Membership organization must run Caribana
By AJAMU NANGWAYA
There are many people who view Caribana as a purely cultural and psychic experience. Unfortunately, they miss an equally important component of this festival. It is an annual economic boost to Canada’s economy to the tune of $438 million. Increasingly, carnivals and the cultural industries of which they are a part are being seen as potential economic drivers for sustainable development.
Dr. Keith Nurse of the University of the West Indies in a paper The Cultural Industries and Sustainable Development in Small Developing States asserts that “the cultural industries play a dual role (in development) in that it is an economic sector with growth potential and an arena for identity formation”.
Caribana has the potential to play such a function in the community. But my focus here is on the economic possibilities.
Caribana is by far the most successful, collectively-owned asset that has been created by the African Caribbean community in Canada. This festival has its roots in the political resistance and cultural creativity of the African working-class or labouring classes in the Caribbean. However, there is one persistent feature that has remained with Caribana and its sister carnivals in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, New York, Barbados and elsewhere. This problematic issue is that the African working-class does not reap the bulk of the economic returns from its cultural productions.
The members of this class do not own the hotels, the major retail establishments, car and truck rental companies, eateries, clubs, airlines and other modes of transportation, and do not set the priority on how the taxes generated from the festivals should be spent. The estimated US$30 million from Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival-related visitor arrivals, the ₤93 million revenue of the Notting Hill carnival in London and the over US$200 million from the West Indian Day Parade in New York do not significantly contribute to the material welfare of the race-cum-class grouping that makes this income possible.
In what ways could the community use Caribana to contribute to its economic, social and cultural development? I will briefly outline five ideas that I believe may contribute to a community-controlled festival that will collectively reward its creators for their cultural, physical and intellectual creativity, innovation and effort.
Firstly, any organization that organizes the two-week festival that is Caribana must be a democratically-controlled, membership-based one. This carnival is a collective resource and for most of its history it was organized and managed by the people. Currently, Caribana is managed by the Festival Management Committee (FMC) that was born out of the financial coercion levied against the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) in 2006 by the City of Toronto. Funding was withdrawn from the CCC as the traditional organizer of Caribana and given to the FMC (which was established by the City for that purpose).
Even the most informed Caribana fan in Toronto would find it difficult to tell you how many members are on the board of directors of the FMC and give you their names. This information is like a classified state secret of Canada’s secret police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Caribana is a people’s festival and its affairs should be democratically-determined by the people. This summer festival should not be controlled by a “private club” or a “secret society” of faceless notables backed by private corporations and the different levels of government.
Secondly, we need to transform Caribana into a year-round operation with activities, initiatives, programs and attractions that will generate revenue and bring people from outside and inside the city to its sponsored events. The Calgary Stampede is a 365-day affair, although the actual festival is a 10-day event that generates $173 million in economic impact. This western-themed enterprise employs 1,200 permanent employees to carry out its day-to-day activities and an additional 3,500 workers for the festival. Its total estimated annual economic impact is $353 million.
Caribana is a two-week festival with an economic impact of $438 million in 2009. Can you imagine what its economic contribution would be if the infrastructure and resources were in place to make it a year-round affair? It would provide direct employment opportunities to members of the community as well as indirect employment through activities or tourism products related to conferences on cultural productions and resistance, educational workshops, theatrical productions, mounting of annual exhibitions and national and international tours of said products and schools of art on costume designing and production, just to name a few.
One thing that should be made clear is that the different levels of government must fund Caribana in the same way that they do with White-controlled cultural institutions. In April 2009, the government of Ontario gave a grant funding of $43.4 million to the following six White-directed organizations: the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Ontario Science Centre, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Royal Botanical Gardens. The provincial government allotted $24.8 million of that money as permanent annual funding, which increased the total operational grant to the six favoured cultural organizations from $56 million to $80.8 million. The federal government gave $3 million each to the Toronto International Film Festival and the Strafford Festival in April 2009 from its Marquee Tourism Events Program. Yet Caribana received a mere $415,000 from the same fund in that year.
As a year-round operation, Caribana would likely leave its privileged cultural siblings gasping for breath in the cultural industries’ economic impact “Olympics.” It is already the biggest grossing festival in the country.
It should be clear that Canada provides life-line or strategic funding to cultural organizations. Therefore, the community and its allies should politically organize their forces to challenge the state’s current practice of using cultural racism to determine the allocation of funding to arts groups.
Thirdly, the organization that will be charged with the responsibility of running Caribana should be a relevant force in funding community development projects. Caribana's pioneers were committed to the goals of building a community centre, providing educational scholarships to young people and advancing other social objectives. These have yet to be realized.
However, when one examines the Calgary Stampede one would quickly realize that the aim of making Caribana a major contributor to community development is not the obsession of an overactive mind. The Calgary Stampede Foundation, an arm of the Calgary Stampede, doles out over $2.5 million per year to youth development projects. The foundation's mandate also allows it to "support endeavours pertaining to the arts, agriculture, the environment and capital improvement projects."
A Caribana-directed charitable community foundation should be expected to fund initiatives that build the capacity of the community to fight all forms of oppression, encourage cooperative economic projects in the cultural fields and other arenas, finance educational scholarships, fund festival arts training and development, and promote cultural projects that affirm culture as a weapon of struggle. Carnival in the Caribbean came out of resistance to racist and capitalist domination.
This community foundation should have a broad mandate so as to allow it to make an impact in many areas of community life. When members of the community make workplace payroll deductions to charitable causes, this community development foundation should get the lion's share of those donations. After all, charity starts at home!
Fourthly, the Africans who created carnival did so in an environment in which their labour was brutally enslaved or exploited by capitalism. Therefore, Caribana should develop a mandate to promote an economic practice that doesn't support the abuse of labour. It should commit resources to a community-controlled technical assistance and cooperative development organization that would create and/or expanded business organizations that are owned, controlled and managed by the workers - worker cooperatives.
Worker cooperatives need help in areas such as setting up the legal structure, access to financing, education to prepare the worker-members for economic democracy, development of a business plan, and doing a feasibility study. Caribana could even donate funds for the creation of a Chair in Labour Self-management at one of the local universities to further research on worker self-management of industry and commerce. This money would also be used to facilitate the development of courses and educational and training programs for existing and potential worker-owners and students of labour self-management.
In the African community, some of us often looked at certain racialized communities' business districts or business "success" as models worthy of being copied. It is my belief that the African-Canadian working-class should not seek salvation in business models that continue to exploit labour.
We should not be fooled by the appearance of pan-ethnic solidarity, which the owning classes use to mask labour exploitation and wage-slavery. I am with the late poet, lesbian and feminist Audre Lorde on her assertion that: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Cooperative economics should be a part of a broad economic justice strategy.
Lastly, the corporations that swallow the lion's share of the over $400 million produced by Caribana must return a part of that income to the creators of this cultural golden goose. The hotels in the GTA must give more than just rooms to the organizers of the festival.
It should contribute cash through their individual operations as well as through the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA). According the Ipsos Reid economic impact study of Caribana, about 300,000 overseas visitors participated in the festival in 2009 and spent an average of $901.87 per person. It means that they are spending over $270.5 million dollars into the economy. Overall, Caribana's patrons spend $101.8 million on accommodation.
Lodging accommodation is by far the largest expenditure of overseas visitor and it was pegged at $311.68 per person. An estimated $68 million were spent by international visitors on the renting of hotel rooms; 73 per cent of them stayed in hotels. The GTHA collects a 3 per cent Destination Marketing Fee (DMF) on guest rooms that are occupied for less than 30 days. That dedicated revenue is used to market and promote Toronto as a tourism destination and its 2009 projected take from the DMF was just over $26 million. The GTHA should give a part of that money directly to Caribana.
The GTHA currently channels that DMF money through Tourism Toronto, which had a budget of $31.1 million in 2010. Interestingly, Tourism Toronto claimed to have spent $100,000 on Caribana out of its Leveraged Coop Marketing Fund (LCMF) in 2009. But it spent $500,000 on Luminato, $250,000 on LGBT Partnership (OTMP), $150,000 on Air Canada's Luxury Partnership and $100,000 on Just for Laughs Toronto in 2009 from the same marketing fund. And we thought that Caribana, as the jewel in the festival economic impact crown, would have received its fair share of that $1.6 million LCMF in 2009.
The following industry sectors benefit greatly from Caribana and must make financial contributions to it: food and beverage services; retail trade; arts, entertainment and recreation; manufacturing; wholesale trade, information and cultural industries; ground passenger transportation; construction; utilities; and car renting and leasing.
The capitalists and the governments who benefit from the festival are prone to tell workers and the poor that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" or "you don't get something for nothing." Therefore, they will have no difficulty in understanding that they must pay to ride this gravy train called Caribana.
This Caribana meal ticket will now come with a price tag. In all my years in Toronto, I have never heard so many people, who are by no means radical in political opinion, arguing for the cancellation of Caribana to send a message to the governments and businesses that profit from the festival.
Ajamu Nangwaya is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto and a labour activist.
The above article first appeared in Share Newspapers, a publication that is directed at the African and Caribbean community in Toronto.