Those who benefit from Caribana must pay for it

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

When the news broke just before Caribana that the Festival Management Committee (FMC) was short of funding as a result of government cutbacks, we learned that the staff had to take a 30 per cent cut in salaries. Someone who had been close to the workings of the old Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the people who used to run Caribana before the City of Toronto took it away from them, asked almost in shock: “They getting paid?”

It was an interesting comment. We knew that the CCC was run mostly with the work of volunteers, although there were staff during the festival season who were paid, most likely though, much less that the current staff. But the directors and scores – more like hundreds – of people who helped out, especially on the approach to Caribana and over the parade weekend, did so strictly on a voluntary basis. I would guess that many of those people are still helping out because they feel it is the right thing to do for their festival although the corporate culture of the body for which they now work has changed.

It would be conjecture on my part to offer any suggestion with regard to the remuneration of people at the FMC. I don’t know who is being paid and how much but, whatever it is, I expect it is more than the CCC folks used to get – at least more than free. All of that information, as far as I know, seem to be top secret.

One of the reasons the city gave for taking away this festival from community control was that there was no transparency. So, where is the transparency now?

Someone who is usually quite knowledgeable about things Caribana informed that, a few years ago when the FMC took over and a deal was made with ‘the bank’ to be the lead sponsor for the festival, a journalist was taken to task for disclosing the terms of the deal and the dollar amounts. We understand that this journalist was told in no uncertain terms that this information was private. If this is true, it is the first time in the 43-year history of Caribana that any donation or sponsorship was considered ‘private’.

Why is that? Was it because whoever made those calls was embarrassed with the deal? And, if so, the only reason would be that it was a bad deal for Caribana. If it was a good deal, one would think that everyone would have been very proud to acclaim it from the rooftops of the city, wouldn’t one? And, who made that deal with ‘the bank’ anyway?

I remembered this when I was trying to find out how much money the lead sponsor came up with at the last moment before this year’s Caribana after the different levels of government cut their funding. The press release only said that the sponsor had come up with a one-time additional grant to help out, not how much. At least, not to my knowledge. And, folks I asked didn’t know.

Again, why is that? What are they afraid of telling us? Are they concerned that we will be angry if we found out that they took away the festival from us for a mere pittance? Could that be it? Us? Angry?

We know that ‘the bank’ has received, if not millions of dollars in publicity, close to it for their sponsorship. So, what have they paid in return and why did the FMC people have to call for help to cover the costs this year? And, again, how come we can’t know the details of this deal and how much the FMC is receiving (has received) from ‘the bank’.

And, why did the governments cut their funding. We know that the feds used to give Caribana $100,000 each year. Last year, we heard that they upped that to $400,000. (You see, they didn’t hide that figure because it was such a nice, large one.) This year, nothing? Why?

As for the city and the province, we only hear that they cut their funding but we (or I) don’t know by how much for, as far as I know, those figures were not revealed. Only that they were cut.

According to an Ipsos Reid study of the 2009 Caribana festival, the federal government was the big winner in the taxes stakes taking in $90.5 million. Next was the province of Ontario at $72.4 million followed by the city with $1 million. That is just in direct taxes and doesn’t account for all the goods and services purchased to the tune of more than $400 million in just two weeks of Caribana. That is some serious ‘Caribana dollars’.

Isn’t it interesting that new events such as Luminato have received million-dollar grants but events with a proven track record of injecting serious money into the economy are being starved of cash? What is the financial impact of Luminato on the city?

The people who are responsible for producing Caribana need to put any differences aside and come together to control this festival. Otherwise, it is quite possible that those now providing the funding could squeeze it until we have no choice but to completely turn it over to others.

In an excellent commentary in the August 5, 2010 issue of Caribbean Camera, columnist Herman Silochan suggested as much. It is an interesting read. Check it out!

The folks at the Carnival Arts Group (CAG), the new name of the CCC, continue to claim ownership of the name, ‘Caribana’ but it must have caught their attention that the name has been subtly changed over the past few years. Nobody refers to the festival just as Caribana anymore, at least not in the mainstream media and not by the FMC folks or the city. Since ‘the bank’ became involved, the name has been changed. So, even if the CCC/CAG owns the trademark for the old name, the new name must belong to someone else and I am sure that name is registered by its owners.

But, if the masquerade bandleaders, the steelbands, the calypsonians, other musicians, artistes and DJs, the folks at the CCC/CAG and those who are willing at the FMC (for our community and our culture’s sake) were to develop a common position to maintain ownership of this festival for the community, there is no doubt that things will change. This city needs Caribana more than we do. For us it is a party, for the government and the business sector it is worth over $400 million. Who stands to lose more if we stand together? Wouldn’t it be in the interest of those who benefit so much from Caribana to provide adequate funding for all these people, the real stakeholders in Caribana, so that they can continue to produce the high quality festival they do each year?

And, if they don’t, well, we could always go to Hamilton to jump up.

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