“Sun, sand and sea has simply grown stale,” says Creative Nassau co-founder and President Pam Burnside. The phrase has long been a pitch to lure visitors to the isles, evoking imagery of a warm sunny clime, beautiful pink sand and turquoise blue waters. While The Bahamas has long possessed these natural assets, there is undoubtedly increasingly stiff competition in the tourism marketplace, with The Bahamas not only contending in a fierce competition with other Caribbean destinations to attract visitors but also world renowned destinations which arguably offer similar features and boast of much more.
Mrs Burnside, the widow of Bahamian cultural icon, painter and architect, the late Jackson Burnside III says it’s time to rethink the sun, sand and sea dynamic. Why? Because visitors simply want more, in fact they demand more in a global marketplace where some can choose to go anywhere they choose and many others invest considerable time planning their vacations, filtering through a variety of offerings in an effort to ascertain the best value for their money.
How do we change the dynamic? “Creativity is the way to do it,” says Mrs Burnside, who says that for too long The Bahamas has taken its cultural expressions for granted. Some may even argue that The Bahamas is actually losing its cultural identity because it has failed to adequately protect its heritage.
Mrs Burnside says that enormous potential lies in this country’s creative industry or what has been dubbed as “The Orange Economy” by economist Felipe Buitrago, who along with Iván Duque, produced a book of the same title back in 2013 which was published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The book has been praised by John Howkins, one of the world’s most respected writers in the field.
“Tourists want something that is unique to the destination that they go to,” says Mrs Burnside, a fierce proponent of cultural authenticity. Mrs Burnside notes that Creative Nassau, founded by her late husband and herself in 2008, seeks to strengthen the creation, production, distribution and enjoyment of cultural goods and services at the local level; promote creativity and creative expressions; enhance access to and participation in cultural life as well as enjoyment of cultural goods; and integrate cultural and creative industries into local development plans. Further, its motto is ‘Celebrating and Promoting Bahamian Art, Culture and Heritage from the INSIDE OUT’. The creative sector as she sees is, is the tourism model for the future and one which this nation should direct its attention.
“My late husband and I started Creative Nassau back in 2008. It was just a group of people getting together. He found out online about this conference that was happening in Santa Fe and it was a UNESCO Creative Cities. We thought it was very similar our mission statement here at Doongalik Studios which is that by the year 2020 more people will come to The Bahamas for our art, culture and heritage rather than just sun, sand and sea,” says Mrs Burnside.
Upon their return home, they invited a group of Bahamians connected to creative industries to join them in their efforts to showcase Bahamian culture to the world. Mrs Burnside says that six years later, during which time her husband passed, the group was successful in their application to have UNESCO designate the City of Nassau as a creative city of crafts and folk arts, making it a member of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Their application focused on the two unique Bahamian elements of this country’s straw culture and its Junkanoo tradition. Mrs Burnside describes the process as having been ‘very laborious’. The Creative Cities Network is comprised of 116 Members from 54 countries covering seven creative fields.
“One of the main things we do on a regular basis is we have our Pompey Square market twice a week. We started out having it once and a month and now have it twice a week. We have about 40 artisans on the list although they don’t all come out at the same time. Some don’t come out at all because they are busy with their business which is great. The difficulty we think is that a lot of the people on the cruise ships they are told not to take any money or credit cards and to just take a few dollars to go to what is referred to as the straw market.”