BitDepth#873 - February 19

An open letter to Allison Demas on managing Carnival 2013,
Dear Allison
Shalima Buckreedee-Alfred leads her small band of Red Indians playing Satinka, Magical Dancer on the Queen’s Park Savannah Stage. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

If you’d asked me in November what to do on your first day at the National Carnival Commission, I have to confess that I would have told you, “Quit.”

You’re a smart, qualified and committed young woman and while those are qualities that might seem ideal for the job, the task is so relentlessly Sisyphean and the forces arrayed against you so devoted to a stale, hopelessly out-of-date notion of Carnival that it seemed criminal to spend your productive, youthful years in such a bleak salt mine.

That was then, and this is now. I don’t agree with the vituperative demands that you quit over the abysmal horror that was Dimanche Gras, though somebody needs to get a permanent boot for that.
I like that you’ve stepped up and acknowledged the failings of this year’s events. It’s absolutely in character, and you need to hold on to that sense of yourself over the coming year, which I can promise will test you thoroughly.

There’s no question that you were handed a mess of pottage ten weeks ago, that you were unable to turn it into a flavourful soup is hardly surprising.
With a full year ahead and challenges aplenty, here’s what I think you should do.

Exercise your authority.
You are the chairman and by inference, the chief commissioner. It’s a term that has many different connotations, but in the case of the National Carnival Commission, which attempts to make one cohesive Carnival event out of the contributions of three key stakeholders, might usefully be read as the guiding leader of the process.

Over time, and I’ve had at least one cousin and two people I really liked in the role, it seems that the job has come to mean “facilitator-in-chief,” and that’s simply not good enough anymore.
He who has the gold makes the rules and the river of cash that flows through the NCC to Carnival’s stakeholders should confer some kind of leveraging authority over intent and execution in the festival.

Insist on a five-year plan.
A real one, with clear developmental purpose that will take us from today’s aimless meandering and give the future of Carnival a fighting chance. That’s going to mean slapping down many crabs in the lunatic's barrel you’re in charge of who remain keen to keep crawling over each other.

Carnival has three stakeholders who aren’t represented in discussions about the future of the festival at all, the audience, the masqueraders and the media, all of whom have an important role to play in its future development.
It’s the absence of these voices from key Carnival decision making processes that leads to stupid decisions like
No Carnival plan should proceed without real representation from all stakeholders.

Clarify Carnival’s licensing issues.
Everybody talks about how much money there is to be made in Carnival, but nobody has built a mansion or even bought an SUV off of the resale of imagery captured during the event. I defy anyone to prove otherwise.
It’s clear there is less money in Carnival coverage than there is in planting pumpkin and cucumber or even, for that matter, peas in Tobago.

I’m a hair’s breadth from making a serious proposal to the national media that we create a wide space along the Carnival route for coverage, only allow bandleaders to cross if they agree to reasonable licensing terms on a simple form and only cover the bands that agree to pass there.
If you thought the Grandstand was empty this Carnival Tuesday, imagine what would happen if all the cameras were removed from it and placed where the media had control over the design of the space.

Haul the NCC into the 21st century
There’s a type of irony that this section, written in excess of my Guardian column word count, will appear only online here, which will make it essentially invisible to everyone it addresses, except, I hope, you.
To this day, even after being told so
two years ago to their collective face, a search on Google turns up page after page of links to steelbands that do not operate out of Trinidad and Tobago.

Calypsonians have a reluctant presence on local music downloads website, but it’s soca artistes who rule in that space. Most will never have a recorded version of their music available. Why not work with TUCO and Pan Trinbago to create board recordings of tent performances and Panorama presentations and make them available for sale at reasonable prices online?

Four years after I suggested these ideas and both TrinidadTunes and Kenny Phillips opened discussions with Pan Trinbago to make it happen, nothing has been done through a remarkably unproductive blend of ignorance, fear and bullheadedness. I’m planning to have a chat with the folks at CarnivalTV, whose apparently unquenchable love for the festival has brought them head to head with all the forces at play in its organisation that serve with such admirable diligence to keep Carnival in the most primitive state possible.

The cracks are showing everywhere Carnival, Allison. Somebody has to have the courage to break it and put it all back together in a way that makes sense. I’m hoping you will be that person.

By the mandate...
According to the NCC’s website the commission’s function is as follows...

a. The regulation, co-ordination or conduct of all Carnival activities throughout the country held under the aegis of the Government
b. The development, maintenance and review of rules, regulations and carnival festivities throughout the country
c. The identification , evaluation and promotion of all Carnival related industries with a view, to the enhancing and marketing of their cultural products and services; and
the development and implementation of a marketing strategy for Carnival with a view to optimizing the revenue earning potential of the festival and its contribution to the national economy, considering:-
the unexplored potential of Carnival;
the possibility of marketing of carnival products and activities in domestic and export markets;
the contribution by the private sector to the funding of specific aspects of Carnival; and
the establishment of closer promotional links between the tourist industry and the carnival industry

The objectives of the State oversight organisation are...
To make Carnival a viable, national, cultural and commercial enterprise;
To provide the necessary managerial and organisational infrastructure for the efficient and effective presentation and marketing of the cultural products of Carnival
To establish arrangements for ongoing research, the preservation and permanent display of the annual accumulation of Carnival products created each year by the craftsmen, musicians, composers and designers of Carnival.

Fixin' Carnival
CarnivalTV, 2013
Copyright and Cacada
Tradition and Commerce
Carnival's Axis of Copyright
The Images of Carnival (Video)
Morning Edition on Carnival copyright (Video)
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