CANCELLED music concerts, empty theatres and films stuck in mid-production—there is no element of the local and global creative industries that hasn’t been hit hard by the pandemic. To what extent social distancing will impact cultural life and consumer behaviour in the long term remains to be seen, but creative industries consultant Dionne McNicol-Stephenson remains cautiously optimistic. She sees this downtime as an opportunity for creatives to look at innovative methods of collaborating online and explore ways in which they can trade creative content and better utilise their creative capital.
“What is being shown to be critical right now is an online presence and the ability to work and collaborate virtually,” says Stephenson who wears several hats including attorney and chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company.
Just because projects have been brought to a halt around the world doesn’t mean that creatives must stop creating altogether, she says. In times of war and economic depression the creative industry experienced a boom because people turned to film, music, theatre and dance for some relief. Similarly, these unprecedented times we’re living in present creatives with the opportunity to prove how valuable the creative industries are in terms of generating income through online concerts, streaming film content and impacting the mindset of persons in a positive way. It calls for innovation on the part of creatives.
“I would say to creatives who are fearful at this time to open their mind to other possibilities. Even if you haven’t been able to work and earn an income, you still have life which means you have the ability to create…and then there’s the potential to collaborate. In producing something you and other creatives can come to a collaborative agreement where everyone has a stake in any economic outcome of the production through their collaborative efforts,” says Stephenson who is also a director of CreativeTT. “It might also be an opportunity for learning; you can use this downtime to educate yourself, there are a lot of free online courses so that by the time we get back to the new normal, you have a new skill, a new ability to market yourself. I think it’s really an opportunity for us to see a different way of doing things. In doing things collaboratively and virtually we are lessening our carbon footprint which is better for ourselves and the environment in which we exist.”
It is especially important at a difficult time such as this that artistes maximise the potential of their catalogue of work whether that may be film, music or art.
That’s where Stephenson comes in; as a creative industries consultant, it’s part of her job to help artistes make a sustainable living through creative expression.
Stepping out with Fate
The combination of her life experiences as a performer, producer and writer as well as her background in insurance and law has made her well suited for the role she plays today.
Stephenson was first exposed to the entertainment industry back in the days of Party Time when her brother Dhano McNicol was a member of the popular group Zero Defect. There wasn’t a part of the industry that didn’t amaze Stephenson.
“I fell in love with the production of live events and how something that was so innate could affect so many people,” she says.
As fate would have it Stephenson eventually became a member of the girl group called… “Fate”, alongside Jamila Hypolite and Naila Joseph. They were signed to Rituals Music which meant they had a recording studio and producers at their disposal. As the group’s popularity grew, in fact they were possibly the best all girl vocal group to ever come from Trinidad, they were offered several contracts to be included in compilations and music productions. That’s when the gaps started to appear, says Stephenson. It came to her attention that there weren’t many resources to help artistes understand and negotiate the right contracts that would ultimately serve to their advantage. With a heavy heart Stephenson decided to leave the group but it was for the greater good. She studied law with the intent of focusing on intellectual property and entertainment law so she could help persons in the industry protect their creative capital and exploit it to their own benefit.
“Intellectual property is at the crux of the creative industries,” says Stephenson. “If you do not understand that what you create is actually property and is as real and has as much value as your house or your car then you are not going to treat with it well. If you look at the US entertainment industry and even in other parts of the world they are quick to identify and protect their intellectual property because they recognise that that is the asset that they will be trading.”
Tapping into the creative spirit in crisis
At a time such as this, it is critical that persons in the creative field understand the value of their catalogue, she says.
“I would encourage creatives to understand the difference between copyright, patents and trademarks because sometimes they are used interchangeably or lumped into one and I’ve seen where this causes misunderstanding and inadvertent damage to the artistes themselves because they don’t know their rights and how they can protect them and exploit their rights. This is why I am here; I want to help people understand and make a sustainable living through creative expression.”
In addition to DMStifying Creative Industries, Stephenson and her brother highlight, showcase and document creative makers and thinkers on the website www.abigboxofcrayons.com. Their series Shades of a Crayon airs on Wednesdays on TTT.
Stephenson can be found on Instagram @dionnemcnic and on Facebook at DMStifyingCreativeIndustries.