Sparks lit for Reinventing Region’s Premier Festival

Caribbean-Weekly`s Superb Caribbean Correspondant Marvin A. Hokstam brings you all the latest from Suinames premier, in fact, the Caribbean`s premier event, Carifesta VIII. Prepare to be dazzled.
Carifesta VIII in Suriname has come and gone, leaving organizers, participants and spectators satisfied, impressed and yearning for more. The event that got kicked off on August 24th and wound down on August 30th in the former Dutch colony achieved what organizers had aimed for -a reunion of Caribbean art and culture-, but at the same time it wasn’t business as usual. The Caribbean region took advantage of the opportunity to examine its premier festival and will now initiate the exercise of reinventing it. Recommendations were made and planning for the next Carifesta is now on hold until resolutions emerge out of the discussions on those recommendations.
The news reports coming from Suriname during the one-week cultural spectacle didn’t exaggerate. The hot August sun didn’t discourage thousands of people to come out to the Independence Square in the capital Paramaribo to witness the impressive opening ceremony. And even though there were complaints that the venue wasn’t the best choice, because it didn’t have elevated seating and not everyone could actually see the show, those that did see it all agreed: Suriname’s artistic/cultural authorities Henk Tjon and Wilgo Baarn had spared no effort.
They gave every element of Surinamese music its place: old colonial music was performed by the police and military brass bands and representatives of all ethnic groups that form the Surinamese community were blended into the impressive “ala kondre” (all nations) drum. A solemn choir of more than 50 singers accompanied throughout.
And then came the costumed participants that represented the countries that would exhibit their culture for the next week. There were the Amerindians, East Indians, Chinese ... all ethnic groups that the Caribbean is made up of, together with guests from the Far East, Europe and China. Topping it were the Surinamese Maroons, also called Bush Negroes, descendants of Africans that were brought to the New World as slaves, but ran away and started villages in the interior. 

Oh, what an exhibition of culture it was. Words will not explain it. One would actually have to see it and experience it. It was so rich that many were sure that the unexpected rain that soaked the town later that evening was prompted because Suriname’s spirits were awakened by the sudden influx of so many other spiritual beings. Who knows?
Over the next couple of days, the Carifesta VIII trail would take visitors to almost every corner of the country. Cultural activities were held in town and in the districts. The Grand Market was open every day, offering a range of artifacts presented by the visiting countries. At night performers of the participating countries performed.

In the end the impressions varied. Some felt that the organizers deserved a tap on their shoulders for a job well done. Others however felt that there had been too many gaps and hitches. The program wasn’t known even while the event had started and there was no plan for the Grand Market so visitors were left lurking in the dark in their search for the booths of the countries they wanted to visit ... There were also remarks that the Carifesta feeling didn’t trickle down into the community.  “Water under the bridge,” organizers said however. Those were complaints made during all previous Carifesta’s.
Eliminating those mishaps was exactly what officials looked at during symposia aimed at reinventing the event that was first staged in 1972. “Carifesta has matured and has made children along the way that are successful on their own. Carifesta has to be reinvented,” said Dr. Keith Nurse of the University of the West Indies, repeating calls he made two years ago to the Regional Cultural Committee.
He urged Carifesta organizers to adopt a strategic plan for the event, including a festival business model like that of the Olympics and the Miss Universe events. “Countries have to bid to host those events and if they do win the bid, the organization parachutes organizers into that country to set up things. If the country isn’t ready they pull out again,” he said.
The economist who visited and looked at previous Carifesta’s suggested that the Regional Cultural Committee be transformed into a “Carifesta Company Ltd”. In his view Carifesta relies too heavily on volunteers and not enough paid, professional staff. He said the event organization at present lacks clearly defined goals, objectives and targets. Economic impact should be measured, tourism impact should be boosted, merchandising opportunities enhanced, commercialization processes deepened and marketing and promotion of Caribbean arts strengthened. The business model he proposed also entailed the introduction of a Carifesta assessor, whose sole task is to ensure excellence of the presentations during the event.
Nurse, also the chairman of the Association of Caribbean
Economists also proposed that a fixed schedule for the event be adopted. In his view the current infrequency ads to the limited knowledge in the Caribbean about its biggest cultural festival, which makes it hard to market. Carifesta was initially supposed to be held every five years, but in the past there were gaps of up to 11 years (Barbados 1981 to Trinidad 1992). Nurse suggested that the festival be held every two years, so it remains in people’s minds.
Nurse’s views will form the basis of proposals that will be tabled during a special intercessional meeting of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). “One of the major recommendations is that Caricom secretariat should establish a task force, which will then draft an operational plan that will be developed into the business model that Dr. Nurse is recommending. The business model will be discussed during the intercessional meeting of Caricom Heads of Government in February 2004. We got to start acting almost immediately,” said Dr. Carol Bishop, Caricom’s Carifesta Coordinator.
She expressed the hope that the businessplan would be ready for discussion by February, so the criteria for which country would host the festival next could be set. “Traditionally, at the end of each Carifesta, there is a symbolic handing-over to the next host country, because we know in advance where it will be next. The whole idea is to know at least two Carifesta’s down the road what the venues will be. But since this wasn’t business as usual we had to hold on that preparation. Hopefully after the intercessional meeting the bidding process can start for which country will be next,” she said.Dr. Bishop revealed that Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Lucia have expressed an interest. “But we cannot make a definite announcement, until those elements are in place. We have told them that -if we are going to be serious about looking at a new situation for Carifesta- we cannot accept a bid on a first come, first serve basis,” she said.She said the aim now was not to let the enthusiasm that got sparked during Carifesta VIII go to waste. “Carifesta has been held sporadic in the past. One of the things I’m sure the task force will be proposing is that there should be a fixed schedule. Two years has been suggested and I think there will be a compromise of three years, so there is a calendar and the event is in the consciousness of all artists and artistic groups,” she said.RECHART THE RUINS In stressing the need for reinventing Carifesta to ensure its continuance, Dr. Bishop cited Trinidadian artist Leroy Clarke, who at the closing ceremony on Saturday August 24th called for institutions and bodies that will help Caribbean people establish the best of themselves and their expressions of wisdom, be it in music, in painting, literature, architecture and sculpture. “We need to re-chart the ruins. We need to insist that those foundations are established. The Caribbean should help the artist to emerge in all facets and glory. Even if it was done in a very limited way now, it is time that our artists are recognized by our highest policy makers.” Caricom, she said, is very clear about fostering the unity among the artists and helping as much as possible all Caricom member states to live up on the standards of excellence that were set in Suriname.