By RON FANFAIR
The Caribana Arts Group (CAG) owns Caribana and has the right to determine who manages the four-decade-old festival on its behalf, chair Henry “Cosmos” Gomez reiterated at a public forum last Saturday at Metro Hall.
The CAG replaced the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which ran North America’s largest summer festival until 2006 when the City of Toronto withdrew funding and created the Festival Management Committee (FMC).
Gomez said the CAG has documents to show that the FMC was set up to manage the 2006 event and that the body was to be dissolved on December 31 of that year.
“One of the things we have discovered is that we are dealing with people who do not honour their word or written agreement,” said Gomez. “The FMC acts as if they are the owners of the festival. We think we understand why it’s that way and we cannot allow them to get away with it.”
With the festival submerged in debt and controversy, the city, with the support of the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA) – the organization of carnival bandleaders who produce the Caribana parade – set up the FMC in order to have a more professionally run festival and attract sponsorship.
Gomez told the meeting that the FMC is a private company comprising “three or four individuals”.
“The people who own the company do not have to listen to or follow advice,” he said. “They are an independent organization and what is happening in effect is that our sweat, labour, talent – if things are allowed to stay the way they are – will essentially go to enriching two to three people.
“For all practical purposes, Councillor Joe Mihevc is the one who controls the FMC because the outgoing FMC chair Joe Halstead made it quite clear to us that he reports to Mihevc, the city and the sponsors and not to the community. The way things are, Caribana is not being handled as a community festival.”
Scotiabank assumed the lead sponsorship role of the festival four years ago and in May 2009, the bank announced it was extending its title financial backing to 2012.
Gomez said the CAG has approached Mihevc, the city’s liaison to the festival for the past 13 years, with its concerns. He also pointed out his group has also met many times with the FMC to attempt to resolve the ownership issue.
“The push back has been significant and it has been that way because they have the backing of the city,” he said.
Gomez said the ongoing controversy has affected the CAG’s ability to increase its membership and attract board members.
“People are saying the CAG doesn’t have the festival so what are we coming to do,” he said. “We are saying we need you so that our face becomes fully developed. Their response is talk to me later on when you get the festival back etc. So it’s a catch-22. We need people and we need the membership to grow. Basically, they are saying they will come when we are in control, so we have to keep working with what we have.”
The CAG has three spots open to complete its 11-member executive board.
In his feature address, University of Toronto doctoral candidate Ajamu Nangwaya suggested that the CAG consider filling the openings with women and youth.
“There should be no compromising about that,” he said. “As men, we don’t always have to be at the front of the leadership. We can be on a working group or committee to push this agenda forward.”
Nangwaya also proposed that Caribana must be a membership-controlled organization, a catalyst for community, economic and social development and a year-round organization employing full-time staff.
He also made it clear that the community should benefit from the festival that generates millions of dollars.
“It’s time to end the gravy train where everyone is benefiting other than the community,” said Nangwaya. “We have to reclaim something (the festival) that comes out of the creativity of our history of resistance as African people in the Caribbean and in the Americas.
“What we have created here was done through the labour of our people. What we are experiencing in terms of economic exploitation is nothing new. We came to the Americas not as tourists but because European capitalism needed our labour. What we are experiencing with Caribana is part of that long history of economic exploitation.”