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Right about now, it seems like we should be getting to the end of talking about Carnival, but really, this is exactly when we need to begin talking about the festival.
The National Carnival Commission (NCC), led by chairman Allison Demas, took a first step to beginning a meaningful discussion about the annual event with a consultation on March 2.
On a positive note, the NCC began this series of consultations from first principles, questioning its role in the festival and seeking guidance from its partners on the production of the event.
The NCC, it was announced, has been working from a strategic plan drafted in 1996 and officially implemented in 1998. Much has changed since then.
Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Lincoln Douglas asked the assembled stakeholders to think about the “product,” as it was often described.
“What are we going to export?” Douglas asked, “Have we codified it? Do we understand it?”
Economist Indera Sagewan-Ali also challenged the casual description of Carnival as a product.
“What is the return on the spending on the festival?” the economist asked.
“What are the barriers to entry that will prevent others from competing with us? Are we willing to analyse what we have, what we have been doing?”
The NCC is now 22 years old, surely old enough to know better, and the tone of the stakeholder assembly was that the commission should do more, but nobody seemed clear about what “more” might be and there seemed to be no enthusiasm on anyone’s part to cede any of their, personal control.
And it wasn’t just the NCBA, TUCO and Pan Trinbago staking their claims, it was the Carnival Entrepreneurs Association and The Bois Academy stepping up to let the NCC know that they weren’t happy about the stewardship in place. They were hardly the most powerful personalities in the room jockeying for a better position.
The suggestions were dizzyingly diverse, and the NCC’s challenge will not be accommodating all these perspectives, but in charting an innovative response to the very evident failures that Carnival is experiencing.
It is a brutal truth that to get to a still undefined “there” from here, eggs aplenty will be left shattered. We are likely to have far more Dimanche Gras 2013 missteps than we are to experience providential miracles like Minshall’s dye-spattered River on that sunny Carnival Tuesday afternoon in 1983.
Consider Carnival Monday. Nobody in that room at NAPA was willing to argue that Carnival Monday had become anything less than a catastrophe.
But nobody seemed ready to tackle the problem with anything resembling sacrifice, inventiveness or courage. There was no enthusiasm for Rubadiri Victor’s idea for an Acoustic Monday or a call for some bands to make Monday their big presentation day.
There was no response at all to the call made by Sagewan-Ali for “continuity,” and “a plan that is bigger than individuals and appropriate to roles.”
Every accepted tradition of Carnival is ripe for reinvention.
Calypso tents are begging to become a digital phenomenon, the potential of J’Ouvert, once a cathartic theatre is being diminished by absentee architects into pointless delinquency and the Tuesday parade has turned so determinedly inward that spectators become uncomfortable voyeurs.
We will, ultimately, have to confront the question so pithily posed by King of Carnival Gerard Weekes: “What is a competition and what is a show?”
There were no easy answers emerging from the first Carnival consultation hosted by Ms Demas’ NCC. In the coming weeks, other consultations will be held on other aspects of the event and it doesn’t take a seer’s insight to foresee greater turbulence ahead.
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