So Carifesta is chaos!
Like it or not, we must accept the statement as history supports its veracity.
Over and over again, during this ad/venture that was Carifesta XIII in Barbados, I found myself having to defend my country against criticism, which while perhaps not unwarranted, was not balanced.
How could I defend….
The poor attendance at performances?
The fact that patrons showed up for events to find venues shut down tighter than a Central Bank vault after hours?
The fact that performers showed up at call time only to be told their event had been postponed or cancelled?
The myriad other things that went wrong at Carifesta XIII?
Very simply! By citing my experiences at Carifesta in other islands!
Like the time The Barbados contingent was given keys to the Barbados booth on the day the Grand Market opened. I went in, with others, to set up our merchandise and came away wearing an apron of fresh green paint, having leaned against a wall.
Or the time we – 50+ of us dressed in black Barbados Ts – were kept broiling in the baking sun outside a venue right before the official opening ceremony because we could not be admitted without our accreditation badges with which we had not been issued although we had been on the ground for two days.
Or the time I showed up, as scheduled before leaving Barbados, to perform in a park and arrived to find a 3’ by 3’ platform with a metal chair, a mic and an amp. No host, no audience. (I performed anyway. And have pix to prove it!)
Or the time I witnessed a Carifesta volunteer grossly disrespect one of the region’s internationally celebrated authors because she had no idea to whom she was speaking so rudely, and, when informed, continued to be disrespectful and unhelpful because she didn’t care (or was too embarrassed to humble herself and apologise).
Or the time I showed up to conduct a workshop and, after finally finding the venue, discovered it was an abandoned school.
Or the time a colleague showed up to read and, after no audience arrived, was told, essentially, “Come back tomorruh!”.
Or the time…… need I go on? Really?
I say all of this to say…. Carifesta is chaos.
Having said this, I must say that Barbados did a good job of pulling off the festival it planned.
To describe the event schedule as anything other than over-ambitious is kind. Five hundred events in 10 days! What?!?!?!?! If 10% of those events came off successfully then we did well!
Considering that while the official passing of the baton took place in 2015, the official establishment of the secretariat did not occur until January 2017, we did well! (Although one wonders what took The Powers That Be so long?)
Considering that (as far as we, the public, know) planning for this event did not begin in earnest until February, 2017, we did well! (Although one wonders what took The Powers That Be so long?)
Considering that the actual implementation of some plans for this event began in June 2017, we did well! (Although one wonders what took The Powers That Be so long?)
Considering that certain necessary infrastructure could not be/was not in place until the end of Crop Over (August 7th) leaving seven working days for Carifesta infrastructure to be created – using some of the same materials, equipment and personnel deployed during Crop Over – we did damn well!
Having said ALL of that, I say: We could have done better! After all, one should not aspire to be better than the worst, but better than the best.
I’m not going to perform a post mortem of the Barbados organisational woes. First because that’s not my job. Leaving that for those paid far more than I so they can ponder such mysteries. Second, because it’s over. I had a good time! It’s over and, as good a time as I had, I’m glad it’s over!
Right now I prefer to look forward. Carifesta XIV will be hosted by Trinidad & Tobago in 2019. From informal discussions with members of their delegation to this Carifesta I’ve learned that their committee is already in place and that they have already started planning their incarnation of the festival. This gives me hope that perhaps T&T can break the mould (and I use this word intentionally and ambiguously!) of chaos that shapes and suffocates Carifesta.
What would I like to see changed? Many things, but I will settle for the following:
Respect Your Artists!
Increase your million dollar Carifesta budgets by a few more million so you can respect and honour the artists by paying them appropriately. Stop expecting us to operate for free or at significant cost to ourselves and families. Recognise that, to paraphrase one of my colleagues, National Duty is not Duty Free.
Listen more closely to and heed the advice given by those immersed in the fields. Do not plan your festival in such a way that the very community you claim to serve and celebrate is alienated by your exclusionary tactics.
See Carifesta as an opportunity to highlight the best your country has to offer artistically and culturally, not merely to espouse some bureaucrat’s vision of what the island’s arts and culture should look like. Rather than seeing the signal events as politicos’ personal cocktail parties, see them as opportunities to honour those who have spent decades building the artform in your territory. Ensure those practitioners are on your VIP lists, along with the ministers’ friends.
Create a Central Carifesta Organising Committee!
Please! It’s about time! After decades of this chaos, one would think someone would have come up with this simple solution by now (That no one appears to have done so raises the question: Who benefits from Carifesta chaos?). Create a committee which would conceptualise the template for Carifesta. Have that committee liaise with local Organising Committees in each territory to implement the protocols outlined in the template. It should lead to a much more efficient and expeditious implementation process.
Create Local and International Buy-In
I have always seen Carifesta as an opportunity to experience the entire Caribbean in one place for ten days. Why is it that the powers that be have not seen fit to promote it as such? Why are we not seeing journalists and visitors from all over the world visiting Carifesta in the same way they do the Edinburgh Festival?
Why did we not see Barbadians throng the Grand Market daily?
Perhaps partly because Bajans decided to boycott the $10 gate tax? Perhaps partly because the multi-million dollar budget didn’t provide for an adequate marketing strategy – one which would have seen Bajans buying into the concept of Carifesta in Barbados; owning “Carifesta in Barbados” and therefore unwittingly becoming ambassadors for the festival in their homes, workplaces, communities? (Notice I’m asking questions here. I really don’t know.)
In future, I would like to see Caribbean tourism organisations working together to invest in regional cultural industries by enticing visitors to come experience Carifesta. Offer them cheaper rates because… you know… hurricane season. And because they may spend some of those savings on art and craft and food and books while they’re here.
Greater Use of Social Media
Social media happens in real time. Changes in scheduling are easy to publicise via several platforms. The result is less frustration for patrons and artists, and perhaps a “thank you” or two for the information. I trust my Trinidadian friends will get this part of the process right in 2019
I live in hope.
Nailah is founder of Caribbean Passion, the Caribbean’s premier Romance series. She is the author of the Romance novellas To Star, With Love, Someone To Watch Over Me, Second Time Around, Cruising to Love and her latest (the Rihanna-inspired!), Fantasy Fulfilled. She is also the author of the YA novellas Colourblind, available on Amazon and Smashwords, and Pick of the Crop. She is currently working on the sequel to her first action/thriller novella To Protect & Serve.
To read more please visit: www.smashwords.com/profile/view/nailah