WHEN I travel and am asked where I live, I proudly state Guernsey.
Those who live here appreciate and love the local lifestyle, the safety, the sense of community, the beaches, the seascapes, the cliff walks – the list goes on and on. So it’s to my great dismay that the response I generally get back is either, ‘where is that?’, or worse, ‘oh, the tax haven’, generally delivered with a knowing smug grin.
I hate that!
We know that Guernsey is not a tax haven, it’s a transparent, open economy that has a tax friendly taxation system that should be the aim and envy of all jurisdictions. Regardless of the truth, perception is reality. Let’s face it, Guernsey’s brand, to the uneducated (and even to many of the educated), is at best that of an international financial centre or at worse that of a tax haven.
One thing we can all agree on is it’s not the brand that we welcome or want.
Simon Anholt, the international guru on national branding, is of the view that a nation’s brand is determined by what a country gives to the world. The take-out message from this is that Guernsey is presently known for what it has been providing to the world, namely, a financial centre with a ‘tax friendly’ taxation system. If Guernsey is to reposition its brand, no amount of money spent on marketing will shift the dial on its international brand – the only thing that will shift the dial will be for Guernsey to systematically start giving something more to the world than financial services.
I have for some time had a publicly stated view that Guernsey should explore rebranding itself based on arts and culture, particularly through the establishment of an iconic art venue on the St Peter Port waterfront… and I’m not alone in this vision. Fortunately, there is a growing proportion of Guernsey population that is also advocating this idea.
Most recently, the Guernsey Community Foundation released its Arts Strategy Working Group report on the future of arts in Guernsey. The report makes the point that arts should be at the heart of ‘brand Guernsey’ and should be used as a vehicle for economic development. The report notes that, according to Unesco, the cultural and creative industry generates around US$2,250bn of economic activity every year and created some 30 million jobs worldwide.
In the UK, it is estimated that the arts and culture industry is worth £84bn and creates more than 620,000 jobs in London alone.
In the EU, approximately 7.5% of the workforce is employed in the cultural and creative industry, adding around €500bn to GDP.
In short, arts and culture, if done right, is big business. I say done right because in Guernsey, while we have a vibrant local arts and culture scene, the sector is largely resourced and coordinated by an army of local artists, volunteers and a few well-meaning patrons. While this support should not be taken for granted, what is needed is a base of financial and resource support from government.
It’s for this reason that I wholeheartedly support the stated aims of the Guernsey Community Foundation’s Arts Strategy for Guernsey. It is, in effect, a blueprint for ‘professionalising’ arts in Guernsey.
The island has a vibrant and diverse local arts scene, including successful events such as the Guernsey Literary Festival, the Eisteddfod, Guernsey Photography Festival and the Art for Guernsey exhibition, however the sector suffers from lack of coordination and, as a result, it has in large part failed to meaningfully attract the attention and support of government.
Art should be seen as an enabler for rebranding the island and to help make Guernsey a destination for overseas visitors to participate in a rich array of art and culture offerings, some old and many new ones. Central to this vision is the creation of an iconic arts venue of international standing that can act as a rallying point for local arts and a ‘must see’ destination for international arts and culture lovers.
Reviewing the structure and governance of the Guernsey Arts Commission and providing it with a meaningful and ongoing source of funding is mandatory, and imperative for the strategy’s success. I would go one step further and suggest that the States should appoint a ‘Minister for Arts and Culture’ to underline the importance of the sector and to help make the vision a reality.
The report states that professionalising the coordination of the arts in Guernsey will increase the focus on, and measurement of, how the arts benefit our island. The report correctly identifies that the States has a significant role to play, not simply through the support which it currently provides to the Guernsey Arts Commission, but more broadly by embracing the concept of Guernsey’s cultural identity and how this can be incorporated into a vision of how best to support the Guernsey ‘brand’ to potential visitors.
While government has a role to play, success will only be achieved through a partnership with the arts sectors and community backing. The report’s aim is to highlight the many benefits that arts brings to Guernsey and to persuade residents and the government of this fact and to help foster widespread and meaningful ongoing support for industry.
Fortunately, there is an ever-increasing number of residents who are already saying to the government that they are happy for Guernsey to engage more internationally. Guernsey is a good country, which we want to be proud to say we come from and we want to be comfortable, or more comfortable, with what we actively contribute to the international community. Arts and culture could be a vehicle for Guernsey to give to the world something of significant value which in time will change the island’s international brand perception for all the right reasons.
Dr Stretch Kontelj permanently resides in Guernsey but is originally from Australia of Slovenian heritage. He is a former mayor and councillor of Greater Geelong, a city in Victoria, Australia, of some 250,000 people. He is vice chairman of the Guernsey branch of the Institute of Directors and takes a keen interest in local politics and community affairs.