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N Touch
Monday 19 February 2018
Commentary

The business of Carnival

Shell Invaders perform under the direction of arranger Arddin Herbert.

Marina Salandy-Brown writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Monday was the preliminaries of the large steelpan bands competition. I did as hundreds of other pan lovers do and followed the judges from pan yard to pan yard to hear each of the top Port of Spain contenders play their set pieces. Tonight will find me in the Queen’s Park Savannah with thousands of others for the Panorama semifinals to hear what alterations each bandleader has made in response to the first-round judging results. That ritual is one of my great pleasures of life in TT. For many, Panorama is a highlight of this country’s cultural calendar.

Hearing the pan thrill is an unforgettable experience. Apart from the sheer joy of the music itself, I marvel each time at the harmony that dozens of pans and their seasonal players can summon up and at the rendering of music in such a distinctive way. I marvel, too, at the incredible dexterity of so many pan players who do not read music and just respond to an oral description of the sound the drill man wants produced. Of course, these days, quite a few of the players are trained musicians who can read a music score and know what C-sharp or B-flat means. It is satisfying to hear how over the years the pan has been refined to produce a warm, round sound of depth and character that faithfully delivers the composers’ increasingly sophisticated and demanding interpretations of pieces of new Carnival music. And I will always marvel at the discipline and imagination that can turn a collection of metal instruments with seemingly only minor variations, except for the number each player has before him/her, into a full orchestra that can delight in its perfection.

It is amazing therefore that for all of those accomplishments steelpan bands can be an endangered species, along with so many of the other creative elements that make up this wondrous Carnival season. On the eve of the 2018 competition, Invaders, one of the top ten bands, lost its long-time sponsor. We all know that in times of economic woe companies cut their marketing budgets first, and that is the source of all company funding of the arts, unless the company has established a foundation that is endowed. Invaders was lucky enough to be rescued by Shell, who once before was their title sponsor.

Corporate social responsibility or CSR is a budget line for most large companies. It is how they pay back society for the profits they accumulate from our buying of their products and services, and the arts community has come to depend on this sponsorship but I would like to advocate that, like the steelpan men have done with their pans, companies refine their CSR operations.

Just doling out money to cultural organisations is not a responsible policy. It is clear that many cultural organisations do not have all the management and business skills necessary to run what can turn into complex businesses. Far better, therefore, to follow international best practise and ensure that organisations are properly constituted, have proper accounting and auditing systems in place, that they report annually and are always transparent and accessible. The sponsor also has a duty to keep in regular contact to help ensure that the terms of the contract are being met. Obviously, for that to happen, the sponsor has to be more than a marketing department team member counting how many times their sponsored client mentioned their name, or how many of their branded banners were used. To practise real CSR, companies must be true partners, interested in the work of the clients they have chosen to support and should aim to add value to the enterprise. Sponsorship is an investment. It is not giving away money to salve one’s conscience or share the national spoils.

Most cultural organisations believe in the work they do but need help in knowing how to be efficient and to build for the future. In the first instance, they need to be made to understand that being an artist is one skill only, running a business is quite another. The ministry responsible for arts and culture over recent years has run very useful free, on-going training workshops for arts organisations and it is instructive that the organisations responsible for the various areas of Carnival are usually underrepresented. Yet, the Carnival is plagued with troubles that threaten its very existence.

Sponsors, private or public sector, could get better results for their investments if they ensured all clients had business plans that they could buy into and which also included training and development. That way we will all be winners.

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