By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
The Caribana Arts Group (CAG) will hold its Annual General Meeting this weekend and is inviting everyone with an interest in this city’s carnival to attend.
The AGM will be held this Saturday, December 8 in Committee Room 3 at Toronto City Hall. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. and the meeting will begin at 12:30 p.m.
Registration fee is $25.
A release from the CAG states: “The purpose of the meeting is to consider and transact the business of the organization. Included in the business to be transacted are minutes of the last AGM, presentation of the organization’s year end reports, its financial statement and election of directors. The meeting may also consider other business that may arise.”
Another release I have received recently is from Pat “Panman Pat” McNeilly who has been putting together a slate of candidates to challenge the existing board at the AGM. McNeilly says he wants to “use his vast experience to get things back on track”.
McNeilly is well known throughout the carnival community both as a calypsonian and steel pannist. I believe that what he says or has to say is worth a hearing.
However, while I get a sense that he and his team have already decided that the current board needs to be completely replaced, I don’t hear any specifics except that they want to continue “Charley Roach’s legacy”.
What exactly does that mean? It will be important for them to spell that out in very clear terms at the AGM.
Of course, the late Charles Roach, a well-respected lawyer and member of our community for more than half-century, was a co-founder of Caribana and anything bearing his name is worth consideration.
I am not sure what their issues are with the current board, though. I understand that members of the CAG have been working behind the scenes to keep the organization alive and they have done a couple of profile events during the past year, one of which was to hold a kiddies carnival in the Jane and Finch area after the Festival Management Committee (FMC) chose to move theirs to Downsview Park.
The problem for the CAG leadership might be that they are too quiet. We are not used to having a Caribana board being so quiet.
McNeilly’s focus should be on the FMC and what they are doing to the carnival festival. The CAG, which is a reconstitution of the old Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) has been somewhat powerless since the City of Toronto’s liaison to the festival, Councillor Joe Mihevc, withdrew the city’s funding (and with it, the province’s) and set up his own committee to run the festival. It is to their credit that they have continued to keep the name alive. In fact, they successfully took the FMC to court to reclaim ownership of the name, Caribana. That is not a small thing.
The problem is that a lot of people are very frustrated with everything about this festival. They didn’t like the way the CCC was embarrassing our community with its dysfunctional behaviour. But, that has not been the case with the CAG.
They also seem to be losing faith with the FMC. Initially, the belief was that the FMC, being supported by the City, would take the festival to new heights, make it respectable again, build on past successes. Instead, it has floundered. The number of visitors to the annual carnival parade has been declining each year; the city, province and federal governments have drastically reduced their funding which was already inadequate to begin with and the organizers don’t seem to know what to do about all of this.
So, yes, any effort on the part of people in our community who know the culture and understand this festival – and its roots – is very welcome. But I don’t think it is wise to start by dissing those who have been carrying the water these past few years.
Is new blood needed? Yes. I think the current folks are tired. They ought to be. And, it is a fact that there remains bad blood between some of them and other stakeholders such as the bandleaders. Maybe new people taking the helm, with the right focus, could help bridge those divides. They may also be able to mend fences with the FMC and the city, which the current folks don’t seem to be able to do.
The bottom line here is that what is happening to this carnival now is a disgrace. Left alone, I have little doubt that it would not survive the next 10 years, if so long. If people in our community really care about the carnival (Caribana) they need to attend this AGM, not only to hear what both sides have to say, but also to see how they can get involved to “take this festival back for our community”. And this includes the bandleaders who have the most to lose if the festival goes belly-up.
One thing we don’t need is to have two groups with two visions fighting each other on Saturday at City Hall. We have had enough of that with the old CCC. This must not be about individual power and control. It must be about how we can best contribute to the polishing of this wonderful gem our community has proudly nourished for some 40 years.