Dear Councillor Mihevc:
This first open letter is primarily about assessing – underlined below as (I) – and another dated later, re-focusing – (II, III, IV) – Caribana in the following areas:
I. some significant milestones along the route it’s taken from the 1980s to the present;
II. its origins in an African-based family of carnivals;
III. its relationship to other festivals, carnival, and
IV. going forward towards Caribana’s 50th anniversary, as a base for mutually improving communal relations between Toronto’s Black community and City Hall.
A. The decades, pre-Price Waterhouse Economic Impact Study: First and foremost, no one today needs to make a case for Caribana’s survival, and for its unmatched, decades-long, economic footprint favouring Toronto, Ontario, and Canada (TorOntCan). But for two decades – 1967-1989 – this wasn’t so. Caribana, a creation of Toronto’s Black community, has survived: a vast maw of racial animus against “ni**ers jumping up downtown”; chronic underfunding vis-a-vis its unmatched economic footprint; malicious and injurious publicity; despite not being funded equitably.
Did this epochal study move Caribana from death row to financial independence? No. Caribana was placed on parole; confined in a stasis of financial dependency. It’s also ironic that in the same decade when Caribana commemorates its 50th anniversary, so do Caribbean countries – former British colonies – from whose ancestral wombs Carnival was born. Today, those countries, symbolically “independent” with their national anthems, birds, foods etc., still resist genuflecting to symbols of European power, like the World Bank.
Today, businesses’ forming strategic alliances with Caribana, so much sought-after with regards to profit margins, show why the shortest distance between two points isn’t always a straight line. Thus, unlike the past disregard from some Toronto Chiefs of Police, Caribana is today a high-value, cultural portfolio; assisting a bank to land more ethno-cultural communities.
Some significant milestones, post-1989 along the way of survival:
B. The decades, post-Price Waterhouse Economic Impact Study. The data reported, for the sake of credibility, was at the low-tide figure of $489 million. Fortunately, while this allowed the festival to survive death row, it didn’t guarantee it the means to live. It still meant being unable to pay its rent; members using personal credit; hoping for later reimbursement.
C. The Washout on Olympic Island. This annual concert was Caribana’s main funding stream. The Black community, paying to attend, was being squeezed to sustain a festival that, unlike any other: was chronically underfunded, yet annually out-performing all others! Recent charges for attendees to sit in bleachers to watch mas is another squeeze-play. With regards to Olympic Island, staged outdoors, and Caribana’s main funding source, it was annually under threat for rain. Unfortunately, one year, it was “Rain like red-ink” as described by Caribana’s Chair. And a major financial setback.
D. The SkyDome Debacle followed. Occurring the year after the washout, it was a well-intentioned but poorly planned hip-hop concert at the newly built SkyDome. Low ticket sales and flagging public interest set the festival farther back economically. Note, however, that regardless of Caribana’s internal underfunded crises, externally, it annually outperforms itself: lowest quoted revenues to TorOntCan: $300 million (1997)!
E. City Hall’s tightened relations with Toronto’s Black community. More consultations, recommendations and follow-throughs.
F. Resulting in the 1994 five-year Strategic Plan. Caribana’s Mission Statement: to industrialize Caribana’s Carnival arts and culture to benefit Caribbean people in general, and the Black community in particular; resulting in more back-to-back clean audits; acquisition of a City-owned, rent-free location; resulting in launching of two new children’s Carnivals: Eglinton Ave., and Jane-Finch’s; resulting in Caravac, a travel agency; its appointed board to be governed by Caribana’s Board!
G. 1995: some mas band leaders again elected to Caribana’s Board. It is necessary to understand the roles played by some mas band leaders regarding some of the internal stress-points Caribana faced. For example, one year though funded, they boycotted Caribana. Some use this threat endlessly. Anyone making these threats, ban forever!
H. 1995-1997: newly elected Board members ignoring proposals of the five-year strategic Plan.
I. 1999, like 1989 a most pivotal year. Why? Because, despite continuing clean audits; implementing City re-structuring recommendations; halving its debts 50 per cent; getting off debt row; still living on death row; Caribana’s funding was arbitrarily cut, again! Similarly, in 2008, nine years later – Toronto’s Black community now sidelined as spectators to their own carnival – after an Ipsos Reid impact study showing revenues of $483 million, the combined funding of $400,000 cut to $140,000. By comparison, the uni-cultural, White-boys Indy club, was granted $700,000!
Finally, given the predictability of arbitrarily slicing Caribana’s funding, and the concomitant lack of sustained funding, especially when compared with the funding of other cultural enterprises, is Caribana’s funding, needs-based, or controls-based?
Lennox V. Farrell
To be Continued: Carnival’s origins in genocide; Caribana and other TorOntCan cultural enterprises; recommendations going forward to its 50th anniversary, Toronto’s Black community, and for Caribana’s upgrades to go global as No. 1!