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The Steel-band in Trinidad : Should it be seen as Art, Culture or…..Business?

I am always struck by the notion that some insist on seeing the steelband's future purely as business.


And I'm not talking about the professional panist, or even the small 'side" that does gigs and may even be doing quite well.

And obviously for a steelband to be successful, its finances should be handled in a proficient and businesslike manner.


I'm talking about the Steel Orchestra, the large steel band made up mostly of amateurs who actually play for the joy of it, though of course financial compensation for their efforts is highly appreciated.


Now, pan has potential to generate income, and maybe this potential has not been fully taken advantage of.

Some can and will make a profit from pan, and we sincerely hope that as many as possible do so.

Every way  that the steelband can generate revenue should be explored and exploited.


But the purpose of business is profit.

A business makes a profit that goes to its owners, shareholders investors etc.

A non-profit , on the other hand generates income to sustain itself , pay its employees, and perform some social or cultural function.


The Steelband is about art and culture, and should not be promoted, advertised or identified as business.

 And lets face it, there may be financial benefits (taxes, etc.)  for a successful steelband organization to be SEEN as a non-profit.


Not everyone who contributes to this forum or participates in the art form does so with the intention of profit.

I like to think that I make a small contribution to the promotion of the art form, but I do not expect to be paid.

Pan is part of my culture, my being.


I see the steelband the same way I see the symphony orchestra, the opera. dance, and ballet; as an art form.


These art forms employ highly skilled, professional artists, but still depend on grants and sponsors for sustenance.

Businesses come and go, some succeed and some fail; but art, like the steelband is (hopefully) forever.


Art represents much more than putting dollars in someone's pocket. It represents the cultural lifeblood of a people and for it to survive and prosper the community has an obligation to support it.


Most societies understand this, hence there are  patrons, sponsors and organizations whose main philanthropic purpose is support of the arts.


In the United States, The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the Federal Government which since its creation in 1965 has given out billions in grants to support art, including the performing arts - dance, theatre, music.

Many of the organizations receiving these funds are considered "Non profit", though they pay their employees and artists, and charge for their performances.

 I would like to see steelbands in this category, as non profit cultural and artistic entities deserving of sponsorship, grants and taxpayers dollars, but also capable of generating income.


Though some conservatives object, it is generally understood that government -i.e. the taxpayers, and private organizations have an obligation to support the arts and to keep culture alive.

In return, a vibrant culture is capable of rewarding the populace in many ways, not the least of which is revenue generated in the economy by events, festivals, tourism etc., where the main attraction is that culture.


And BTW, this is one of the reasons  why steelbands are entitled to receive government funds.

 Steelband funding isn't charity. Steelband activity in T&T generates income to the nations coffers, and the steelband deserves a share.


It is not about business for profit.


It is about art and  culture.


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Good points Kevin.

One of the questions we should be asking in T&T is whether the funds allocated to the steelband art form from public funds is equitable, based on the art form's contributions - financial and otherwise, to the common wealth of the nation.

Then we should determine if those funds are wisely used, and if the best use of the bulk of those funds is sharing them among the top bands, as Panorama prize money.

Thanks for your continued conversation and substance. I understand the cultural artform of the steelband( in its many sub -groups),which  we have carved out, as intrinisc to our being a "cultured society". it affords the lovers of music the platform to appreciate the presentation of specially written arrangements or any genre of music for different audiences. It certainly impels those in this steelband universe to see the profusion of smaller aggregation, well balanced to attract and hold their local communities as the primary funding sources.


There has always been a tension with those with the responsibility for making choices, on the distribution of limited resources, and shrinking musical constituencies for underwriting  the arts, in whatever  endeavor of cultural appreciation, so business models, as a vehicle, to get to some structural level of music production, becomes a patner or may become the primary driver, where endowments may be set up with prescribed governing rules for funding,so whether it is a large or small group, the business engine becomes a critical driver and does affect the finished product.Governments should not be in the business of defining cultral appreciation as it bends to political drift.

Seeing the steelband as art and culture  does not  preclude efficient use of funds allocated to the steelband, nor should  it prevent the steelband organizations from investing in steelband related industries i.e. manufacturing, transporting, recording etc.



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