Why is there a decline in patronage in the Tobago Heritage Festival?
Well-known cultural advocate John Arnold raised this question on Monday during the Tobago Heritage Consultation Symposium at Mt Irvine Bay Resort.
The event, hosted by the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, examined strategies to preserve Tobago's tangible and intangible heritage.
It also explored fusion and innovation as a vehicle for preservation and presented opportunities to document feedback and recommendations from cultural stakeholders.
Arnold, who was the moderator of the consultation, zeroed in on the Tobago Heritage Festival, which is held annually in July.
He said although the festival has achieved much success since its debut in 1987, patronage has dwindled within recent years.
"One of the things that we note now is that we don't have the same following in terms of large audiences as in those early times. That is a question we will probably have to look at and we have to ask ourselves, 'Why?'" Arnold told participants, who included representatives from several of Tobago's cultural groups and secondary school students.
Arnold, who is the founder and artistic director of the Signal Hill Alumni Choir, recalled the festival was a huge success in its early years.
He said: "During those days, one could recall the Heritage Festival was almost like a virus. And it was almost like everybody was onto it."
Arnold recalled at one time being summoned to a meeting with late prime minister Patrick Manning to discuss the festival after there had been a change in leadership within the Tobago House of Assembly.
"I am just showing you how important the festival was, that the prime minister summoned me to his office to discuss a particular matter – it was that important. And I think the festival has grown, but we have to ask ourselves, is it time to change? We have to look at it. What do we do?"
Arnold said the discussion on the way forward for the festival, and other major cultural events, must consider the impact of technology as well as the role of state agencies like Music TT, Creative TT and the National Trust in the collaborative process.
He said festival, heritage tourism and destination marketing are also niches that Tobago can explore. Arnold also wondered about the impact of intellectual property on the island's festivals.
Arnold said the Heritage Festival was conceptualised with three objectives: to preserve Tobago's indigenous artforms; to develop a festival that would be synonymous with Tobago; and to sell the island as a holiday destination.
Of the latter, he said: "The idea was to have the festival develop in such a way that persons will come to the destination to see and participate."
In this regard, Arnold praised the work of late cultural icon and anthropologist Jacob Delworth Elder, whose pioneering efforts paved the way for the festival.
"Dr Elder's vision was that the people celebrated the festival and to him, the only way we could keep and preserve it was to celebrate it in an annual basis so that it is passed on to generations."