While in no way advocating for or supporting events that could cause a spike in Covid-19 cases, the Carnival should not be left to die without creative expression in some form during the pandemic.
This is where organisations like the National Carnival Commission come in. We note that as the Carnival community and economy struggle to find their footing under the siege of Covid-19, the NCC’s failure to provide leadership has become increasingly stark. What is the point of the NCC if, when faced with a pandemic-sized challenge to the national festival, the entity charged with its responsibility shows no capacity for rising to a creative response?
The danger of the social and economic vacuum created by the cancellation of Carnival is that it may actually serve to increase the spread of Covid-19. One would have to know nothing about the importance of Carnival to T&T’s society and economy to assume it can be outlawed without subversion. Carnival was born out of subversion and has built itself on subversion, notwithstanding the stultifying impact of the State on its progress.
Already, the subversion is becoming evident as people hatch strategies for beating the system of public health regulations. Some of it is highly innovative and points to future directions for expanding the global market for our music and feteing. Some, like private get-togethers fuelled by alcohol, are downright dangerous, even if legal.
We note the “Covid Carnival” suggestions by the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA), but find the proposals impractical with the heightened risk of spiking infection. What DOMA shares with the Government and the NCC, however, is a limited view of Carnival as a two-day parade. Trinidad Carnival is a season of multiple dimensions that Carnival 2021 could have more safely explored without courting Covid-19 danger.
It remains unclear what role, if any, the NCC had in the decision announced by the Prime Minister last September to cancel Carnival 2021. What was evident, however, was that the decision was taken without consideration to re-imagining Carnival under pandemic conditions. How ironic that the grandest showcase of our creativity should be failed by a lack of creativity.
When tested by the challenge of change in an industry with annual revenues estimated at somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion, Dr Rowley fell short of his own exhortation to the committee charting the Government’s post-pandemic Roadmap for Recovery. As he put it then, “the disruption we’re experiencing also brings with it the opportunity to create new and more resilient economies and societies that potentially have a better chance at achieving sustainable growth and development...”.
Instead of exploring how Carnival 2021 could be re-conceptualised, the Government went straight to “no Carnival”, shutting out and shutting down the single largest creative community and constituency of entrepreneurs in this country. The possibility that the challenge could have been handed to them to design a Covid-proof “new and more resilient” Carnival, to quote the PM, was not even on the cards. For its part, the NCC, comfortably ensconced in its $36.5 million budget allocation of which roughly $9 million goes to salaries, has had nothing to offer.
With the Carnival jumbie beginning to stir, the battle against Covid-19 could be entering its toughest phase yet. It may be already too late to stop the Carnival. The authorities must very carefully weigh the options of confrontation and collaboration.