A Conversation with Jamaica Creates & Mark Tha Monk
July 1, 2021
4-5 minute read
With the 2021 Summer Olympics less than a month away and several worldwide sporting competitions happening simultaneously, sports has been on everyone’s mind lately.
Sports are inherently a cultural product. However, you can’t help but notice its creative components, particularly among the athletes as active participants. Given this interlinkage, why are sports so often left out of the umbrella of the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs)?
I sat down with the Director of MonkFit Wellness Systems, Mark Miller (aka Mark Tha Monk) – who is also a competitive powerlifter and sports and fitness enthusiast- to discuss his views on Sports as a CCI.
AC: I want to ask your opinion on if you think sports should be considered a cultural and creative industry (CCI). This is a question many policymakers and industry officials have pondered for decades. The tricky thing about categorising the CCIs is that there is no single definition or global consensus with what exactly it is. Some countries call it different names – the ‘creative economy’ or have separate ‘cultural’ and ‘creative’ industries. On the other hand, some countries differ in terms of which specific industries fall under this category.
UNESCO defines the CCIs as, “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.” Also, it has often been cited that a “creative industry” generates goods and services whose production requires a significant input of creativity, often this is calculated at 30%.
Based on these two definitions, would you consider sports a CCI?
MM: Sport should definitely be considered a cultural and creative industry! Culture is that intangible export product that embodies the beliefs, customs and obsessions of a people in a community or nation!
Few things in the world really embody the creativity of a people more than how they approach competing in sports activity. The rules of a football game for instance are the same in any country, but in every nation, there are unique styles, philosophies and superstitions coming out of different cultures. It’s the same game in Brazil, Germany and England but its significance, aesthetic, and influence take on many different shapes from city to city and country to country.
Sports are a true manifestation of what people hold important, a machine for the transfer of tradition, storytelling and customs and most importantly, the opportunity for youth to monetise their innate gifts and talents.
The sporting world of the 2010s is not purely about scoreboards and championships either, in a content and brand-driven world. Brands in sports are participating in storytelling, making merchandise, inspiring timeless art pieces, creating aspirational figures larger than life. Real-life superheroes who will inspire many generations of young creatives to come.
Sport being recognised as a creative landscape will allow for more cross-pollination between athletics and cultures like music culture, the visual art industry and even the performance art industry and their many subcultures. The opportunity to create thriving markets is infinite, all you need is a little creativity.
AC: I love that! What a comprehensive explanation. So my next question is, why do you think Sports is often excluded from the CCI narrative?
MM: My standpoint would be purely conjecture, but I’d imagine that it would be difficult to redefine a multi-billion dollar industry. There might be some red tape that comes with that redefinition. Different tariffs, legislation, funding, sponsorship… Who knows? Things are never as simple as they seem.
Besides that, with an overwhelming majority of sports proudly preserving archaic and conservative ideologies like homophobia, racism, and sexism especially, things that are rigid and relatively frozen in time; Maybe they wouldn’t thrive next to a space on the other end of the spectrum? They are, in a way, just not evolving with the times as the creative and cultural space would.
AC: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Especially when you consider it along the lines of the Jamaican context and how traditional our society is. And then to compare that with the overall support Sports gets in comparison to other CCIs.
MM: Exactly, they have too much leveraging power with nothing to gain exactly.
AC: I think this is a good segue into the next question. Sports evidently has far more structure and formality than many of the CCIs in Jamaica (such as music, visual arts and film) including several different industry associations and far more funding opportunities. Do you think, on an economic level, it holds more strength continuing to stand as an industry on its own rather than being grouped into the CCIs?
MM: No pun intended but with the right creativity the sports bodies could become a lot bigger. Sporting bodies, private and public, could easily fund and distribute intellectual property.
Look at the deal Jay-Z made with the NFL recently for example. The NFL recognizes that it’s marketability is nothing without black culture these days. As the league becomes synonymous to black culture increasingly every year, it has to embrace the culture in a way that doesn’t seem exploitative or come off offensive. We can expect a lot more collaborations between giants in culture and sporting brands in similar ways to Jay-Z and the NFL or Drake and The Raptors.
Even in boxing! Canelo, coming out in traditional Mexican dress, had a whole live band playing traditional Mexican music with dancers and performers- in the middle of a global pandemic, where live performance opportunities are scanty and rare. Some Mexican cultural performers got work.
As it relates to Jamaica, I could see where the creatives could get a lot more opportunities to display and perform, while these agencies could increase their value and caliber of event experience for patrons. More money floating around will make everyone happy.
AC: You referring to the dress and cultural displays in that way makes me think of track and field. And how many women runners today, particularly Black women, express themselves through their hairstyles and their nails. All we have to do is look at the girls at Champs and even Shelly-Ann capitalising and creating a hair line.
MM: Ahh! This thing is deep
AC: It is! Yep. So the last question is… and you’ve touched on some points already, but just to round everything up. How would you like to see greater collaboration with Sports and other CCIs?
MM: I would like for the sporting powers to purposefully involve more entertainment. As far as writing, video and audio are concerned there can be a lot more done for storytelling. Imagine, we (Jamaica) have the fastest man in the world. If America had the fastest man in the world there would be at least 15 movies by now. We probably only have a single documentary. [laughs] You know, the linkage is there, it’s just not done with intent or purposefulness and it’s going to leave both of them behind.
AC: Yeah, for sure. The intention is very important. Well, thank you so much for letting me pick your brain!
MM: Of course