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More to festival

Crop-Over Festival 2013 is here. Whether or not we are ready for it nationally, the annual grand party that envelops the island at this time each year and consumes so much of our energy and attention until the first Monday in August is upon us.

While it was not the official start of that calendar of events we are so fond of referring to as “more than a carnival”, last Saturday night’s first Cavalcade, with its tribute to the Great Carew, signalled that the revelry has started.

Given the national penchant for partying and the fact that thousands of Barbadians just can’t seem to wait for the next opportunity to blow off some steam, let their hair down and let it all hang out, perhaps made so much more necessary by the stress of the current hard times, there are lots of questions the society needs to ask itself about the direction in which we are headed with Crop-Over.

Today, however, we are interested in focussing on one over-arching question: whether we are truly conscious of the magnitude of the festival as an area of economic activity, and whether the approach we have been taking is maximising its true potential value.

There are scores of stores in Bridgetown, Speightstown and the other growing commercial centres of Barbados that depend on the stepped-up activity of the festival in order to survive the other months of less vigorous commerce. The same goes for vendors of all variety as well as the big “merchants” who profit so handsomely from the revelry.

But why is it so hard for the National Cultural Foundation and the various promoters/organisers to get them to spend some of what they earn on building the festival? We do not have to look hard to see all the commercial entities that piggyback on the festival, but like Caesar, either openly or tacitly, wash their hands of any involvement in its promotion.

Then there is the State involvement. While chairmen of the NCF ought not to get involved in its day to day management, their role in its success is nonetheless key — yet they are changed faster than used oil in the Oistins Bay Garden on Friday nights.

This rapid turn-over in policy leaders at the NCF, while it has the potential to inject fresh ideas into the mix, tends too often to result in a loss of continuity that perhaps takes away more than the new ideas bring.

Even more important than those who head the board, however, is the executive/managerial head of the organisation, and again the NCF has had too many for its own good and the good of the festival. Truth be told, we can’t think of a single head of the NCF who was not competent for the job — yet they walked off or were kicked off mid-play. Something is wrong with how our country manages an entity that contributes so many tens of millions of dollars to our gross domestic product.

Given this scenario, might it not be in our best interest to make some radical changes — but not now, please, since the festival has already started — to Crop-Over’s management? If Crop-Over contributes $80 million annually, ought it not to have its own CEO? Not a CEO of the NCF, but a CEO of Crop-Over!

And again, given the corporate giant that Crop-Over has apparently grown into, ought we not to consider appointing a board to run the festival? Not a board of the NCF, but a board of stakeholders! Not appointed by the Minister of Culture, but by the various stakeholder bodies, with the clear understanding that because they have the vote to appoint it does not mean, for example, that the calypsonians have to appoint a calypsonian or the band leaders a band leader or designer.

Where a calypso competition or a Cavalcade is to be held, the route along which bands parade, whether Junior Kadooment will start at the National Stadium or end at the National Stadium should not be made by politicians or persons who believe they have to satisfy politicians. Those are operational matters that should be left to operational managers. Politicians and their boards have every right though, to be engaged in policy formulation and development.

And, we guess, this is the appropriate time to ask about the medium- and long-range strategic plans for Crop-Over. There is no doubt that Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley, like so many of his predecessors, is passionate about the festival and has shown repeatedly that his aim is to see it succeed and grow — and for that we give him his props. But like everyone who walks this earth today, he is neither perfect nor omniscient.

There are too many who have travelled this road before and who have ideas, which, if added to the mix, could form the groundwork for a festival that is truly more than a carnival. There has to be a formula for moving the festival to clearly defined goals by identified times in the future — and the nation, particularly Crop-Over’s principal stakeholders.

For well over a decade now, it would appear to us that the grand strategy for “developing Crop-Over” has amounted to nothing more than tinkering with an event here and adding a little something there. That’s not good enough, particularly given the growth of “similar” festivals in just about every tropical paradise around us.

It’s time to take the plunge!

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