CARIFESTA: WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT ALPHIE?
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.”