Most people, when asked how they feel about the way Caribana is now run, respond with a sigh of resignation.
“At least, it is better than it used to be,” they say.
When asked what exactly is better now, they cite the absence of the constant bickering, name-calling and complaints of irregularities or the lack of accountability that used to be a staple of the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the organization that ran the festival until four years ago.
Other than that, no one seems to know if, in other areas, the festival is run any better.
And, that is one of the problems. We don’t know much of anything anymore with regards to this festival.
Back when the CCC was in charge, City of Toronto officials were constantly complaining that they were not provided with timely reports and financial data to show, for example, how the money being given to the festival was being used. Now, apparently, the shoe is on the other foot. Since the City took it over, it is the community which is being kept in the dark.
So, is the festival being run better than it was before?
One way of judging this is the movement of the bands down Lakeshore Boulevard once they leave the CNE where they perform before a panel of judges, VIPs and those who pay to get a seat in the bleachers/stands.
We found a lot of complaints about how long it took for one band to follow another. At one point, at around 1 p.m., it took over an hour between two bands (where we were standing) and there didn’t seem to be any reason for it.
What is more interesting is that not once did I see anyone who looked like an official come down on the Lakeshore to check up on things. Others who were there said the same thing.
We don’t know most of the people running the festival anyway so if one or more of them was really on the road we might not have noticed. Under the CCC we constantly saw directors riding up and down in their golf carts. We assumed they were checking up on things and, maybe, trying themselves to get the bands moving faster. Even if one didn’t know the directors personally, they all wore tee shirts with the word, DIRECTORS, in large lettering across the back.
Did they do a better job of moving the bands? Well, it definitely was not worse.
So, this raises a couple of questions. Do the current directors/administrators/City Hall appointees (or whatever they are) care about the parade once the bands leave the CNE or do they see their role as just that of organizing a show for their employers?
The majority of the million or so people who come to enjoy the parade don’t go into the stands at the CNE, they go to the Lakeshore. While that section of the parade is free to the public, these are the folks who spend the estimated more than $400-million each summer, not the folks in the stands. So, organizing the festival with a focus on the VIPs and those who pay to sit in the stands is short-changing the folks who are the real paying customers.
And, that is one of the key places to judge how well the festival is being run.
What about the marshals? In days gone by, there used to be a huge number of marshals working to both move the bands forward and to try and keep people dressed in street clothes out of the costumed bands. While they were not always very successful, they did make a difference.
We saw some people wearing tee shirts with the word “Marshal” written on the back, together with product advertising but they seemed to have been kept busy handing out promotion material for a money remittance company. In fact, we didn’t see any indication that they were working as real marshals. So, were they marshals authorized by the Festival Management Committee or were they people posing as marshals to work the crowds for a sponsor? By the way, they were working very hard for whoever put them out there. Were they being paid for that service or was the tee shirt all that they got?
As I have said before, it is a proven fact that, regardless of who runs the festival, the mas’ bands which form the parade are always spectacular and that is because of the creative minds behind these bands. It has nothing to do with the CCC, the FMC or whoever. Where the organizers can show their worth for those who come to see the parade is how well it is controlled in terms of movement along the Lakeshore, for example, and the enjoyment (and lack of frustration) of the parade experience.
Of course, there are other things the organizers can do such as making better deals with sponsors for more money than they are getting now so that they won’t have to be so subservient/obligated to City Hall. Those who negotiate for the festival need to understand that this city needs Caribana more than we do and grow a backbone. We shouldn’t have to approach the politicians and sponsors as if from a position of weakness. Not with the kind of track record this festival has for attracting ‘Caribana dollars’.
And they need to get rid of those damn fences which were put in place since the new folks took over. It is very disrespectful to all those people who are injecting so much money into the economy. Whose idea was that anyway? It couldn’t have been someone who understands what our Caribbean carnival is all about or someone who has respect for our community.
As for those who have resigned themselves to accepting the current status quo as far as the ownership/management of the festival is concerned, it does make our community look incompetent when we have to have the city come in and run our festival for us, even if they are using people from the community to do the work.
Isn’t it interesting that when people from our community work under the direction of people from outside of our community we don’t see the same disrespect for each other or hear of the same infighting and bickering that we do when we try to run our own show?