After nearly a month of public consultations, the government is considering a draft five-year plan designed to foster a “unique Virgin Islands national and cultural identity” through measures like implementing a National Museum Act, mapping heritage sights, and documenting local folklore, according to officials.

“[The] goal was to ensure that culture and heritage are ingrained in the daily fabric of Virgin Islands life — integrated across sectors,” Culture Director Dr. Katherine Smith wrote in the draft Virgin Islands Culture and Heritage Policy and Strategy. The 99-page document sets out key concepts and proposes a policy framework, an administrative and institutional framework, a legal framework, and implementation and review strategies. Priorities include strengthening national identity, developing cultural and creative industries, and stimulating social and economic benefits, according to the policy.

“Cultural policy is to be seen as an instrument that aims at empowering people to be liberated in their own creativity and self-development, through which the people are placed at the centre of their own development,” the policy states in its introduction. “The people must be fully confident in their capacity to develop themselves, becoming ‘full, unapologetic, self-confident, sovereign human beings.’”

Key goals

To those ends, the plan proposes specific measures including raising money for museums; creating new heritage legislation; collecting local tales; developing a national heroes programme; setting up a system for designating historical sites; reviewing the budget for culture; and committing a portion of the tourism budget each year to cultural development.

Citing self-determination as a leading principle, the draft also calls for more actions for cultural development, such as promoting literature by printing locally, creating more opportunities for artists to display their works and products, providing more marketing for local musicians, and making local foods more readily available in restaurants.

Emancipation ‘spirit’

Another section sets out to reinvigorate the “spirit of Emancipation,” which the policy states is largely “missing” from current celebrations. To address this issue, the policy suggests a “recalibration” to focus on authentic Virgin Islands culture, and it calls for more private-sector support.

The document also suggests creating a database of all VI cultural practitioners operating both locally and abroad, and engaging them through “social media, mailing lists, and strategic personal contact.”

Additionally, the policy calls for closer working relationships between the VI Festivals and Fairs Committee, the Department of Culture, and the BVI Tourist Board and Film Commission.

Another proposal is a law requiring radio stations, hotels, guest houses and restaurants to display a certain percentage of art produced by local artists.

Timelines for implementation are divided into short term (12 months), medium term (30 months) and long term (60 months). The also document provides for a policy review every five years.

Ongoing reviews

Feedback from consultations spanning across the territory in recent weeks will be incorporated in the final revision of the document, it states.

The draft, which is dated Feb. 14, was published on the government’s website the same day. On Feb. 15, government said that it was seeking input.

Consultations began on Feb. 22 in Virgin Gorda and continued in person on the main islands of the territory until Feb. 25. Each of the four sessions was scheduled for two and a half hours, according to a schedule posted by the government on Feb. 17. More virtual consultations with stakeholders and the public took place this month.

The government issued a notice on Friday reminding residents that it was the last day to submit feedback on the draft policy and strategy.

The draft states that the proposed policy is in alignment with the National Sustainable Development Plan — Vision 2036: Building a Sustainable Virgin Islands.

That plan was tabled last month in the House of Assembly and officially “launched” on Feb. 27.

Existing plan

The existing VI Culture Policy was finalised in 2013 and influenced by recommendations made by UNESCO consultants A. J. Seymour and Neville Dawes in 1981 and 1982, respectively, according to a press release last month from Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.