By LENNOX FARRELL
There is, reportedly, a move afoot, now that the 2011 carnival is over, to relocate the Jane-Finch Children’s Carnival to Downsview Park in 2012. The reason? So that all who want to see the children parade in their costumes will have to pay an entrance fee – every man, woman and child. No more freeness, someone has said.
If this is more than a rumour, there are some questions to be asked and answered. Among several others – which will be addressed in time – is whose idea is this? And how would this decision, if it is made, resemble one made more than 43 years ago by the City of Toronto?
In 1968, one year after Caribana’s 1967 launch, the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation department took two significant actions, setting the stage for the actions of today. After seeing the numbers and the enthusiasm of the Black community’s participation for the Olympic Island picnic, an entrance fee of 50 cents was tripled to $1.50. Parks and Rec also imposed a cash grab of 15 per cent on the gross revenues (not the net) from the picnic.
Later they would also seize the revenues for liquor sold on the boat cruises. Talk about a Caribbean ATM machine?
This action by the City had two negative effects on the organization. The $1.50 fee might not look like much in 2011, but it was a stiff fee, and especially so for Black students then, who were mightily opposed to it and the organization. It was the cause of the first negative public reaction by the community against a Caribana board.
Also, the festival’s board had plans, one of which was to build a community centre. There was no community space where newly arrived immigrants could go to get advice on employment, immigration matters, housing, schooling and the like, apart from the medical offices of Dr. Al Liverpool, an early organizer of the carnival.
In fact, the then Board was already addressing ways to assist Black youth, a need that continues 44 years on. Imagine the blessing it would be if Caribana could, by its 50th anniversary in 2017, annually contribute a million dollars to community organizations like Tropicana to assist with the splendid work they are doing to save our youth. Do more than imagine. Plan for it!
Also, the Black community’s carnival is routinely charged more for services and space where other cultural festivals either are not charged, or charged as much. For example, the Italian community’s Chin Picnic – no multiculturalism confusion here about its ownership – pays less for three days of use of the CNE than Caribana pays for one day. Is this why its patrons can attend all its events and activities free of charge?
Is there something out of sync here? Moreso, a funding formula has been imposed on the FMC under which 40 per cent of its revenues must come from the community’s pockets. Is that why there is such urgency to find more ways to charge festival goers to see the parade and for other events? While we are already bringing in a half-billion dollars annually? Are others wise to think us fools? This is not to make life more difficult for the FMC, because if theirs is now our past experiences, they must, with a monkey of debt on their backs, learn to juggle dynamite while handcuffed.
For the sake of further absurd comparisons, take Luminato. Like the Chin Picnic, its concerts held over 10 days are free. Even when staging high-value musical talent like KD Lang’s at its “Festival Hub”. And KD Lang, marvelous artiste that she is, ain’t cheap. Neither is Leonard Cohen. What kind of political cantilevers are available to these festival organizers that give them the financial leverage that are unavailable to us?
And neither does any of them, like Caribana have to follow a funding formula in which 40 per cent of revenues must come from charging attendance, an additional burden planked on a community with a 40 per cent unemployment rate among its Black youth.
Does it mean that those who assist in bringing this festival, in particular, the pannists, calypsonians, mas’ producers, drummers, and the whole coterie of artists and artisans involved in the Carnival Arts should not be paid as well?
What it means is that any increase in revenues must not automatically be expected, in the opinion of the public officials and by those who take their marching orders from them, but must come from the Black community, a community being stiffed since 1968 to make up for the lack of funding available to others, and a lack which we have from the beginning been forced to bear.
In short, when will Toronto’s Black community and its carnival festivities be without controversy from being in need? When will the third class status while bringing first class profits of our creative contributions change?
When will depressed Black communities like Jane-Finch, who whole-heartedly welcomed, supported, hosted and grew the Children’s Carnival from its 1995 inception, stand and declare: ‘Hell no, we, and our children won’t go’!
Now is as good a time to begin. Especially when, using our institutional memories, we recall next week the history of how this Children’s carnival was begun? By whom, and why! Who opposed these initiatives on racist grounds? And thereby, who alone has the right to decide where it goes, especially if the intent is to make, not only parents and other adults pay, but also to now suffer the little children.
In other words, when will we, a community that contributes so much, but receive so little in return, be also able to sing with Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!?”
The answer might come from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in advice given by Cassius to Brutus, “The fault (that we are underlings to Caesar) dear Brutus is not in the stars, but in ourselves.”
Farrell is a retired educator and a former board member and chair of the Caribbean Cultural Committee, the owners of Caribana.