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Culture in Demas’ blood

By Miranda La Rose Sunday, December 30 2012

click on pic to zoom in
Allison Demas... keen about culture....
Allison Demas... keen about culture....

NEW chairman of the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago (NCC), Allison Demas, readily admits she is challenged to ensure that Carnival is recognised for its contribution to the country’s socio-economic development.

It is with this in mind that Demas, the first woman to head the NCC since it came into being through an act of Parliament in 1991, immediately after Carnival 2013 is over, and her NCC executive will embark on a strategic initiative that will include the commissioning of an analysis of the socio-economic contribution of the Carnival sector to TT.

“We need that hard empirical data which will show the contribution to the GDP, the number of persons employed during Carnival, how many poor people get an opportunity to make some income during Carnival, hotel occupancy, how money trickles down to the taxi driver, and vendors, and whether or not it has an effect on crime and the social climate,” Demas told Sunday Newsday in an interview.

She said a study was done by Barbados-based Trinidadian, Dr Keith Nurse, in 2007 on the benefits of Carnival to the economy, “but we need to take a more detailed look at the contribution to the national economy.”

Once the data is available, she said “it will make the task easier to argue the case to policymakers how much of the budgetary pie should be allocated to the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism.”

Since her appointment in mid-November, Demas said she has met with the executive of the National Carnival Bands’ Association (NCBA), Pan Trinbago and the Trinbago Unified Calypsoian Association — interest groups represented on the NCC — to better understand their concerns and challenges, and how the NCC can best facilitate the development of the Carnival sector.

Already, Demas has engineered changes to this year’s Carnival, which will see both the individual mas and calypso competitions being stage on separate days as opposed to one night in the traditional Dimanche Gras show, the National Panorama Finals and adjustments to the Parade of the Bands route.

Among the challenges Demas will face will be the perennial one of funding. Since its establishment, Demas admitted the commission, the three interest groups and other stakeholders have been heavily reliant on government for funding.

“We know in this year’s national budget, the allocation to our line ministry was reduced,” Demas said.

“This naturally has an impact on those of us who are funded by the ministry.”

Indeed, funding continues to be a sore point among the stakeholders, many of whom argue that governments continue to fail to grasp the importance of the cultural industries to the social and economic development of the country. It is, however, a point they must continue to seek to drive home, Demas noted, adding trying to sustain themselves through their own initiatives will also help their causes.

Asked how she felt about being the first woman to head the NCC, Demas said, “It is definitely an honour. It is no surprise that my appointment was made when we have the first woman Prime Minister.”

Is she qualified for the job that has been in a man’s domain for 21 years? Demas, an attorney-at- law specialising in copyright and entertainment law said, “Absolutely.”

Her qualifications include “very good relationship with most of the members of the Carnival fraternity and a passion for the creative sector, and their interface with technology, commerce and business.”

Demas added, “I am not just passionate about the creative sector in TT, but the entire Caribbean region.”During her tenure in private practice, Demas represented a cross section of the creative sector, including songwriters, composers, producers of music, photographers, mas designers and software developers.

“The whole spectrum of the copyright industry,” she said.

“I was directly involved with the creative sector in the legal sense from 1994 to 2001.”

While in private practice, Demas was also appointed to the board of directors of the Copyright Music Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT) and also subsequently became its first woman president.

In 1996, when the UNC government was introducing a copyright bill, then Legal Affairs Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, appointed Demas to a committee led by then COTT president Alvin Daniell. The committee held consultations with those who were going to be affected by the new legislation.

A significant development that came out of those consultations, Demas recalled was music producer and publisher Ottie Mieres’ idea of having producers’ right to mas at a meeting held at then NCBA head Richard Affong’s Barbarosa mas camp.

“Todd Juillick, who at the time represented Minshall Mas, started to formulate the concept that eventually became ‘The Work of Mas,’” she recalled.

Some objected to the concept, she said, “but the majority of us supported it and it eventually became part of our copyright law.”

It was significant, she said, that even though Brazil and other countries promote Carnival, TT was the first country to have specific protection for a category of work through the provision called “Works of Mas.”

Explaining what “Works of Mas” means, Demas said most countries have protection for individual artistic works, such as designs in which the rights would lie with the designer.

In the case of the “Works of Mas”, she said, whether it was on stage or on the street, all works related to Carnival is protected by copyright as a derivative.

In other words, she said, the costume, artistic work, music, words — as used in “ole mas”— and choreography, “all these elements coming together,” are protected by copyright. The right, she said, is given to the bandleader.

“That provision is historic worldwide, and I was one of the architects of that,” she said.

Her tenure at COTT persuaded her to pursue a Master’s Degree in the law of intellectual property and technology at the University of New Hampshire, Concorde, New Hampshire, USA.

On returning home, she worked as the Chief Executive Officer of COTT for almost seven years. She has since represented TT internationally and the Caribbean region and an expert speaker on the creative sector and copyright entertainment.

Apart from being the head of the NCC, Demas is also the owner of the company, Media InSite, which specialises in media monitoring, audience measurement and market research.

Demas has also contributed to studies about the subject, including one with economist Dr Ralph Henry, titled “Mas, Music and Film”, which was commissioned by the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM).

She was also part of a team led by Nurse that did another study which looked at the creative industries in CARIFORUM (Caricom countries and the Dominican Republic) countries for the RNM. That study formed the basis in the negotiations for the creative industries in the Economic Partnership Agreement between CARIFORUM countries and the European Union. Most recently, Demas was part of a research team led by Dr Vanus James, which looked at the contribution of the copyright industries to the economy of TT.

Asked about how her interest in the legal side of the creative industries developed, Demas said, “I always loved music, art and film, but I hadn’t a creative bone in me. I studied law because I hadn’t many options. I wasn’t good at science and maths. When I stumbled on the field of copyright and entertainment, I found a way I could marry my love of the arts and entertainment with my profession.”

She continued, “In fact, I think my love for the arts and entertainment exceeded my love of the law, which was why I stopped practising law ten years ago.”

On her interest in the creative industries in the region, Demas said, “I grew up in that environment where it was not about country, it was about region. You might say I am the child of the Caribbean Man.”

He father was the late William Demas, first Secretary General of Caricom and last Secretary General of Carifta. He was also Governor of the Caribbean Development Bank and the Central Bank of TT.

Demas was born in TT and is the daughter of Dr Norma Demas, Jamaican by birth. She has lived in Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados.

She is married to attorney-at-law Garvin Simonette and is mother to one daughter, Aisha, 14.

Demas admitted that with her new posting, and especially with Carnival around the corner, one of her new challenges will be to balance both sides of her life.

“Finding that home and work life balance has been a challenge,” she said, noting this was more so because her daughter had to be home schooled for a while due to learning challenges.

However, Demas says she will work hard to find the right balance, since she does not intend to fail her colleagues in the cultural industries by ensuring she takes the NCC to the next level.

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