for Pacific Cultural Industries, EU and SPC 2012