The Steel-band in Trinidad : Should it be seen as Art, Culture or…..Business?

I am always struck by the notion that some insist on seeing the steelband’s future purely as business.

And I’m not talking about the professional panist, or even the small ‘side” that does gigs and may even be doing quite well.

And obviously for a steelband to be successful, its finances should be handled in a proficient and businesslike manner.

I’m talking about the Steel Orchestra, the large steel band made up mostly of amateurs who actually play for the joy of it, though of course financial compensation for their efforts is highly appreciated.

  The annual panorama competition is the most obvious example of the cultural and artistic aspect of the steelband.

Unlike a symphony orchestra which features professional musicians, the panorama band for the most part is comprised of adult amateur players, college students from abroad and local kids.

There may be a few professional players, but they are a minority.

And this, along with the structure of the competition itself including the size and focus of the bands , complicates matters when we speak of business and profit.

Now, pan has potential to generate income, and maybe this potential has not been fully taken advantage of.

Some can and will make a profit from pan, and we sincerely hope that as many as possible do so.

Every way  that the steelband can generate revenue should be explored and exploited.


But the purpose of business is profit.

A business makes a profit that goes to its owners, shareholders investors etc.

A non-profit , on the other hand generates income to sustain itself , pay its employees, and perform some social or cultural function.


The Steelband is about art and culture, and should not be promoted, advertised or identified as business.

And lets face it, there may be financial benefits (taxes, etc.)  for a successful steelband organization to be SEEN as a non-profit.


Not everyone who participates in the art form does so with the intention of profit.

I like to think that I make a small contribution to the promotion of the art form, but I do not expect to be paid.

Pan is part of my culture, my being.


I see the steelband the same way I see the symphony orchestra, the opera. dance, and ballet; as an art form.


These art forms employ highly skilled, professional artists, but still depend on grants and sponsors for sustenance.

Businesses come and go, some succeed and some fail; but art, like the steelband is (hopefully) forever.


Art represents much more than putting dollars in someone’s pocket. It represents the cultural lifeblood of a people and for it to survive and prosper the community has an obligation to support it.


Most societies understand this, hence there are  patrons, sponsors and organizations whose main philanthropic purpose is support of the arts.


In the United States, The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the Federal Government which since its creation in 1965 has given out billions in grants to support art, including the performing arts – dance, theatre, music.

Many of the organizations receiving these funds are considered “Non profit”, though they pay their employees and artists, and charge for their performances.

I would like to see steelbands in this category, as non profit cultural and artistic entities deserving of sponsorship, grants and taxpayers dollars, but also capable of generating income.


Though some conservatives object, it is generally understood that government -i.e. the taxpayers, and private organizations have an obligation to support the arts and to keep culture alive.

In return, a vibrant culture is capable of rewarding the populace in many ways, not the least of which is revenue generated in the economy by events, festivals, tourism etc., where the main attraction is that culture.


And BTW, this is one of the reasons  why steelbands are entitled to receive government funds.

Steelband funding isn’t charity. Steelband activity in T&T generates income to the nations coffers, and the steelband deserves a share.


It is not about business for profit.


It is about art and  culture.

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