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Friday, October 24, 2014

Caribana town hall meeting ~ my thoughts

  Chair  - Knia Singh
So, I went to the Caribana arts group (CAG) town hall meeting/membership drive last Saturday. I found it to be engaging, well moderated and for the most part, they were able to keep the participants and audience on topic. These are my thoughts…
 Firstly, can we all admit that CAG is not the CCC? There are a couple surviving original members, but for the most part, the only people left in CAG are the idealists, activists, community organizers and other folks who tend to vote NDP. There are currently only about 35 due paying members. Everyone else has moved on.
This is a far cry from what the CCC was. The CCC was a community based, membership driven organization that gave birth to, nurtured and administered the festival from 1967 to about 2006. The organization was open to anyone who was willing to pay the membership dues, and leadership was determined by voting members. That meant, the prom queen and king often got to be CEO and treasurer instead of perhaps the more qualified members of the math and chess clubs.

The CCC was made up of the general Caribbean community, band leaders, calypsonians, steel pan people, community activists, entrepreneurs (that covers everyone from caterers and vendors to party promoters). Like any other community organization, there was also your share of smart men and self promoters.
All of these groups have gone on to form their own associations like the TMBA, FMC, OCPA, OSA, TMA, STC etc., etc., etc. All of these new groups try to advocate for, and represent the interests of their own members. The common threads seem to be a love of carnival and wanting to distance them from the CCC/CAG.

I think trying to distance yourself from the CCC is like trying to deny your younger self. Like it or not, all of these groups were the CCC.
Life has taught me that volunteer organizations are fraught with peril, and crazy people.
A festival the size of ours needs a couple full time professional administrators. These must be paid positions if you want to attract and retain capable, motivated people. In addition to this, there are a handful of key seasonal positions which also seem to work better when staffed by accountable paid people. We also need a year round office, and reliable, timely distribution of funds to stake holders like the bandleaders, calypsonians, steel bands, venue owners and other suppliers.
This is the stability the festival management committee has facilitated. The city ensured that professionals were hired, this is as opposed to being elected by an unpredictable membership. If they don’t perform, they can be fired. If they don’t keep stakeholders happy, they can be fired. They must at least appear to be equitable…any scandals and you’re fired!
A prerequisite to getting government funds is delivering on a business plan that shows you growing your own profitability. The FMC has a mandated percentage of revenue that has to come from ticket sales or private sponsorship. This revenue has to show progress. Government should support the arts, but, this support should be treated as assistance to bridge a gap.
 I’m not saying the FMC is perfect, I think they need to be much more transparent.
I know that much of the criticism leveled at the FMC could be tempered by more openness.  
Critics like to throw out the Calgary stampede as an example of a festival which receives more government support without having as large an economic impact. But, if you google Calgary stampede financial statements do you know what the first hit is? The 2013 consolidated financial statements.
To get any financial info on Toronto’s Caribbean carnival you have to go to city hall and pay for a freedom of information request and cross your fingers that they don’t say no.

I may not want the NDP to run the country, but I believe they need a seat at the table. When the CCC was formed, they had a goal to promote and industrialize Caribbean culture and arts. They also had a dream of building a cultural center and generally being a force for good within the Caribbean community in Canada. This good, would take the form of scholarships, mentoring etc. Now, both the CAG and the FMC have provided a few scholarships and the prominence of Caribbean culture has skyrocketed in Toronto since 1967. I think, being a force for good in the community is good for business and is good for the festival.
We do need idealists in the organization, people who want to engage the community and help grow the festival by making the community stronger. If you are going to achieve these goals you need to generate revenue. You can complain for another forty six years about how much “economic impact” the festival has, or, you can generate your own money.
If you are serious about your mandate, why not start your own band? You engage youth and volunteers in your community to make your costumes and you charge enough to cover your costs and any profit goes towards running the community programs that you want to support. You guys are already doing this for the Caribana flags and colours festival.

If you have supporters, you can sell costumes. You can start off as a guest band, that way, you parade early in the day. You tap into the older folks that can’t deal with the thick crowds in the afternoon and who might be encouraged to play if they know the profits go to support a good cause. You have inexpensive sections aimed at the youth to try and bring the stormers in out of the cold. You say you want to engage them right?   I’m not talking about T-shirts, I think a t-shirt band is a bunch of stormers wearing bank logos. I support the idea of a non profit band hiring youth and teaching them the art of creating mas.           

I think CAG has a choice, they need to decide if they can most effectively serve the community by working alongside the other carnival groups, or continue their efforts to gain control of the festival.

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