The significant contribution made by volunteers to the staging of Caribana, North America’s largest street festival, was highlighted at last week’s third multicultural marketing conference at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
Festival organizers work with a budget of about $2.5 million even though each year the event injects more than $450 million into the economy.
“It’s in the volunteers’ blood and they do it because they want to,” Festival Management Committee (FMC) chief administrative officer Chris Alexander said in his presentation at the conference. “Some of them start working almost immediately after one year’s event is over. They are a very, very significant part of our festival that’s dependent on them.”
Alexander said most of Caribana’s budget, which comprises sponsorship, revenue generation and government grants, goes to production, marketing, paying local artists, venues, security and the parade presentation.
“These are significant costs,” he said. “We have very little to work with.”
Despite the funding shortfall, organizers have staged a highly successful summer event for the past 43 years.
An Ipsos Reid study released nearly a year ago showed that Caribana generated $483 million for the provincial economy in 2009, drawing about 1.2 million festival-goers from Toronto, across Canada and around the world.
“Over 60 per cent of the visitors come from outside of Ontario and they stay in hotels,” Alexander said. “Around 20 per cent of the visitors that come from Ontario stay overnight and more than half of that amount arrive two days before, so they come, they stay, they play and they pay.”
Alexander explained that Caribana is more than just a glitzy parade with fabulous costumes that takes place on the last Saturday of July or the first Saturday in August.
“Even though you might not be a jump-up type who would want to come down to the parade, there are other activities you could participate in that would allow you to get a feel of what Caribbean culture is all about,” he added.
Paintings from a select group of Canadian artists are displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum and, for the first time last year, there was a Caribbean Food which was recognized with an achievement award by Festivals & Events Ontario last week.