Opportunity fraught with challenges

0
110

Content creation – in all formats and mediums – is an industry that has been growing fast, both within Sri Lanka and beyond its borders. Its limitations are only the creator’s capability and imagination, and its audience is the entire World Wide Web, and many Sri Lankan content creators have achieved massive success as content creators, working with international clients and audiences.

In a time when tourism, textile manufacturing and agriculture – the more popular foreign revenue earning sources – are failing in the country, creators have become some of the most economically valuable talent in the country, consistently bringing in valuable foreign currency into the country through their various creative projects and commissions and supporting Sri Lanka’s economy in the process.

In fact, creators tap into a global creator economy that is growing at an unprecedented rate. In a Forbes article by Katie Jansen published in late December 2021, it was predicted that the creator economy was to grow from an estimated value of 20 billion dollars at the time, into a 100 billion dollar industry by the end 2022.

What’s even more special is the fact that many who do engage in the creator economy operate as a network of independent creators, rather than as a group of large corporations. These creators are geographically and ethnically diverse, and scattered throughout the world, and there’s room for more. Everyone can enjoy a piece of the pie. All that’s needed is the skill, creativity, some tools and a working internet connection. 

Although the creator economy holds a lucrative opportunity, very little attention has been given by Government officials and representatives to support creators in Sri Lanka, which considerably diminishes opportunities for creators to maximise their earning potential.

Ceylon Today reached out to some of Sri Lanka’s biggest creators who are working with an international clientele, bringing in valuable foreign currency, to gain a better understanding of the potential benefits Sri Lanka could gain by supporting the creator economy.

This includes the likes of Randy Chriz and his wife Portia, Sachi Ediriweera, Hirushan Maddumaarachchi, Bhagya Madanasinghe, and many more.

Potential for growth

Everyone we spoke with agreed that the Sri Lankan creative industry had steady growth and at one point had the momentum to keep growing. Plus although many challenges exist for creators to make a living at the moment, the belief that there is potential to continue growing in Sri Lanka is still alive.

“The Sri Lankan creative industry in terms of creative designers in the art and animation field, cannot be referred to as an industry yet, because we have no formal structure, and we have no proper recognition for the profession. But what we have is A LOT of potential talent,” Chriz and Portia from Meraki United explained. 

“In that lies our potential, the potential to grow. If we get together and formalise the industry, identify job opportunities, upgrade skills and create an environment in which the creative talent receives proper recognition, then this industry has the potential to become one of the leading industries that can boost the economy of the country alongside the IT industry.”

Even during the pandemic, creators were able to continue making content, and engage with clients around the world and in Sri Lanka, contributing immensely to the local economy as individuals and independent creators predominantly. Yet the current financial and political crisis in Sri Lanka has prevented any considerable future growth for many reasons.

No simple challenges

Although many have found success as a creator, it isn’t a journey without strife, hardship, and many challenges, even before the current crisis hit the country. Many creators have stories of at least one instance where obtaining payments from international clients has been a struggle. And many would attest that the lack of PayPal support has cost them more than a potential client or two. Other times their creators have had to deal with their creative designs and concepts being used with little to no credit by various organisations in their campaigns, costing them valuable income that could have supported their livelihoods.

With the current economic and political crisis, the problems faced by creators have only increased.

For film-maker, artist and animator Kalath Warnakulasuriya, any potential for growth that had existed before, has been dashed today. “Last year, I would have said 100 per cent,” he added, but noted that if interruptions in electricity were restored to normal, and the rate of inflation controlled, there is still potential.

Hirushan Maddumaarachchi, who regularly collaborates with Marvel Studios, providing music for the trailers and promotional campaigns of many movies and many other productions such as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the upcoming She Hulk, and the recently released Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Lightyear, noted that much like any other business or profession, there needs to exist basic infrastructure in order to be able to engage in their craft.

“Having power cuts is definitely not going to help when you work with international clients. Having basic infrastructure, like fast internet upload and download speeds is another factor too when you’re working remotely,” he added. “For instance, in our business, deadlines are so crazy that you need to be able to upload a 2GB file in a matter of minutes.”

Being able to have access to proper hardware is another necessity for creators that engage with international clients as well. “If for some reason I need to purchase new hardware, I can’t afford it. Even if I could, there is no equipment to buy,” he added.

The same can be said for creators who don’t use technology for their creative work. Prices of traditional art supplies and musical instruments have all skyrocketed, and import bans haven’t been helpful either.

What can be done? 

In a time where every dollar counts, it’s evident that by failing to create an environment facilitative to creators and many other enterprises, Sri Lanka is losing money that otherwise would have been crucial in alleviating some of the burden caused by the lack of foreign currency during this ongoing political and economic crisis.

Graphic Novel Creator Sachi Ediriweera explained that, “Time over time, independent creatives in Sri Lanka have proved on their own that they can offer a product that meets international standards in a wide range of fields—illustration, design, animation, sculpture and so on. Sadly, none of the presiding Governments identified the value in this, and the creatives had no option but to continue their efforts on their own,”

“Many countries including those in Asia have Art Councils or Government related bodies that offer funding for projects that have international potential, financially or culturally. While independent creatives are fully capable of doing their thing, some level of patronage would do wonders.”

He added too that the regular power cuts have cost many creators their clients and potential income from foreign nations.

Now is the time

Creative entrepreneur Duval Weerakoone echoed Ediriweera’s thoughts, speculating that there is a need to set up infrastructure in order to create stronger support for creators in order to capitalise on the next market growth cycle when it comes; an effective way to maximise income when it does happen.

While there is a need for a stronger support system to build an industry, creators too need to develop their skills and capacity, given how limited the opportunities in Sri Lanka are for a creative career. Across the board, all the creators Ceylon Today spoke with agreed that although there is plenty of opportunity to find work and earn a living as a creator, many Sri Lankans need to develop themselves to be able to compete on a global stage. 

Kalath shared that “One of the biggest problems that we have is the lack of people who can work to an international standard. Foreign companies want great quality at a cheaper price which is why they come to us.”

Designer and content creator Aneek observed that “Even the talented designers don’t do their portfolios. They don’t have social media pages to showcase their artwork,” noting the lack of quality creativity and design to the level that the other creators on the internet are producing.

Bhagya from Moving Doodles noted that, “We should educate ourselves with both design techniques and the business of art. We should bring value to our work without waiting for someone else to bring value to them. To do that, we need to improve our skills to international standards and find paths to reach that market.”

Breaking international

All creators agree that tapping into the international creative industry is where most opportunities to pursue a creative profession are found. Working as a creator catering to Sri Lankan clients alone is not enough to sustain a living, especially given the current circumstances. But, many creators don’t have to be limited geographically.

Chriz shared that he only broke into the international market, “…Once I started dedicating all my time to the work I did, improving my skills and trying new things, pushing myself and persevering. The advantage of this day and age is that we have the internet, we are no longer geographically bound. Not in this job at least. I can work from anywhere in the world. All I need is electricity and the internet (which is now an issue in SL).”

He shared that if he had reached the international market sooner, “…I wouldn’t have been working in companies for pennies. The salaries designers are paid is extremely discouraging. No wonder a lot of creative people just take up other jobs. I myself considered joining a bank. But I’m glad now that I stayed put.”

“People don’t need to get stuck to the idea that things can only work out within the country. You can always aim higher,” Hirushan added. “If you are knowledgeable and you understand the art, and you have the ability to cater to their needs, then you should definitely go for it. There is potential and there are people in Sri Lanka who are extremely talented.”

Many benefits

The benefits of Sri Lankan creators reaching international clients and audiences aren’t limited to economic gains alone. Sachi observed that although the financial value of having world-class creative services in Sri Lanka is immense, “In my opinion, the most valuable aspect is the cultural significance Sri Lankan creative work can offer. Think of how Japan has been positioned by its manga and anime content and South Korea with K-POP. Fun fact, the boom in K-POP we see today is because the IMF recommended South Korea explore such avenues when the country was going through a financial crisis in the 90s. There’s a lot of untapped potential, it just needs the right guidance.”

More policy based action

For all this to happen, a proper support system needs to be put in place to support creators. As a result, creators would be more equipped, giving them a better chance at succeeding in pursuing a creative career, and bringing greater international exposure and revenue into the country.

If officials continue to sit on the pool of impressive content creators in the country, it could potentially be losing a valuable human resource in the future as well as a revenue generator. “A dedicated department that can evaluate and partially fund high-potential creative projects could do wonders. Further aspects that could come out of this would be having training sessions and masterclasses for younger students,” Sachi opined.  

“Lots of our neighbouring countries have capitalised largely on their creative markets. In India for example, lots of production companies contribute to the production of blockbuster movies. They produce their own movies and cartoons too. Their standards meet global standards. They have a great network of schools teaching design and animation,” Chriz shared.

“We need our country’s leaders to treat us like they do the IT industry. Plus we need to remove the financial barriers of the industry, especially for the freelance market. We need support from the banking systems, we need proper methods installed to buy good software and hardware at affordable prices. There is a lot that needs to be done.”

Kalath shared that “One of the biggest problems that we have is the lack of people who can work to an international standard. Foreign companies want great quality at a cheaper price which is why they come to us.”

Designer and content creator Aneek observed that “Even the talented designers don’t do their portfolios. They don’t have social media pages to showcase their artwork,” noting the lack of quality creativity and design to the level that the other creators on the internet are producing.

Bhagya from Moving Doodles noted that, “We should educate ourselves with both design techniques and the business of art. We should bring value to our work without waiting for someone else to bring value to them. To do that, we need to improve our skills to international standards and find paths to reach that market.”

Breaking international

All creators agree that tapping into the international creative industry is where most opportunities to pursue a creative profession are found. Working as a creator catering to Sri Lankan clients alone is not enough to sustain a living, especially given the current circumstances. But, many creators don’t have to be limited geographically.

Chriz shared that he only broke into the international market, “…Once I started dedicating all my time to the work I did, improving my skills and trying new things, pushing myself and persevering. The advantage of this day and age is that we have the internet, we are no longer geographically bound. Not in this job at least. I can work from anywhere in the world. All I need is electricity and the internet (which is now an issue in SL).”

He shared that if he had reached the international market sooner, “…I wouldn’t have been working in companies for pennies. The salaries designers are paid is extremely discouraging. No wonder a lot of creative people just take up other jobs. I myself considered joining a bank. But I’m glad now that I stayed put.”

“People don’t need to get stuck to the idea that things can only work out within the country. You can always aim higher,” Hirushan added. “If you are knowledgeable and you understand the art, and you have the ability to cater to their needs, then you should definitely go for it. There is potential and there are people in Sri Lanka who are extremely talented.”

Many benefits

The benefits of Sri Lankan creators reaching international clients and audiences aren’t limited to economic gains alone. Sachi observed that although the financial value of having world-class creative services in Sri Lanka is immense, “In my opinion, the most valuable aspect is the cultural significance Sri Lankan creative work can offer. Think of how Japan has been positioned by its manga and anime content and South Korea with K-POP. Fun fact, the boom in K-POP we see today is because the IMF recommended South Korea explore such avenues when the country was going through a financial crisis in the 90s. There’s a lot of untapped potential, it just needs the right guidance.”

More policy based action

For all this to happen, a proper support system needs to be put in place to support creators. As a result, creators would be more equipped, giving them a better chance at succeeding in pursuing a creative career, and bringing greater international exposure and revenue into the country.

If officials continue to sit on the pool of impressive content creators in the country, it could potentially be losing a valuable human resource in the future as well as a revenue generator. “A dedicated department that can evaluate and partially fund high-potential creative projects could do wonders. Further aspects that could come out of this would be having training sessions and masterclasses for younger students,” Sachi opined.  

“Lots of our neighbouring countries have capitalised largely on their creative markets. In India for example, lots of production companies contribute to the production of blockbuster movies. They produce their own movies and cartoons too. Their standards meet global standards. They have a great network of schools teaching design and animation,” Chriz shared.

“We need our country’s leaders to treat us like they do the IT industry. Plus we need to remove the financial barriers of the industry, especially for the freelance market. We need support from the banking systems, we need proper methods installed to buy good software and hardware at affordable prices. There is a lot that needs to be done.”

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage