The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Toni Ni­cholas

The re­cent brouhaha over the fund­ing of a Saint Lu­cian con­tin­gent to at­tend the Caribbean Fes­ti­val of Arts (CARIFESTA) in Bar­ba­dos in Au­gust came as no sur­prise. Th­ese days ev­ery­thing is con­tro­ver­sially coloured red or yel­low, de­pend­ing on van­tage. “Con­sul­ta­tion” has ac­quired new mean­ing, again de­pen­dent on colours. Some in the arts com­mu­nity say they feel slighted that they were not con­sulted be­fore the gov­ern­ment de­cided it could not fully fund Saint Lu­cia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion at this year’s CARIFESTA. Of course, when the gov­ern­ment splurged a whop­ping $400,000 so that we might be rep­re­sented at CARIFESTA tax­pay­ers were never con­sulted. But that did not bother the art com­mu­nity. Not a word, not a word, not a word about con­sul­ta­tion.

My first in­dul­gence at CARIFESTA was in Trinidad in 1992. And yes, I did ex­pe­ri­ence a feel­ing of na­tional pride as I watched our per­form­ers side by side with the re­gion’s most tal­ented. I was es­pe­cially im­pressed as I took in young Michel Au­bertin in a Derek Wal­cott play while the ge­nius looked on in ob­vi­ous ad­mi­ra­tion. There were other poignant mo­ments, not least of them the pa­rade led by Saint Lu­cian drum­mers as they made their way through the fes­ti­val mar­ket.

Sev­eral times I had also bro­ken away from the fes­ti­val vil­lage to dis­cover most of the Trinida­di­ans I en­coun­tered had not a clue what was go­ing on in their own back­yard. The fes­ti­val ap­peared to have at­tracted mainly artsy in­di­vid­u­als, friends and rel­a­tives of the per­form­ers, not to men­tion politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials more or less slum­ming with par­tic­u­lar re­wards in mind.

Where were the buy­ers and re­gional ex­porters? Where were the ta­lent scouts on the look­out for the next big thing on Broad­way? Where were the fash­ion ex­perts from Mi­lan, New York and Paris? Where were the uni­ver­si­ties with schol­ar­ships on of­fer? Why was this big ex­pen­sive party be­ing held again?

The CARIFESTA web­site be­gins by de­scrib­ing the fes­ti­val as some­thing that has “as­sumed a pre-em­i­nent place among the el­e­ments that de­fine and give ex­pres­sion to the unique­ness of our Caribbean reality.” Yes, a mouth­ful of noth­ing!

Among the ob­jec­tives of CARIFESTA, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, is that it aims to es­tab­lish and cel­e­brate the arts as the most im­por­tant dy­namic force for re­flec­tion on our dreams and vi­sions in the process of self-af­fir­ma­tion of the Caribbean per­son­al­ity.

It is also sup­posed to max­i­mize par­tic­i­pa­tion in the arts, pro­mote in­te­gra­tion and in­ten­sify the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the peo­ple and the artists of the re­gion. Also “to deepen the aware­ness and knowl­edge of the di­verse as­pi­ra­tions within the Caribbean Com­mu­nity through an on-go­ing process of ex­pos­ing the peo­ples of the re­gion to each other cul­tur­ally by means of the de­vel­op­ment of our cre­ativ­ity”.

From where I stand, Car­ni­val and a num­ber of the other great fes­ti­vals that have come out of the peo­ple - Junkanoo in the Ba­hamas and Jounen Kwéyòl - de­liver more of what CARIFESTA only prom­ises. The task now is up to the var­i­ous ar­ti­sans to place them­selves within th­ese folds to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits. Maybe Ken­del Hip­polyte and Kennedy “Boots” Sa­muels, rec­og­niz­ing this, will boldly stage dur­ing this year’s car­ni­val an “ole mas” the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion. Some­thing pos­si­bly en­ti­tled “The Big Wood Man”.

Maybe the his­tory of CARIFESTA in­tri­cately tied to the cre­ation of the (failed) West Indies Fed­er­a­tion is what has given it a di­nosaur DNA. In an ever-changing world where “cre­atives” are now us­ing the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia to ex­pose them­selves and gain mar­kets, CARIFESTA has failed to evolve or even make it­self rel­e­vant. To my mind CARIFESTA has sim­ply out­lived its pur­pose and it is time to go back to the draw­ing board.

In the mean­time, if a gov­ern­ment should de­ter­mine in this un­end­ing guava sea­son that there are bet­ter things on which to lav­ish tax­pay­ers’ money, only a few might dis­agree. This might be a good time to ask what are the ben­e­fits of CARIFESTA as some of us know it. Is there a re­port some­where about what tran­spired at our last par­tic­i­pa­tion in Haiti? Are there suc­cess doc­u­mented sto­ries by the ac­com­pa­ny­ing Vlogers and videog­ra­phers?

What we need now is a clearly de­fined pol­icy that will see the trans­for­ma­tion of our education sys­tem so that it truly em­braces the arts (and sports) from early child­hood. This is where the en­gage­ment be­tween op­po­si­tion and gov­ern­ment should be­gin, if they want to be taken se­ri­ously.

When the cur­rent op­po­si­tion party boasts that when in gov­ern­ment it had ap­pre­ci­ated the value of the arts to Saint Lu­cia and there­fore had fully funded our par­tic­i­pa­tion in CARIFESTA, well, it might just as well shout about the vac­il­lat­ing virtues of VAT and STEP.

I do agree with the SLP’s point man on the sub­ject. Jerome Gideon says, “No ef­fort should be spared to en­cour­age our artistes to ex­cel and dis­play their tal­ents to the world.” How­ever, it can­not be a oneshot thing called CARIFESTA, or a team to Labour Day in New York. The process of sup­port for the arts has to be con­tin­u­ous. As I say, gov­ern­ment af­ter gov­ern­ment has failed to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of arts in schools. Our education sys­tem is still forc­ing aca­demics down stu­dents’ throats in a con­certed ef­fort to pass CXC, yet an­other out­dated CARICOM con­cept. But that’s for an­other show.

In the mean­time here is a sug­ges­tion for the artis­tic com­mu­nity and for all who’ve abruptly dis­cov­ered them­selves “in love” with the arts to chew on: how about em­bark­ing on crowd-fund­ing and a vig­or­ous cam­paign to bring to reality Derek Wal­cott’s dream of tak­ing ‘Ti Jean and His Broth­ers’ to the big screen? Now here’s some­thing truly de­serv­ing of tax-funded as­sis­tance!

“In an ever-changing world where “cre­atives” are now us­ing the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia to ex­pose them­selves and gain mar­kets, CARIFESTA has failed to evolve or even make it­self rel­e­vant. To my mind CARIFESTA has sim­ply out­lived its pur­pose and it is time to go back to the draw­ing board.”

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