Media practitioner and cultural activist Denise Herrera-Jackson and former bank manager Christopher Alexander have been appointed Chief Executive Officer and Chief Administrative Officer, respectively, of the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the organization that runs the annual Caribana festival.
They will work with current chair and CEO Joe Halstead and CAO Eddison Doyle until the end of this summer’s festival before assuming the roles on their own on September 1.
Herrera-Jackson has been a Caribana volunteer for nearly 15 years and a board member under the chairmanship of lawyer Gregory Regis who is now a regional senior judge in Ontario. She was the editorial director of the official festival magazine in the last two years.
“Even though I have been associated with Caribana for nearly 15 years, I did not consider applying for the position until after being encouraged by people who know me and my capabilities,” said Herrera-Jackson, who devised a marketing and promotional plan for the annual Harriet Tubman games.
She credits Caribana Arts Foundation gala chair Elizabeth Grimmond with convincing her to apply for the vacancy.
“It was not until she laid out how she saw me fitting into the position that I decided to submit my application at the deadline,” said Herrera-Jackson. “I want to work to ensure that this festival is something that our community can be very proud of and that the artists will know that their talents are being recognized.
“I am also excited to see young people being actively involved in the festival as band leaders and calypsonians. They are doing it because they appreciate the significance of the festival and we have to support them in a tangible way.”
Herrera-Jackson freelanced for the Trinidad Express newspaper, hosted a TV talk show and worked in public relations in Trinidad & Tobago before migrating to Canada in 1978. She was employed with Imperial Oil for 13 years in marketing, statistical analysis and technical communication and she also managed and marketed the corporate manuals group.
In addition, she has been an information technology consultant for several major Canadian firms, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Kasten Chase Applied Research, Media Synergy, TD Canada Trust and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.
A graduate of the University of Western Ontario with a Journalism degree and York University with a Masters in Environment Studies, Herrera-Jackson has always had a passion for the arts. She started playing the piano at age seven, was a member of a dance company and sang and competed in several music festivals. She’s currently on the Harbourfront Centre’s programming committee.
“Denise has a very well rounded background,” said Halstead who, along with Doyle, retired librarian and arts aficionado Rita Cox and Ontario’s first Black deputy minister, Tom Sosa, conducted the interviews. “She has been involved in the festival in one way or another for several years and her general work experience and resume are excellent.”
Herrera-Jackson was one of three candidates – there were six applicants – interviewed for the position.
Alexander has volunteered with the Caribana Arts Foundation gala committee for the past three years.
‘This is a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I see myself making a significant contribution to the growth of the festival.”
Grenadian-born Alexander worked as an accountant with the island’s telecommunications company and with Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) and the defunct British West Indies Airways (BWIA) and attended university briefly in the United States prior to coming to Canada 22 years ago.
The holder of a degree from Ryerson Polytechnic University and an MBA from Dalhousie University, Alexander resigned as a Scotia Bank branch manager last August after being with the financial institution for 17 years.
The FMC also interviewed five candidates for the position of general manager, Operations.
“The applicants had bright ideas and they were enthusiastic and full of energy, but they did not have the depth of knowledge and fully understand the technical aspects of running a festival of this nature,” said Halstead.
Former Caribana Cultural Committee (CCC) chair Sam Lewis will function in the position for this summer’s festival before another search is conducted later this year to find a suitable successor.
The Caribana Arts Group (CAG), which replaced the CCC and is currently claiming ownership of the festival it ran up until 2006 when the City of Toronto withdrew its funding and created the FMC to run the event, has responded lukewarmly to the two administrative appointments.
“We had two representatives (Winston LaRose and Althea Parsons) at the FMC table when the announcement was made,” said CAG chair Henry Gomez. “We were however not part of the hiring process even though we knew it was taking place. At the moment, we are focusing on setting the right terms and conditions between the CAG and the FMC and putting together a proper licensing agreement with the FMC that would govern our entire relationship.
“Ideally, we are looking at making a joint announcement with Joe Halstead that we have come to an understanding and we will work harmoniously. Then, matters such as new hirings will have to go through us because the FMC is a subsidiary of the CAG.”