Orange is indeed a vivacious, vivid, and vibrant colour. Some argue that it symbolises youth, creativity, and enthusiasm. Others even go further to hold that its radiance embodies and epitomises freshness, renewal, and dynamism. That is why it is no surprise that culture and the creative arts and industries fall under the banner of the “Orange Economy”. This new yet familiar branch of the everyday economy presents tremendous commercial and cultural worth, particularly to all parts of society. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) trade division director, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, noted, “this dual value has led governments worldwide to expand and develop their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate economic growth, prosperity and well-being”. In fact, as one of the fastest-growing economic sectors, the global Orange Economy is worth more than US$4.3 trillion especially with boundless opportunities created with the rise of the internet, e-commerce, digital platforms, and blockchain technologies. With Antigua and Barbuda being home to such amazing creatives and talent in visual and performing arts and ancillary industries, we must begin to amalgamate such expansive and rich talent into a tool for socio-economic empowerment and development for the benefit of the country as a whole.
What is the Orange Economy?
The Orange Economy refers to the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services that benefit from the economic activity derived from intellectual property. These goods and services include visual and performing arts, music, fashion, design, architecture, publishing, research and development, advertising, software, games and toys, videogames, and broadcast media (traditional and digital). Notably, the term was coined in a ground-breaking book titled “The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity”, authored by Felipe Buitrago Restrepo and Iván Duque Márquez and edited by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The authors explored an economic policy model in which empowerment and wealth creation could be achieved through pooling talent and skills, intellectual property, interconnectedness, and cultural heritage to achieve sustainable economic diversification.
Moreover, and particularly for small developing countries overflowing with talent and skills, the authors submit that the creative industry must be positioned to become exportable in order for small countries to have a more significant stake in global trade and culture. Despite this advice, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with our economies of scale means that we are some distance away from achieving this goal. Currently, areas of the creative economy, particularly visual and performing arts and cultural activities, are on hold due to social restrictions and may take some time to recover. For example, in Antigua and Barbuda, we too witnessed the cancellation and postponement of carnival, fêtes, concerts, food festivals, and other celebratory activities for nearly two (2) years and the slow output from the industry even as restrictions are easing. Nevertheless, young and even established creatives have since turned to digital platforms as an alternative avenue for keeping the industry alive. This effort demonstrates resilience, dynamism, and even sustainability which should remain and be integrated into socio-economic recovery objectives in a post-pandemic world of opportunities.
Opportunities and Challenges
The development of the Orange Economy presents numerous opportunities and a few challenges, particularly for a small developing island economy such as Antigua and Barbuda’s where resources are scarce and where there is room for improvement in the overall governance framework. One such opportunity is that of economic diversification. As we are a tourism-dependent country, this reality constantly exposes the twin-island state to regular and adverse economic exogenous shocks and volatility caused by climate change, natural disasters, security risks, and, as we are experiencing, a global pandemic. As such, being able to formally consolidate and grow an industry we currently possess, albeit informally, would enable less dependency on an unpredictable sector while building capacity in a more resilient industry that is more immune to existential realities. In turn, this would create economic growth, mainly driven by enhancing intellectual property rights and their protection for creatives through investment protection, knowledge sharing, and innovation.
This policy step provides the basis for arts and culture to be commodities in which value could be added along a chain by ancillary sub-sectors such as suppliers, sub-contractors, engineers, service professionals, and even yield benefits for actors in the blue and green economies. Moreover, innovation would, in turn, be a continuous output seeing that it would be the basis for our Orange Economy to be relevant, in-demand, prime for sustainable development and growth. Actors therein would seek to break new grounds, go where no one has been, and even transform everyday creative elements into the desired unimaginable. This intellectual revolution will, in a sense, usher parts of the economy into a new renaissance, i.e., a rebirth of the actual value of the essence, foundations, existence, and future of our being, culture and identity. Imagine a reality where every element of our culture is in demand as a commodity? Our music on all major streaming platforms? Our food being served in the finest restaurants? Our visual arts on display in the most exquisite art galleries? Prominent artistes, producers, and directors visiting our shores to integrate elements of our culture into their work?
For us, as a small nation, to achieve and exist in such a reality, we must embrace and adopt a national vision and plan. Moreover, it requires fresh and dynamic leadership in prioritising economic diversity instead of reinventing a tourism industry that contributes to our socio-economic stagnation. As such, there must primarily be investment in our creative industries infrastructure, such as establishing a home for the development of capacity, exhibition, and commercialisation of the best of our arts and culture. Also, attention must be given to the need to increase internet service capacity, accessibility, and affordability to connect all to the soul of our Orange Economy. In addition to investment, there must be policy, legislative or otherwise, to provide empowering avenues for the fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory commercialisation of our arts and culture. Our calypsonians, soca artistes and performers in other genres of music and otherwise, entertainment management companies, craft and niche product markers and the like. must all have the enabling environment to export their work with few hindrances. In addition, the industry as a whole should have programmes built in to serve as an employment and development pathway for vocationally-minded individuals, whether through apprenticeships or internship programmes, for the industry’s sustainability. More broadly, networks should be created –domestically, regionally, and internationally– to foster relationships and bolster our access and leverage in various markets. This multiprong approach would guarantee that the Orange Economy’s development is practical, effective, all-inclusive, and sustainable.
The global COVID-19 pandemic marks another “wake up and smell the bush tea” moment in the juncture of our history as a people. Our extraordinary tourism dependency time and time again brought on instability and stagnation for decades compounded by a lacklustre vision for the country. The rise of the consolidation of the Orange Economy and the fall of the banana republic economy presents numerous socio-economic and development opportunities. However, those benefits are not without their drawbacks and the need to radically shift our current model of economic operation. Like the best, sweetest, and juiciest orange, Antigua and Barbuda must squeeze every drop from the Orange Economy to catalyse the dawn of a new era of national development, shifting from the industrial to the knowledge economy; elevating the roles of ideas, creativity, and imagination; and filling the gaps and unlocking our potential as a rich, talented, skilled, and diverse people and culture.