‘We want protocols, we want guidelines’ - Dream Ent MD tackles Gov’t over prolonged closure of entertainment industry
Dream Entertainment Limited’s Managing Director, Scott Dunn, voiced his frustrations over the prolonged closure of Jamaica’s entertainment industry and the lack of an apparent way forward in an open letter to the Government of Jamaica.
Dunn outlined the extreme challenges faced over the past 10 months not only by his company, but industry players at all levels – from street-side vendors to promotional groups, production technicians and sound system operators, as well as ancillary staff including cleaning crews. “The Government is killing a multi-billion dollar industry and starving its dependents,” wrote Dunn.
He also addressed what he describes as “hypocrisy” on the part of the Government. “Truthfully, the biggest hypocrisy of all, is the assertion that its events that caused our summer spike in cases, whilst the campaigning of thousands of mask less people shaking hands, hugging and shouting (releasing droplets) is somehow guiltless. All this in a country that if I choose to rent the National Stadium or Sabina Park – venues with capacities in the tens of thousands, I would be breaking the law to have 16 people there, even if they social distanced, sanitised and wore masks – even if they all did antigen tests in the car park and received negative results prior to entry,” the letter stated.
Dunn says Miami presented [his] and his company’s only opportunity to earn in months, having been unable to find any alternative in Jamaica.
“Every other sector in Jamaica is allowed to operate even at limited capacity with some protocols. The events industry is the only industry closed,” he wrote, adding that “virtual parties” are unprofitable. “On a sad note, in case anyone is asking, absolutely no one is paying for a virtual party, believe me, we’ve tried that as well,” said Dunn.
With Jamaica recording one COVID-19 death on Thursday, and 108 new cases, Dunn says the desire is not to disregard health and safety.
“Honestly, we don’t want to run loose and crazy – that’s what the illegal operators are doing already. We want protocols, we want guidelines... whatever it takes to operate, please just tell us. We want to put food on our table like every other person in the labour force. A few days ago, I had to lay off more of my staff (my family). They need their jobs back. We need to reopen the events industry as this cannot continue!” the businessman wrote.
He also suggested that special attention be given to the industry through, “marketing grants to keep our brands alive and low-interest loans to prevent bankruptcy”. “Those are the useful things the Government can consider,” he said. “Keep in mind, that this is merely a small investment from a Government to an industry that has and will continue (with some help now) to contribute billions to Jamaica, land we love.”
CHALLENGES THE INDUSTRY FACES
As a key stakeholder in entertainment for more than two decades, Dunn expressed hope that the Government will take proper note of the harsh realities and unique circumstances the events industry faces.
“Unlike the wider entertainment industry, where some players continue to earn (albeit on a smaller scale), the events industry is not earning, at all. For persons that operate exclusively in events, that means zero income. So either we need meaningful dialogue to immediately set up a framework with protocols and guidelines to reopen or we need a sensible relief package, both for our employees and our companies, so that we can reinvest in events to drive the revitalisation of our economy,” Dunn told The Sunday Gleaner.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Below is the full text of the open letter, written by Scott Dunn to the Government of Jamaica.
I was home, finally back in my ecosystem, after 10 months of ‘quarantine’
“These are my people”, I thought, with tears forming in my eyes. There were DJs, bartenders, bouncers, sound technicians, artistes, bottle girls, dancers, hookah vendors and pan chicken men. I felt at home, but strangely, I was in Miami – 928 km away from my home, home of the UNESCO City of Culture, Kingston. This was where I had escaped to for my company to have an event. This was my only opportunity to earn! This was where I felt an umbilical tie to all these people who I actually don’t even know personally, but knew their roles so well – people who make their living from the events industry! This got me thinking about the people in our industry in Jamaica. Miami woke me up, and I haven’t slept since.
My name is Scott Dunn and I’m the managing director of Dream Entertainment Limited – arguably the largest owner and producers of music festivals, carnivals and large events in the entire Caribbean. A 2020 government study determined that the two events that have the highest economic impact for Jamaica (a total of $9 billion) are events that my company is a part of: Dream Weekend and Carnival in Jamaica.
For 10 months, I have suffered in silence as the Government of Jamaica has left me and my ecosystem (my family) sitting on the bench. I’m not an idiot and I’m generally unselfish, I understand the risks large groups would cause in a pandemic, but I’m also fair and I know hypocrisy when I see it. As I write this on January 22, 2021, the ‘gathering orders’ under the Disaster Risk Management Act in Jamaica only allow for 15 people at a ‘party’.
However, when I returned from Florida a few days ago, the entire plane cabin was shoulder to shoulder (no social distancing among a group coming from a COVID-19 hotbed). This group is allowed to leave the airport and join households islandwide as they supposedly quarantine (it’s no secret that only a small percentage of them do). Our gatherings are allowed 15 people, whilst the hotels I have visited on the north coast have hundreds (locals and foreigners) not distanced, [unmasked] – drinking and frolicking – no different than the parties our Government so abhors.
I live in the hypocrisy of hundreds of illegal parties happening weekly islandwide – most prevalent in the constituency and under the nose of the most vocal government minister, on the topic of said illegal gatherings in other communities. I have to deal with the sham, that it’s safe to be in a large wholesale club jockeying to buy Christmas gifts, but open-air parties are the biggest risk to our country. Truthfully, the biggest hypocrisy of all is the assertion that its events that caused our summer spike in cases, whilst the campaigning of thousands of maskless people shaking hands, hugging and shouting (releasing droplets) is somehow guiltless. All this in a country that if I choose to rent the National Stadium or Sabina Park – venues with capacities in the tens of thousands, I would be breaking the law to have 16 people there, even if they social distanced, sanitised and wore masks – even if they all did antigen tests in the car park and received negative results prior to entry. When we were allowed to open in the summer and have events, our company did micro-parties, socially distant tailgates, etc. We followed every rule in the book and the industry still got shut down because of the same rule-breakers who are still doing events now. So the only people losing are the ones trying to ‘follow the orders’ and the rule-breakers were earning in 2020, and they are still earning now.
Jamaica, please wake up! This is nonsense! This is not science! This is downright prejudicial. Our government is picking on the small man – an industry with only a handful of large formal players, but lots of little people: bartenders, drapers, lighting technicians, sound engineers, promo girls, street teams, parking attendants, DJs, bottle girls, cleaning crews, bar-backs, sound system operators – people who aren’t being spoken for – until now. I can be silent no more. The Government is killing a multibillion-dollar industry and starving its dependents. Government would rather not offend ‘civil society’ by finding solutions or offering financial assistance to the many of us that are staring at the inevitability of closing our businesses or running to Florida, Atlanta and Mexico for an opportunity to do events and feed our families.
We need to be open like every single other industry in Jamaica. Every other sector in Jamaica is allowed to operate, even at limited capacity with some protocols. The events industry is the only industry closed. On a sad note, in case anyone is asking, absolutely no one is paying for a virtual party, believe me, we’ve tried that as well. Honestly, we don’t want to run loose and crazy – that’s what the illegal operators are doing already. We want protocols, we want guidelines ... whatever it takes to operate, please just tell us. We want to put food on our table like every other person in the labour force. A few days ago, I had to lay off more of my staff (my family). They need their jobs back. We need to reopen the events industry as this cannot continue!
We have less than 3,000 active cases of COVID-19 islandwide and trending downwards, but still no hope on the horizon, just a moving target of extensions of curfew orders and gathering restrictions.
Perhaps, you – the Government has a master plan for the good of the nation to keep tourism open since it was our biggest earner and employer and the only way to do that was to shut down another industry: the events industry – kill the snake to protect the golden goose – I get it. The Government should then put a huge majority of relief funds for the only industry still shut down. The events industry has not received one dollar to date. Hypocrisy again!
Our event industry has helped to build Brand Jamaica and grow tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, financial services and other sectors. When the world returns to normal, we will be a critical part of the rebuilding, as people have been starved of entertainment. Events will see a boom like there has never been before – and we want to be ready for it, but if we are not allowed to operate, even in a small way or get a reasonable lifeline of relief funds, we, the formal players, will all be bankrupt. Believe me, I’ve spoken to all of them. The only people in the industry who will have money to weather the storm are the people operating illegally. They will be all you are left with to rebuild the events industry and we will be forced to go to other countries with more inclusive policies to do our events. Brain-drain again, 40+ years later. How sad!
Perhaps stricter quarantine and arrival protocols would allow way more relaxed day-to-day protocols for all residents here. Ask the people in other islands that made hard decisions early for the good of everyone.
Allow us to operate … please … or if not, give us a relief package that actually will allow us to survive.
Scott Dunn is the managing director of Dream Entertainment Limited.