Time for Caribana stakeholders to join forces

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

Over the past two months – this week will make it nine weeks – we have had a spirited exchange with regard to Caribana – especially its ownership and the City’s role in taking it away from our community. Hopefully, enough interest has been stirred to ensure that efforts will be made to have the Caribana Arts Group (CAG), the recognized owner of the festival, acknowledged and brought back into the picture.

While many of those from whom we have heard have acknowledged the work of the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the body which was set up by Councillor Joe Mihevc, the City’s liaison to Caribana, to run the festival when he pulled the funding from the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the forerunner of the CAG, and would like to see them continue to run the festival in some capacity, it has been generally acknowledged that the festival belongs to the CAG and that Mihevc was wrong to take it away.

It is clear that the City will never pull the plug on Caribana as long as it continues to bring in the some $400 million each summer that the pollsters say it does. It is also recognized that the behaviour of some of the people associated with the old CCC left a lot to be desired and so Mihevc was given a pass when he acted as he did in defunding the CCC. So, while many of us have said that he was within his right to cut the funding but not to give the festival to another group, we understand that killing Caribana was not an option.

Then there is the assertion from the CAG that Mihevc promised to return funding to them, in about a year, once they reorganized as they said they would. When Mihevc and I spoke back then, I did emphasize that the festival must be returned to the then CCC but he was non-committal. So, all I have to go on is what the CAG says.

The CAG has also made it clear that they never planned to continue running the day-to-day operations of the festival and that their restructuring plans included an independent committee such as the FMC. In fact, they have also said that they provided their plans to Mihevc and feel that the FMC is a copy of what they had in mind.

Which seem to mean, and their assertions bear this out, that they would be willing to work with the FMC as it is constituted (I stand to be corrected here) as long as it reports to the CAG, as owner of the festival, and not to the City, except for audit purposes.

There is some ambiguity with regards to the willingness of the other stakeholders – the masquerade bandleaders, the steelbands and the calypsonians, for example – to work with the CAG. Some say they can work with the CAG and others – especially some of the large mas’ bandleaders – say that they won’t. (There are those who believe that a very successful Caribana could be staged without some of the large bands but that is something no one should want to consider at this point.)

The bandleaders seem to be happy with the FMC because, they say, they receive their money on time. There is an interesting take on this in a letter appearing on page six of this issue of Share in which it is explained that one of the reasons the bandleaders didn’t get their money on time from the CCC was that they were slow in providing an accounting to the CCC for monies that they received which, in turn, stalled efforts of the CCC to get their audit done in time for the City.

Even if this was true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise since I know there was quite a bit of bad blood between the two groups, it would have been only one of the sins of the CCC. The stakeholders have much for which to be aggrieved.

Mihevc has remained very quiet through all of this. He needs to step up. He might not care but he is central here and he runs the risk of having his name forever tainted as the person in government who took (stole) Caribana away from our community. Because, in spite of the fact that he has hired people from our community to run the festival, and in spite of the fact that people representing the stakeholders have been named to the board that governs the running of Caribana, the reality is that the festival is, for all intents and purposes, owned by the City to whom these folks have to report.

Another thing the folks at the FMC – both the staff and the board members – and those within our community who are O.K. with all of this have to keep in mind is that if Mihevc has the power to take Caribana away from its rightful owners, who is to say that he – or someone in the future on a new city council who replaces him – would not feel empowered to take it away again and turn it over to another group which might have absolutely no connection to our community. It could happen.

As far as the bandleaders are concerned, while they might feel they hold all the cards because they produce the mas for the parade, they do not control the money. The city does. And there will always be people – maybe some of your current section leaders – who will be willing to bring their own bands if the price is right.

The only way to ensure that Caribana stays in the control of the community is for all to join forces to return it to its rightful owners within the community and establish proper guidelines to ensure that all the stakeholders are respected and treated with fairness.


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