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The "Hobbyfication" of the Creative Arts: The necessary cultural shift for success

Why does it feel wrong to want a career in the creative arts? Why does the education system make you feel like pursuing anything other than STEM or humanities is a sin?

In 2021, I hosted an Instagram Live mini-series where I discussed the Jamaican creative industry, and in particular how the Jamaican education system has failed its youth as a launching pad or incubator for talent.

Jamaica is a country that is known for its creative arts. The easiest example is Bob Marley and reggae music - the biggest part of brand Jamaica. But we also have made strides in graphic design, music production, dance, theatre, videography and so many other fields. The funny thing is that in Jamaica, it almost feels like you're doing something wrong when you decide that the creative industry is the place for you. It feels like you're going against the grain.

To me, as someone who hasn't exactly dropped everything and gone full-time musician mode, it's something that I feel victim to. I'm starting a career in finance, which will pay well and all, but there's still a tiny voice in the back of my head saying "what if I just did music?".

And as a part-time musician and someone who fully supports anyone who decides to pursue a career in the creative arts, I strongly believe that there's a cultural shift to be had in my country towards the nurturing and encouragement of our youth to pursue careers in the creative arts. It shouldn't feel wrong. It shouldn't be "hobbyfied".

And what do I mean by that term - "hobbyfication"?

In Jamaica, most people's contact with the creative arts happens outside of regular school hours or outside of a schooling context completely. You maybe join the dance society, or the steelpan club in my case, or the drama club or film society. You get it. And as a result, all those things become mentally "othered" by students as things that are "extra-curricular" and not really things that you should focus too much energy on because "those aren't the things that are gonna get you a job." Those are the things that become hobbies. The things that become "hobbyfied" because the "smart kids"study biology, physics, chemistry and math.

Here's a really important point I need to clarify. I'm not anti-STEM, nor anti-traditional-career path. I was that kid taking biology, physics, chemistry and math. I was that kid having what he loved feel hobbyfied.

In fact, I still am.

I think that Jamaica is positioned uniquely on the global stage as a cultural gem and the only way for us as a nation to maintain and further that brand is to be culture creators.

To be intentional. To be intentional with a mission to produce creatives and people who are passionate about pushing forward Jamaican culture.

I'm proud of the many stories that we've heard over the years of all the Jamaican artistes that have made it on an international stage. My favourite is that I personally was able to witness Koffee's growth from 2000 followers on Instagram to 1.5 million today. I've seen the success up front and centre, but too often it feels like chance. Too often it feels like that opportunity is available to people who are in the right place at the right time. Too often it feels like they had to do it on their own. Too often it feels like successful creatives had to have had the audacity to pursue what they love.

So back to this cultural shift that I mentioned.

What do I mean?

I'm looking at the parents, teachers, relatives, educators, administrators and the government. The ones who are currently responsible for shaping the institutions and making decisions that affect the lives of the upcoming generations today.

You are responsible for nurturing and supporting the decisions of your children. Obviously, I say this from a place of immense privilege. I'm privileged to have had the opportunity to do music as an extra-curricular and privileged to have parents that can afford to and that support me in whatever I choose to do. But to those who hold those positions today I say to you believe in talent. Don't push the piano-playing kid with perfect pitch to be a mechanical engineer. Don't force the theatre kid who is outspoken and has an impactful voice to become a lawyer. Let them feel like they have the liberty to pursue what they love. Believe in their talent and help them to realize their potential in the creative arts.

And then I'm looking at my generation. Me. My friends. The creatives who I know and talked to on my Instagram Live. The ones who will take those roles over. Us.

We have a role to nurture those alongside us. To encourage our peers and ensure that they don't feel the way we did. To pave over the rocky road that we had to take to the arts.

One solution is internships.

I spoke to Protoje's creative director, Yannick Reid, on my Instagram live regarding this and one solution he offered was internships. He talked about how as an established creative, he's uniquely positioned to offer younger people experience in videography and so allows people onto his team to gain insight into a career as a videographer and creative director.

A second solution is exposure.

A big part of why many students don't pursue the arts is because we just don't know. Our minds are so set on this traditional path of "study to work" that we forget the route of "passion to work". And yes, I'm a victim, but with fear of going off topic, the capitalistic society that we live in has caused us to become slaves to a broken education system that in fact does not prepare us for anything that the real world really has to offer.

This whole conversation started with this tweet I made in 2021:

And I won't forgive the education system for it.

But I'll do my part and believe in the talent of my country and keep this conversation going so that the next generation after me won't feel how I felt.

So that their passions aren't hobbyfied.

I encourage you to head over to my Instagram and watch the series "Let's Talk" in my archives.

Until next Sunday,

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1 Comment

Shajae Pinnock
Shajae Pinnock
Feb 19, 2023

I really enjoyed your eloquent and nuanced take on this! Not only is it insightful and touches on some of the roots of the issue, but it also offers tangible solutions. Such a great and well-needed perspective! I remember that Instagram series and the lively discussions it brought up. We can only hope that the people with the power and privilege are also engaging in these discussions,and it helps when people in the creative space are vocal about their needs. So, keep pushing this conversation forward, Justin!

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