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Sagewan-Alli: Rely less on State for Carnival $$
When the bell tolls for Carnival celebrations, participants enjoy calypso, soca, steelband, stickfighting, traditional and pretty mas, Canboulay, extempo and fetes. But as T&T engages in its C2k13 post-mortem, economists Indera Sagewan-Alli and Hayden Blades both said we first need to define the Carnival product locally in order to successfully market the festival.
Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas disclosed at a post-Cabinet news briefing that $90 million was spent to produce Carnival this year. Of that figure, $3 million was budgeted for the newly-created version of Dimanche Gras—minus the calypso monarch competition.
The people of T&T described the Dimanche Gras show this year as a fiasco. A source who worked closely with the production team for Dimanche Gras said the costumes had to be moulded together. Headpieces were in one room and other parts in other rooms. At the last minute, the appropriate designer could not be found to showcase the beauty and artistry of local craftsmen.
Asked whether T&T was getting value for its Carnival product, Sagewan-Alli said, “There are so many aspects we are not developing properly. We need to recreate the Carnival product. We need to take it not just from where it is and where the world is going, but we need to look at what we have then and now.”
She noticed a grave development. “I think this year is strong evidence of us losing our Carnival and if we are not careful, we could lose the competitive edge we have in Carnival.”
More private-sector involvement needed
Among the major interventions Sagewan-Alli suggested included more private-sector involvement. She said, “Carnival is a business. We need to see more private-sector involvement. We need to reduce the involvement of the State from Carnival and allow the private sector to do it. Then we can determine if it is a viable option.”
Citing the example of Brazil’s carnival in Rio de Janeiro, renowned for its samba dancers and floats, she said:
“Rio Carnival is managed by the dance schools. The State is paid for the use of its infrastructure. There is very little involvement by the State and it is handled completely by private-sector interest groups. The entire State tends to benefit.” Referring to C2k13, she said there was a raging controversy over television rights.
“If they wanted it for free then we should have not just local but international networks lobbying and paying for the rights. We have a product with significant potential and we are not developing it as an effective business model.
“We need to have the removal of the dependency on the State and state financing so it could be self-sustaining.”
Define the Carnival product
Calypsonian David Rudder sang “out of them barrack yards calypso rising,” in his classic song Calypso Rising. It documented the genesis of areas of artistic expression like the steelband. Sagewan-Alli felt it was important to define the product based on the culture and traditions that have spawned it.
“It would seem intuitively that we are significantly moving away from mas that comes from culture and traditions. We are into a mas that is about mass production. Not to mention, it uses a high degree of foreign exchange basically through imports,” said Sagewan-Alli.
She lamented there was no long-term economic input. There is an urgent need “to quantify it and put a value to it,” she suggested. “We need to look at it in terms of what we have lost over the years. We need to look at the creators of mas. We need to look at the human capital we have lost. We have seen it grow but it must be able to redound to the benefit of the industry.
“What is the product we want to sell the world?” There was nostalgia in her voice when she spoke about the sentimental attachment her children experienced upon seeing a Blue Devil on Carnival Tuesday.
“My children were so amazed by the Blue Devil. He was in character. They ran after him. He was there posing for them. Extempo is so witty. It is an amazing art form. What are we really doing to protect this art form? Are we marketing our sacred traditions properly?”
We need to track foreign exchange and arrivals
Sagewan-Alli also lamented there was no adequate mechanism to determine the amount of foreign exchange spent on segments, such as producing Carnival costumes depicting tribal warriors. “We need to be able to quantify the foreign exchange uses and the extent to which it is a net earner of foreign exchange.
We have more people coming into Trinidad producing mas. Are they producing it with more local materials like coconut? Are they engaging in wire bending? Are we basing our Carnival on traditions and culture?” she asked.
She felt the accounting mechanism should be extended to tracking the number of visitors and their respective countries. She said it was a case of spinning top in mud.
“We need to come to a place where we can quantify the benefits. We are trying to quantify it without an appropriate tool to measure its success or growth. Is it sufficient to say we had an increase in the number of arrivals? We need to look closely at the purpose of their visit. Did they come for Carnival or other business?”
She steered clear of saying whether T&T had benefited greatly. But she gave an example of Piarco International Airport taxi drivers who noted their “business had significantly dropped.” “There is very little business that they get out of the Carnival season.” She felt the onus was on the relevant stakeholders to create incentives to attract “a different kind of tourist.”
Blades: We must first decide what we are selling
Arthur Lok Jack economics lecturer Hayden Blades said the first thing we have to do as a nation is to define what Carnival means to us. Expounding upon his view, Blades said, “Carnival is not just rooted in one event. There are several types of events. You have to decide what you are selling and then how do you sell the product.
“Unless we decide it we would never know how to effectively market it. We can’t sell something to the world unless we understand what we are selling. It is more than just an event. There are various activities that are generating the return we have made.” He felt the citizenry were the most important stakeholders.
Blades added, “It has to be designed from the people. It is an important season where the citizens of T&T use Carnival as a sort of reminder of our heritage.” Stakeholders and planners should examine both its economic and social model to get a proper grip on marketing.
“Carnival is not just about generating a profit. It is not just a business model. It’s an important part of the fabric that holds the society together. And we need to understand what Carnival represents from a social and economic side. It is the economic side that we can translate into business models.
“But the social side represents an important expression of who we are—whether it is stickfighting in the gayelle. Canboulay confirms an important expression of who we are.” To ensure growth and development, he said, we must define both properly and then we can determine what are the appropriate strategies to pursue. Asked whether T&T did get financial returns from C2k13, Blades said, “It is not simply yes or no.”
Before counting profit or loss, it is important to first determine what is value for the monies invested. Citing an example of a calypso tent, Blades said, “The Government gave all the tents subventions. Did it produce a tent that was world class? Did it create the kind of music that we could consider to be of a high standard? That’s the kind of value for money question we need to address.
“The State is investing in all of these activities and it is investing in the hope it would generate value for money.” He felt there was the need for adequate research to properly assess, archive and document whether T&T was creating a sustainable world product. Blades posed the question: “Who is doing the research to access these things? Some research was done but it needs to be updated to answer specific questions.”
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