‘Covid-19 will force us to re-build our economy,’ I wrote nearly two years ago, in April 2020. ‘We should place our vibrant performing arts at the core of the recovery agenda, not merely with the disproportionate focus on one transitory carnival season, which we may not even have in 2021.
‘Its absence clears the way for re-consideration of diversification of the economy through the creative sector and to do so on a varied multi-seasonal basis.’
I have always seen the wider perspective of the performing arts. Carnival is a prime annual artistic expression of music, dance, theatre and design over a six-week period.
During those preceding weeks, Carnival contains artistic expression at least equal to that of the Mardi Gras days that Carnival Monday and Tuesday have become.
The carnival season should be re-engineered and re-branded, recognising that it is a first-quarter-of-the-year festival. It can be usefully expanded and marketed as a first quarter festival running from January to March into which 200 events, not all necessarily directly related to the current and now unsatisfactory carnival product, can be inserted to comprise a refreshed tourism product.
The creative soul of Trinidad and Tobago is strong and vibrant. The arts and culture sector is our other oil. Sadly, the sector has been ritualistically bragged about but never brought mainstream into our economic life. Marketing has been ineffective.
There is only an embryonically defined funding policy and no plan or policy to separate the marketable cream and the traditional, worth preserving from the dilutions—although dilutions, such as more calypso tents than the market can bear, some quite mediocre, are supported by state funds.
Readers will recall that I also have a bigger dream to solidify multi-seasonal performing arts bases with events at their respective cores, like the jazz arts, African and Indian sub-continent heritage, culinary and fashion month tours, as well as Divali and Hosay expressions, provided that, in the case of the religion-based festivals, we consult their leaders so as not to make the sacred profane.
It will not surprise readers to know that nearly every word written above is drawn from previous columns of mine, as are the references to 2018 and 2019 below. I draw on those columns to underline the failure of the Culture and Tourism ministries of successive governments and the compound failure now playing out in 2022.
As is painfully obvious, we have a last-minute ‘Taste of Carnival’ hustled up for 2022, amply demonstrating that the current administration missed the enforced opportunity for enlightened reconsideration of the carnival product.
We missed the opportunity even though the current Minister of Tourism and Culture well knew that, despite ‘the Government spending more than $500 million in promoting Carnival over the last ten years, Trinidad and Tobago failed to get a significant return in terms of its investment’. — Trinidad Express, 27 September 2018.
The Minister, Senator Randall Mitchell, also acknowledged the decline in the number of visitors. Yet, we see the same old narrow political strategy of the ill-considered throwing of some dollars at the performing artistes after the favoured contractors and suppliers make plenty bucks.
It was put this way by Mr Kwasi Robinson, an economic development officer, in a report in the Newsday, in 2019:
“When you look at who makes significant money from Carnival, it is not the revellers or the people who make it happen. It is sound-system people, lights, people who rent toilets, tables and chairs.
“What we need now is to re-align our expenditure to make sure that money is in the hands of the masmen, the pan players, the calypsonians, because they are [the people] who provide the content for the Carnival.”
It is clear therefore that the Ministry and the National Carnival Commission (the NCC), behind which the Ministry tries to hide did nothing meaningful with time on their hands during the Covid stall. They presided over continuing inaction in the development of the cultural and entertainment industry, which is ready made on the ground to meet the challenges of diversification, if competently led and funded accountably.
When will that day come?