By Dr. MAURICE BYGRAVE
The controversy about Caribana seems to be never ending. Intense arguments and debates centre on who owns it?, who should own it? and who should lead, manage and operate it?; to what extent has under-funding and resourcing created and sustained difficulties for Caribana over the years?, has it received treatment (from the City and Province) equal to that received by similar mainstream organizations?, will the City and Province support continued ownership of Caribana (a cash cow that generates annually approximately $450M.) by the Caribbean Canadian Community?
These are fundamental questions covering a broad range of highly explosive political as well as cultural and economic issues. They can be answered in a meaningful way and in the best interest of the Caribbean Canadian Community, the City and the Province only if examined in the context of our most deeply held values and beliefs – values and beliefs about honesty, cooperation and transparency, justice and fairness, and mutual respect. How these questions are answered will, I believe, have a deep and long term impact on our community, the City and Province.
As a founding member of the Caribana organization I am encouraged by the debates. The on-going controversy and the confrontations to me mean we all realize that we have something that is worth fighting for and we do not want it to slip from our hands.
In 2006 I suggested that honesty and cooperation between private and public sectors could work to ensure a successful resolution of the challenges swirling around “Caribana”. We have started down that path. It’s not an easy road to travel and there is still much more to do.
We have all (the founding members, the municipal, federal and provincial politicians, the Caribbean Canadian Community, mas bands) contributed to creating the challenges it faces.
By working together, however, I believe these groups have the power to bring about positive change and ensure that Caribana, created originally with the finest of intentions, is sustained and grows more magnificent and successful over time.
Answers to the critical questions and the right solutions include the following:
1. Return Caribana to its rightful owners – the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) successor organization to the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC).
It was the CCC that conceived and presented Caribana in 1966-1967 as the Caribbean Canadian cultural participation in Canada Centennial celebrations. In spite of the challenges over the years, the work of this group enabled the festival to flourish and garner international attention. To usurp or steal 40 years of someone else’s work, any of it, is intolerable and Caribana must be returned to its owners.
2. Refuse to allow greed, selfishness and politics to destroy something created for the right reasons. Caribana was intended to be much more than a parade and a party, it was intended to be a means of enhancing the strength, vibrancy and value of the Caribbean Canadian Community as well as other communities in the Canadian mosaic. The original founders intended it to lead to the establishment of a cultural centre, educational and cultural programs for our youth, and a community centre and libraries
3. Provide the level of support and quality of treatment to the CAG as that provided to other mainstream groups (which generate far less revenues). The City, City Councilors and the Province have a major role to play here. Adequate funding and other resources are essential to building an effective organization capable of delivering on its vision and mission while holding onto its most important values.
Had Caribana’s potential as a valuable contributor to the City and Province been recognized in the embryonic phase of its development, and proper funding and support provided, many of its challenges (financial mismanagement, internal dissension, attraction and retention of capable staff, community relations) may not have developed or certainly not to the magnitude or extent to which they did. Adequate funding and other resources are critical to making it possible to build an effective organization.
4. Select and maintain a Board of Directors for the organization (CAG), staffed with the most capable people – those who can define and ensure adherence to the organization’s values, and create throughout the organization a culture of accountability, transparency and honesty. Select and maintain a Board which not only espouses these values, but whose actions and behaviours are consistent with these values. This is what leadership/stewardship is really about.
5. Build and maintain the functions required to achieve the organization’s strategic plan and critical goals: (for example, Finance, Marketing and Communications, Community Relations, Legal, Mas Band Operations, Information Technology, Volunteer Association).
6. Chose leaders capable of securing the cooperation of members/staff to work willingly and with full commitment toward achieving the goals of the organization; leaders that can add value to the work of others and live out and personify the organization’s most important values.
In the past there was mismanagement, which sometimes led to dissent and conflict among some members. However, in spite of the issues, the festival continued to flourish. Just think about the results that can be achieved by highly capable leaders with the resources required to pursue a shared vision, mission values and agreed upon goals.
7. Ensure the festival is much more than an economic event by retaining and highlighting its African history and cultural roots.
8. Build and maintain a positive image of CAG (enhance its reputation and relationship) with the Canadian Caribbean Community.
In the past many members of the community distanced themselves from Caribana, criticized the organization and offered little or no solutions for improvement. Some members were encouraged to form their own group with rival venues to take away festival focus and impact. CAG needs the positive force of the Canadian Caribbean Community and other communities to be successful. It needs these communities to offer their commitment, confidence and trust which of course must be earned on an on-going basis by the CAG.
A successful Caribana we know is in the best interest of us all: the City, Province, the Caribbean Community, the business community and other cultural communities. It is the responsibility of all of us and the accountability of some (CAG, City, Province) to ensure that this organization that has accomplished so much and contributed so much is appropriately supported, respected and provided with the best stewardship.
We can do this, we can achieve what the original founders intended and more: let’s move forward together.
Jamaican-born Dr. Maurice Bygrave was a member of the committee which produced the first Caribana in 1967, the precursor of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, owner of Caribana.