Whose Caribbean festival?

By Admin Thursday July 10 2014 in Editorial
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We have to wonder whether the Caribana Arts Group (CAG), the rightful owners of the trademarked ‘Caribana’, doesn’t at this point feel some identification with the erstwhile mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.


Ford, as we all know, or should all know by now, is to all intents and purposes mayor in name only, having been stripped of his duties after members of Council concluded he could not be trusted with the full responsibilities of the office. 


On a Sunday afternoon radio call-in program, when pushed to lay out what the CAG has lined up for the carnival season here in Toronto, chair of the board, Knia Singh, spoke about the group’s day-long children’s carnival event taking place in the Jane-Finch community this coming Saturday, July 12.


However, this event should not be mistaken for the one taking place a week later in Malvern, part of the three-week program of activities in this year’s presentation of the event that used to be known as Caribana, which is now managed by the Festival Management Committee (FMC), a body City Hall established and funded a few years ago to take over the festival, and which stands in opposition to the CAG.


At least the two groups at loggerheads are not competing for the same date.  


On the other hand, the FMC’s chief administrative officer, Chris Alexander, rattled off a whole array of events, the likes of which any regular participant in the annual celebration of Caribbean culture in Toronto should already be familiar.


It seems the promise by the various levels of government that public funding to manage the festival would go to the CAG once it got its books in order remains just that. And the farther away we get from the date that was supposed to happen – and that was back in 2006 – the more it appears it never will.


The group that originally started this celebration as a street party that, in modern day parlance, went viral, were not prepared for its overwhelming success and never seemed to come to terms with how to handle its success. That tells us a great deal about the kind of mindset with which we are all too familiar. We seem more prepared to respond to failure than success and, as the festival grew, structures did not grow to respond to that success.


Now, like Ford, despite the CAG having gone through its own version of rehab, beginning with a name change from the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), with a new board, new governing rules and a promise of new transparency, the trust has still not been regained.


What we are left with is the bitter feeling that the festival has been wrested away from the community, even while it continues to perform on schedule to give to just about everyone but the community from which it originated any share in the $430 million that it generates annually.


The result is a lot of hand-wringing and ‘shoulds’. With Biblical poignancy, the current group, CAG, is paying for the sins of the fathers, the previous CCC, while the ones holding the purse strings refuse to believe that the CAG should ever again take over management of the festival.


If you ask why this matters since the festival is still up and running, then it may bear recognizing that what was once a community-run event is now a corporate-run event. You can join the CAG with a small membership fee, have your say at the regular meetings and campaign to become a member of the board. That is not the same story with the FMC.


It makes no difference that FMC staff members confidently state that it is made up of people from the community. These people are not selected by the community. They are a corporate entity and are not answerable to the community, but rather to their corporate masters. Moreover, it is not outside the realm of possibility that big name corporate funding can come with strings attached.


The CAG is intent on bringing the festival back to the community, but when money is the deciding factor, and when dependence for funding remains in the hands of those outside the community, the foregone conclusion is this festival is all but lost to the community.


We can already see the signs of our future: A parade event that used to boast 40 mas bands is already diminishing in number, down to 16 last year. This year? Only nine bands will participate.

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