By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
One of the biggest mistakes the Festival Management Committee (FMC) made when the City of Toronto’s liaison to Caribana, Joe Mihevc, cut the funding to the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) and gave it to them to run was to ignore the community.
Or worse, to not understand the connection the community had to the carnival. Or to feel that they didn’t have to include the community in their plans.
No wonder they are up the proverbial creek now. The paddle would have been the community.
Those with experience or prior involvement with this festival would have known that.
I have said it before as have others; over the years, while it might have come as a surprise to some that the annual Caribana continued to be as spectacular as ever in spite of the mostly public wrangling among various factions of its organizers, the key to its success has always been the people – the members of the community who cared more for the culture than the politics.
They are the folks who quietly (or not so quietly) involved themselves each year, regardless of who was in charge, to assist where they could. As volunteers.
They gladly did all the jobs that needed to be done to make the festival a success, ignoring those at the helm who usually received the kudos for a job well done after the event.
Never mind that, they were always back the following year to do it all over again.
Then there were those who supported from the outside. They might not have actually been involved in marshaling, hosting, helping to make the costumes, serving meals or all the other tasks that needed to be done, but they were protectors of the culture and jumped in to raise their voices when it became necessary. And, believe me, it has been necessary many times over the past 46 years.
The folks at the FMC didn’t understand that. They felt that since the big man at city hall ordained them to be his surrogates, they didn’t have to bother with the little people.
They were wrong.
Those little people are the ones who make the carnival a success. Without them, there would be no carnival. And they are now (hopefully) seeing the error of their ways.
For one thing, look how the different levels of governments have been cutting back on funding for the festival although it brings in so much money to the local economy, some $450-million each summer. Why is that? But the community is, for the most part, silent. The folks at the FMC are being left on their own to deal with it. After all, isn’t that what they wanted?
They are also finding that people are not volunteering in the numbers in which they did before. They are expressing their displeasure with how the carnival is being run by withholding their services. Many others no longer attend the parade. If this continues, the only people on the route will be the visitors and even their numbers have been reduced – for many reasons. Many of the people who visit for carnival each year (or who used to visit) are Caribbean people living south of the border and their families. They know about carnival and the excitement that surrounds it. If that is not there, they will feel it.
Many people have complained about the presentations from some of the carnival bands. Well, what do you expect? If they don’t have the money to produce the kind of exciting costumes that they used to do, then they will produce what they can afford. And the less money they get, the worse off the presentations will be. In the end, only the very few wealthy bandleaders will be able to bring out their bands. Will that be enough?
The folks at the CCC could have done a better job. They could have handled their differences in a more appropriate and respectable manner. Most of these were professional people who knew better and would never have behaved in the manner in which they did in their respective places of employment. But, for the city (and Mihevc) to just up and take it away from them was wrong. Now, they could lose everything.
One more thing. It really bugs me to see the festival being referred to under its new name as the 46th annual (insert the bank’s name here) carnival. That is so not true. The best they should be able to claim is the 6th annual festival dating back to when they got involved as a sponsor. Hasn’t someone on the bank’s team questioned why they are being credited with 40 years in which they were not involved?
Look, I don’t blame the bank. It is great to see large corporations such as this showing an interest in our carnival and wanting to invest in it, wanting to participate in it. What bothers me is that the folks who are running it have no vested interest in it. Where were they those 40 years? No wonder they have no problem with a sponsor taking credit for 46 years of the sweat and toil of so many people who are now shunted off to the side.
It is not right. And, until the FMC and Mihevc do right by our community, this festival will continue to deteriorate.