The NCC: a failure and embarrassment

NCC head office, St Clair, Port of Spain.  - SUREASH CHOLAI
NCC head office, St Clair, Port of Spain. - SUREASH CHOLAI

AT THE end of 2020, National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters ended any speculation that the commissioning body of Carnival might try to present a contemporary event online.

Declaring that TT cannot have a virtual Carnival, he promised, “an antecedental look at what Carnival in TT is all about, historical as it is.

“What we are going to be doing is compiling a lot of what we have,” Peters promised.

This was the result of three months of deliberation after the NCC promised stakeholder consultations on “restructuring, innovating and digitally promoting Carnival” in September.

In 2014, I turned my back on the Queen’s Park Savannah after more than 30 years of photographing the festival at that venue. For decades, I’d been part of a cadre of journalists and photographers who showed up to work in conditions delineated and defined by contempt.

The gulf between that sacred stageside purgatory and the air-conditioned suites where champagne flowed at the apex of the Grand Stand defined the gap between the intent of the NCC and its appalling execution.

The visual documentation of Carnival was formally managed as a nuisance to be tolerated. Better to enjoy the event with Moet from behind a window at a suitable distance from its messy reality. I do not know Winston Peters, but I’m sure he means well.

That doesn’t excuse or remedy the many years of institutional misadventure that have characterised the NCC’s role as a tool of political control or its tone-deaf management of the festival.

The NCC and its predecessor, the Carnival Development Committee, have never been about evolving the festival. There has never been any serious attempt either to understand or guide its growth. The people of this country want Carnival, and therefore the NCC shall deliver it in abundance. Until covid19.

Now there is no event to stage, and I need not ask about the archives that Peters referenced. There are none to speak of, because a political organisation only needs archive material for propaganda. In 2021, there is nothing to spin. The crippling confusion that the NCC faces is unsurprising. It has never understood the festival it convenes.

It has built the structures, dispensed the funds, kowtowed to politicians, handed out thousands of largely meaningless trophies and thrown a cloak of culture over a shambles of mismanagement, but it has only ever been an engine of continuance, not a source of invention.

Now that there is a need to reimagine Carnival, it must confront its own complete lack of institutional imagination. A plan to fall back on a nonexistent visual history is doomed to failure. No money has been spent to create and preserve a media archive of the festival.

The single most important and comprehensive record of Carnival is vested in the Norton Collection, produced for a half-century in the face of CDC/NCC scorn. I am being gentle when I describe the NCC’s attitude toward documentation as scornful.

The disdain and disinterest of the NCC to documentation filters down to the operational level as simple thuggery. From the police officers on horseback who once dressaged between masqueraders and the public, the journalists dodging between them, to a tragic assault by security personnel on filmmaker Horace Ove when he dared to make photographs of traditional mas, the NCC has overseen a destructive misunderstanding of the role of the visual arts in Carnival.

Hosea 8:7 warns that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. The NCC demonstrates its obverse. Having invested nothing in its own history, it is now left with only the barren fields of its short-sightedness.

Mark Lyndersay

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there.


"The NCC: a failure and embarrassment"

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