Can the FMC and the CAG work together?

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

Over the past few weeks, I have heard a variety of opinions on the takeover of Caribana by the City of Toronto and the committee it set up to run Caribana – the Festival Management Committee (FMC).

The responses can be divided into three categories: Those who like the way things are now, without all the drama and the shenanigans that dogged the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), founders and organizers of the festival for the first 39 years; those who want to see the festival returned to the CCC (which has been renamed the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) following a restructuring); and those who wish to see the festival returned but are concerned that some of the same people who caused all the trouble for the CCC will be back and up to their old tricks.

Isn’t it funny that we haven’t heard a peep out of these people since the City took over Caribana? Why is it that the respect they show now couldn’t be shown when the community organization ran it?

Different reasons have been offered by those who want thing to stay as they are. Masquerade bandleaders, for example, like that they are being paid the monies promised to them on time and that the FMC shows them the kind of respect they never got from the CCC. Some of them have said that they fear what would happen if they were forced to work with the CCC again.

That could be a major stumbling block going forward. It is true that the CCC – different boards, different directors and officials/office staff over the years – treated the stakeholders – mas’ bandleaders, calypsonians, steelbands, other entertainers, even the volunteers – almost as outside children, as usurpers, as people to whom they were doing a favour by including them in the festival, not as important and vital partners in Caribana.

This never made any sense since without these people there would never have been a Caribana. Moreover, it caused a lot of bad feelings between the CCC and the other players.

Which is what made the City’s takeover so easy. Why is it that, until now, there has been little or no concern raised – from within our community and the community media – with regards to the status of the festival? Why is it that when the City decided to de-fund the CCC there was no outcry, even from the most ardent Caribana supporters and community activists? It is not because everyone was happy with what the City did, but people were just fed up with the CCC.

From what I have heard, the FMC has acted in a professional manner with those to whom it felt it was obligated – the sponsors, its funders at the different levels of government and its board of directors. It has provided the necessary reports and audits in a timely manner and has paid its bills. We, at Share, can attest to that last part. They do pay their bills, compared to the CCC.

My problem with the FMC, and this is shared by many people from whom I have heard, including people who support the FMC, is that they seem to operate within a veil of secrecy. Someone has said that the FMC’s position is that they don’t feel a responsibility to report to the community.

But, Caribana is a community festival. Forget the CCC/CAG for now. Think of all the thousands of volunteers and supporters who have kept Caribana alive over the years. How do you think they must feel.

Many of them have put their own money into the festival to ensure its continuity. One pay period a few years ago, I personally paid the salaries of all the office staff when there was no money available to do so. Over the years I have paid for trophies, tee shirts for the marshals and other supports as have so many others. Do you think we will just sit back and let this thing go?

Some point to how well the festival is being run now. Hello! It has always been run well. It has always been spectacular. Not because of the CCC, but because of the bandleaders and their fantastic presentations; because of the sweet sounds of the steelbands on the road and because of the tireless work of the army of volunteers. Just as it is now.

The CCC screwed up big time. They felt that since this was their festival, and since Caribana injected in excess of $400 million each year into the economy there was no way anyone could challenge them and so, apart from their other questionable behaviour and practices, they also thumbed their noses at the City when they were asked to provide financial statements to show how the almost $1 million they received each year was disbursed. Not an unreasonable request. Every business must provide statements to the government, let alone one that received government funds.

In a classic case of hubris the folks at the CCC seemed to have felt they were above such reporting.

So, is anything going to be different? The bandleaders, for one, don’t think so. The CAG, at its community meeting this Saturday, 1 p.m. at Metro Hall, will have some very tough questions to answer and will have to convince a lot of people that things have changed.

The FMC, meanwhile, has to recognize the importance of the community to Caribana and the importance of Caribana to the community. While it is necessary to report to the government and the funders the community also needs to know what is going on. Caribana is not – must not be viewed as – only a big party. It is a community resource that must be developed for the benefit of the community and with community input or, at least, community awareness.

A lot of the charges/accusations regarding the takeover of Caribana are the result of the secrecy. In the absence of transparency and information, people will come to their own conclusions.

The folks at the CAG say that one of the changes they have made as part of their restructuring is to have an independent arms length organization – just like the FMC – run the Caribana parade and its ancillary events and report to the owner organization – the CAG – maybe a couple times a year. Does this seem like something these two organizations can explore?

It must be acknowledged that the FMC has made great strides towards returning a level of respect and trust to the festival on the part of sponsors and the funders. Can these two groups now work together to get the community united behind them?

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