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That Carnival funding hike

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Allocating more money for Carnival should, logically, be a good thing. But the festival has been well supplied with cash for more than a decade now, and many of the important problems remain unsolved. Claiming that the challenges of making substantial changes to events have demanded more funding, Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Lincoln Douglas announced on Thursday that the budget for Carnival has been increased by $27.8 million.


Carnival 2013 was planned with a budget of $126 million before the increase in the subvention. By comparison, Carnival 2012 was planned at $96.5 million but was increased to $125 million. This increase in the budget for the festival would, according to the Minister, help to “demonstrate that Trinidad is a destination place.”


Improving the quality of Carnival is just one piece of the puzzle that must be assembled to bring the T&T tourism product more clearly in line with international expectations, and there’s no clear indication of how this surge in cash will accomplish these noble goals.


What’s likely to happen is that pan players will get paid more, unsponsored steelbands will get some assistance, calypso tents and regional carnivals get more life support, and the lucky winners of this year’s competitions are in line for a big payout. Some of this money is apparently meant to enhance the key competitive elements of the Carnival product which begin on Fantastic Friday and run through to Carnival Tuesday.


Dimanche Gras is being fiddled with once more in an effort to make more of a show and less of an unpleasantly lengthy competition. But these changes are being rolled out with unseemly haste and have provoked a sharp reaction from Carnival stakeholders. That alone should warn the Culture Minister and the NCC that there needs to be a more meaningful collaboration with stakeholders in programming real changes into the festival.


A lack of interest in the existing architecture of Carnival by young revellers has caused the celebration to devolve into a succession of parties that have stolen the spotlight from competitions. The clearest articulation of this dilemma is the growth of the “Greens” a massive party that exists in parallel with Panorama semi-finals which attracts a crowd that dwarfs the one that comes to appreciate the steelband competition.


The battle for the Soca Monarch is more concert than competition with performers more interested in entertaining the crowd than articulating lyrics. Mr Douglas admitted, in announcing the increase in Government spending on this year’s events, that he’s tackling Carnival “one year at a time.”


That type of thinking must change. To move Carnival forward, we need to be thinking about it a decade at a time, with a clear and mutually agreed agenda to make it surprising and engaging as well as modern and relevant. An inspiring vision can’t be bought and until the thinking around the infrastructure and competitive focus of Carnival matches and finally leads the development of the festival, these hefty investments, funded by taxpayers, will fall like seeds upon stony ground.