Ownership of Caribana is our concern


In our online poll this week, 73 per cent of those who participated voted against returning the ownership of Caribana to the Caribana Arts Group (CAG), formerly the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC). Only 27 per cent felt that it should be returned.

The poll, of course, is unscientific, and only reflects the thoughts of those who voted. Yet, it does show that there remains a lot of doubt where the CCC-CAG is concerned.

The response, of course, is understandable. The production of Caribana has never been better. Over the past three years, the festival has been very well organized. In other words, from what we all can see, it was managed properly by the Festival Management Committee (FMC), under the leadership of its chair, Joe Halstead.

Then again, Caribana has always come off well, with very few exceptions. In spite of the shenanigans behind the scenes among the directors of the then CCC, the Caribana parade was always a success – not even rain could have dampened spirits during those few times when the parade was rained out.

The main reason is the work, diligence and commitment of the carnival bandleaders who, regardless of who ran the festival, ensured that their bands hit the road and that the parade took place.

And, this is why the city’s takeover of the festival was successful. Once the parade was guaranteed, there was no need to worry about whom the city had to deal with.

But, that is where it gets tricky.

Caribana is more than a parade. It is an integral part of the carnival culture of Caribbean people, born out of the suffering and celebration of the poor and disenfranchised. Caribana is also steelband, calypso/soca, tassa, the legacy of the drum and other related art forms.

How much of this is of interest to the folks at the city?

The city is interested in the Caribana parade as a draw for tourism and the accompanying hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Are the mayor, councillors and other folks at the city interested in anything other than the parade?

How many people come to Toronto to hear our calypso or to listen to our steelbands? We will guess that these are not major tourism attractions. But, to those for whom these aspects of our culture are important, there really could be no carnival without them.

The current leadership of the FMC seems to understand this and they have worked diligently, as far as we could see, to ensure that other aspects of the culture are incorporated into the Caribana festival. But will this continue to be the reality in years to come, possibly under new leadership with a different agenda and/or interests?

What is most troubling is the ease with which the city was able to take the festival away from a community organization. What happens if and/or when the city decides that it is not satisfied with the FMC or that it needs to cut expenses related to the funding and running of the FMC?

What if the city decides to turn the running of Caribana over to some other group – maybe a self-funded committee or organization – in order to, for example, reduce expenses?

And what if that organization, group, committee or what have you decides that, since the tourists come here for the parade, that is all they are willing to fund?

The CAG folks say they have turned the page, and we believe they mean well. But can they, for one thing, keep the troublemakers away if they get the festival back. Or is the CAG going to end up with some of the same people and problems that bedeviled the CCC?

To their credit, they have established the groundwork for an arms-length management team to run the festival, such as the FMC, and have expressed a willingness to have the FMC continue to manage Caribana. Their only – or major – concern (or so they say) is to retain the ownership of Caribana within our community.

That, too, is our concern.

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