Sunday 25th February , 2007

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Can Carnival ‘of the streets’ save millions?

The use of the “pitch” between Memorial Park and the Boulevard at the Queen’s Park Savannah for Carnival seems to have worked. It certainly was the only really enjoyable area during the Panorama semi-finals. If this is correct, do we really need to spend $460 million to construct a Carnival Entertainment Centre that will only be used for a few days of the year? This, as opposed to the other types of construction proposed such as the Carnival museum and artist studios.

Can we not pare down the expenditure and simply keep the Carnival on the streets with the resulting savings then used for any number of pressing social problems?

Making an early decision on this score could assist in assuaging those who lost out as a result of the confusion as to what was happening where during this year’s Carnival.

I refer in particular to Carnival vendors and the viewing public. It was my impression, for example, that there were fewer people on Carnival Tuesday, than traditionally, in upper Port-of-Spain. I did not go downtown and therefore cannot comment on the situation there. If so, then some vendors—already deprived of sales by the all-inclusive mas bands—may have suffered losses or barely broken even in their investment.

Viewing public

A radio report on Thursday suggested some possible interest by the Government in reviewing its design of the Carnival Centre at the Savannah including a statement from Culture Minister Yuille Williams that the post-mortem on Carnival will include stakeholders’ views on its design.

Hopefully, stakeholder participation will involve not only a select view but a diverse range of interests including vendors, mas and steelband players (as well as leaders) together with the viewing public without whom the streets would be a lonely, desolate place for the Carnival players.

The post-mortem needs to address the overall winners and losers, as it were, in terms of this year’s changes.

Among the losers were all those who did not make it to the Panorama finals at Skinner Park. A straw poll among my friends found only one who actually was at the Park. Many from the East West corridor, particularly Port-of-Spain, who have virtually never missed a Panorama, did not make it to South.

Of course, many from South who perhaps never made it to town, were present. The North’s loss was the South’s gain, I suppose, and maybe the powers that be may decide to keep Panorama in the Park from now on.

Yet, it is possible to have Panorama on the stretch from Memorial Park to the Boulevard, if the suggestion were to be accepted of having an enclosed Carnival City that people pay to enter.

There are two other worrisome trends—not specific to this year’s changes—which require attention.

First, is the cost of costumes. On average, with costs similar to the monthly income of many in the society, these bands really should be dubbed “all-exclusives.” Another straw poll picked up a significant number of young women—the core of the mas playing community—who simply refused to spend so much money this year.

Those earning income in other currencies—nationals and foreigners—may soon equal if not outnumber nationals in some of these bands!

How to find a space for less expensive masquerade is a challenge. I do not have the answer but note it as a problem. Why? The freedom of the streets of Carnival, in my view, has long been a concordat between the people who control the streets and those who do not.

Drowning pan

The common ground was that there was a space for all to enjoy themselves. If we move to a situation where many are excluded from enjoyment—as opposed to working as security, bar and food help, etc—then something is wrong and needs to be addressed early; very early.

Second, the steelband is being crowded out on the streets by the sheer volume of the speaker systems. The music trucks stop playing when they are virtually next to the steelband and then resume within a few yards: in both instances deafening participants from hearing steelband music.

Yet, the product that differentiates our Carnival from others anywhere else in the world—including for tourism—is the steelband. Again, I have no ready answer but think it is an issue worthy of real attention.

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