WE WELCOME our hosting of the Caribbean Festival of the Arts (Carifesta) 2019 which was officially launched on Tuesday. Carifesta XIV is an initiative that should be supported, representing an important showcase for the arts as well as a key forum for regional solidarity at a time when cross-border collaboration is needed more than ever.
Carifesta has a long history. While the first iteration was held in 1972 in Guyana, the idea of a regional arts festival got wind with the staging of the Caribbean Festival of Arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1952.
The creation of the West Indies Federation in 1958 saw the staging of a festival in Trinidad through the auspices of the Extra-Mural Department of the then University College of the West Indies. The Caribbean Writers and Artists Convention in Georgetown in 1966 and then again in 1970 cemented the idea.
Throughout its various incarnations the objectives have remained the same. Those include to celebrate artistic excellence in the region; to our heroes, myths, traditions, and ways of expression; and to show the similarities and differences of the people of the Caribbean generally.
Carifesta XIV will be the fourth time the festival is held in this country. Carifesta V, in 1992, was regarded as a watershed event in the development and promotion of arts in the region. Since then, the festival has been held here on two other occasions, in 1995 and 2006.
It is hoped our experiences will inform the efforts going into the planning for next year’s activities. It is also hoped organisers will draw upon the experience of Barbados which hosted the last event.
While Carifesta has laudable objectives, it is safe to say over the decades the festival has succumbed to a degree of inertia and has seen diminishing returns. Festivals, and festivals on the arts in particular, are difficult formats to keep relevant to a generation that is increasingly seeking entertainment elsewhere.
The challenge for Carifesta XIV will be to find new avenues to make the celebration relevant; to better reflect the wide range of artistic practice now at home in the region; and to do so without diluting the strong message of solidarity at the core of the entire festival.
We must ensure we better reflect the dynamic force of art in our process of self-affirmation and do so without reducing that art to shallow rhetoric or propaganda. And we must maximize the reach of the festival through meaningful partnerships and transparent curation and procurement.
Carifesta is not just a show. For better or worse, it reflects who we are, of our diverse and unique heritage that embraces multiple languages and extends to Latin America. We look forward to a successful event.