It is tempting to conclude that the Merry Monarch’s reign this year will be far from merry given the State’s announcement of cuts across the board. However, while many stakeholders will no doubt be adversely affected by both a reduction of taxpayer funding as well as reduced ticket receipts, the lean times are not all doom and gloom. The reduced funding is actually an opportunity for stakeholders to prioritise and to devise more creative ways of working together in order to preserve our cultural traditions. In some cases, the cuts could actually push organisers to devise ways to remain more sustainable in the long-run.
Undoubtedly, some sectors will feel the cuts more than others. A survey of the state of the traditional calypso tents makes it clear that things have been tough there even before Finance Minister Colm Imbert made his announcement of a one-third cut last week.
“Sometimes, it is more of a sacrifice than a business,” says manager of the Woodbrook-based tent, Divas, Dr Rudolph Ottley, when asked about business. Indeed, calypso, perhaps more than any other indigenous art form, has failed to keep up with the times or to engage new audiences.
“We have not been able to nurture a younger public, who are more focused on the soca monarch,” says Ottley.
If audiences have been slowly and steadily dying over the years, then calypso stakeholders themselves must begin to ask serious questions. Why has calypso stagnated and soca taken off? What are soca artists doing that calypsonians are not? It is also useful to look within the Calypso arena itself. While the tents are not doing well, some calypsonians remain very relevant, especially on the international scene. Last year, 2017, was a great one for Calypso Rose, who has been able to tap into international markets in a way that has not always been replicated by other artists.
So cuts, while undoubtedly crippling, are also opportunities for serious soul-searching. They call for artists to do what they do best: exercise creativity. This relates to both content and form. Our Carnival artists must look at ways in which they can improve what they have to offer as well as the way in which it is offered.
This applies to both traditional practitioners as well as fete promoters who will be competing for market share.
It is time to take a hard look at the creativity behind Carnival and to see if we can do it much more economically. Tough questions have to be asked. For instance, do we need a North Stand outside of Panorama? Are we spreading our resources too thinly over the season? Or should we simply focus on discrete, high-impact events that can generate revenue?