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Carnival is no quick fix
The National Carnival Commission (NCC) has been given a thumbs-up by many of the main players in last Saturday’s Carnival Stakeholders Consultation (Crystallising the Role of the NCC), held at the UTT Auditorium, National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa), in Port-of-Spain.
Attended by representatives of all of T&T Carnival’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs), the all-day exercise unearthed a plethora of problems that have plagued our annual national festival for many years. Several useful suggestions also came from the floor and it was obvious, at the end of the extensive programme, that the NCC needs to convene a number of these initiatives over the next few months before even beginning to construct a blueprint for Carnival 2014 and beyond.
While this initiative is laudable, I feel that it significantly defeated its purpose and intent by the ridiculously limited speaking time afforded most speakers. I was agog when I heard that speakers were requested to keep their presentations down to one minute, especially when so many people have so much to say about Carnival, and voice their suggestions to its improvement.
Chaired by NCC deputy chairman Don Sylvester, before the floor was opened for presentations, the gathering was addressed by NCC chairman Allison Demas, Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz and Minister of the Arts & Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas. Also, among the experts speaking from the head table were Dr Aubrey Armstrong, Clarence Moe, Indera Sagewan-Alli, Roy Augustus and Martin Franklin.
Much of the discussion revolved around the NCC Act of 1991 and the subsequent Cabinet minute of 1997 with the consensus being that the NCC must strictly adhere to the content and spirit of the Act to guide and dictate its role in the national festival.
At the end of a day of intense dialogue most attendees departed the venue satisfied by the gesture made by the NCC but expressing the collective view that enough ground was not covered.
Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz said: “As stakeholders of Carnival, this was an important exercise by the NCC. It is always good to dialogue as this would help our Carnival overall.
Unfortunately, a day is insufficient for something like this, and there wasn’t enough time for everyone to express what they had to say, and what was needed to be said. This should have been a weekend thing, and it should have been broken down into pan, calypso and mas, the main elements of T&T Carnival.
“Pan Trinbago would have liked to ventilate what is happening to the involvement of pan in Carnival overall, things like the positioning of pan in the festival and the money pan gets in comparison to what other groups get.
“There needs to be a lot more dialogue, as soon as possible, hosted by the NCC, to properly address everything about Carnival.”
Sharing Diaz’s view was Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) chairman Lutalo Masimba (Brother Resistance).
“I think it was a very important and timely exercise. It needs to be considerably more extensive though. There was too much crammed into the time available. Each segment of Carnival, like calypso, pan, mas, vending, security, promotion and marketing, should have had its own time and space, and separate symposium on its own.,” Masimba said.
One suggestion from the floor was that the NCC invite Caribbean Prestige Foundation (CPF) chairman William Munro, promoter of the highly successful International Groovy and Power Soca Monarch competitions, to assist in the production and promotion of Carnival. Contacted at his Santa Cruz home this week, Munro said of the symposium: “This was a very good initiative and exercise; it was just too short.
“I know that Allison (Demas) means well. I know that Dr (Lincoln) Douglas means well. But, the problem of a symposium like this is that it is impossible for its participants to say what needs to be said in a minute.
“With all the great ideas presented on Saturday, the most important thing that must be remembered is that significant funding is needed when planning a Carnival. Unfortunately, through the years, when the ideas of the stakeholders reach cabinet level there is no funding. For years, successive governments have been saying that the funds were not available to make Carnival go forward in a positive way.
“Everybody loves T&T Carnival, but everything in it depends on funding. The NCC must come to understand that to develop or improve anything you must spend money. Adequate funding is fundamental to T&T Carnival.”
Munro also had a few words for his detractors and people who baulk at government investing in Carnival.
“Those taxpayers who are so eager to condemn government for the sums of money invested in Carnival,” said Munro, “are not looking at the economic benefits that are accrued or enjoyed by the country from our national festival. The taxes from Carnival go to the state and the citizens derive the social benefits derived.
“All state and private entities benefitted from this year’s International Soca Monarch, and thousands of people behind the scene benefitted through employment, yet people continue to grumble about whatever funding is given to CPF to stage what is the biggest and most expensive event in Carnival.
“The time has come that it’s either the state partners with me in the future, or I get a private investor to take it over. I am tired now and fed up of all the stupid talk.”
President of the Artists Coalition and author Rubadiri Victor was one of the day’s outspoken speakers. He said: “I think that yes, this was a good idea, although there have been several similar talk shops before. But, the collapse of the Carnival is so apparent now that there is no kind of spin that anyone can do now to hide that fact. The NCC knows that there has to be some kind of intervention now, and that we might be actually on the brink of an extinction-level event culturally.
“I think they were willing to listen, which is a good place to be. One can only hope they will be willing to implement the necessary interventions.”
Another outspoken contributor was Media 21 owner Peter Scoon. The veteran electronic media producer said: “I think the effort fell short by limiting contributors’ input to one minute. A lot of people wanted to vent and they were prevented from doing so.
“NCC needs to repeat this exercise, breaking it up into groups, like pan, calypso, marketing, vending, accreditation. This thing cannot be a quick fix. This is an exercise that must continue for the rest of this year. For instance, one cannot deal with the archiving of Carnival in a forum like that. Carnival 2014 must begin fixing now. It will take years to fix Carnival, but the changes must begin now.
“You cannot run Carnival properly by releasing funds in November. All the marketing and international exposure required for tourism etc must be done all now. Tourists are making travel plans for 2014 right now, not beyond mid-year.”
Having the last say on the weekend’s consultations was NCC chairman Allison Demas. She said: “The whole purpose of Saturday’s consultation was to get honest feedback, as well as constructive solutions and recommendations about how to move Carnival forward and improve the festival. I don’t think one consultation could achieve what we set out to achieve so this is first of many we intend hosting nationwide. There are so many aspects of Carnival we need to address, including regional carnivals, media accreditation, and copyright. We’ll have more of these over the next three to four months, and hopefully finalise everything by the end of June, in time for the start of the financial year in October.”
Reminding that the NCC is a state-owned institution that relies on government’s fiscal budget at the start of the fourth quarter of the year, Demas hinted that to start planning Carnival months before the festival was a distinct challenge.
Clean sweep by Corporation
On the Friday after Carnival 2K13 I heaped praise on Cepep for the astuteness of its staff in keeping the city of Port-of-Spain clean throughout the festival. I have since been corrected by an official who stated that it was the City Corporation and not CEPEP that cleaned up the capital city for Carnival.
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