The news that Antigua and Barbuda decided to withdraw from hosting the 15th edition of CARIFESTA, CARICOM’s cultural olympics, slated for August is somewhat to be expected given the current challenges COVID-19 continually poses.
The Antigua and Barbuda government said the decision comes “in light of the continued challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and its prolonged devastating impact not only on the economy of Antigua and Barbuda but also on the entire Caribbean Community.”
The Antiguan Minister responsible for Education, Sports, and the Creative Industries, Daryll Matthew, said: “After a careful examination of the current epidemiological and economic circumstances, which now exist, this difficult decision was taken by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. We are tremendously saddened by this development and reiterate our commitment to this very important regional festival.”
CARICOM Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett said the decision was regrettable but understandable.
She stated that CARICOM was grateful to Prime Minister Gaston Browne and, by extension, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, for the enthusiasm and commitment to regional integration through culture. She said CARICOM was still anticipating that another opportunity would present itself in the future for Antigua and Barbuda to host the renowned cultural expo.
CARIFESTA, the Caribbean Festival of Arts, is an international multicultural event that started in 1972. The main purpose is to gather artists, musicians, authors, dramatists and vendors to exhibit manifestations of our region.
Now that Antigua and Barbuda has decided to pull out, this begs the question: Will the show go on? We strongly believe it should. The pandemic has provided us with the opportunity to rethink, redesign and redo the way we have done many things for many years.
Given what CARICOM countries are battling right now, we would never recommend a CARIFESTA in its traditional form. But we believe that as a collective body, CARICOM is more than able to produce a virtual event that would still showcase the talents and arts of our Caribbean people.
Preserving and celebrating our cultural identity must always be paramount no matter what we face. We have to believe in our heritage, our people and our identity, and especially our resilience. This is what makes the region unique and sets us apart from others in a special way.
If we revisit some of the original goals of the festival, we would not cancel it. CARICOM should feel duty-bound to stage it given its worth to each country. The CARIFESTA website states a slew of objectives and here are some worth sharing.
· To establish and celebrate the arts as the most important dynamic in the process of self-affirmation of the Caribbean personality.
· To maximise people participation in the arts, promote integration and intensify the interaction between the people and the artists of the region.
· To deepen the awareness and knowledge of the Caribbean Community through an ongoing process of exposing each other’s culture.
· To positively advance our culture at home, throughout the diaspora and the world.
· To expose children and Caribbean youth to the arts and traditions of the region as a basis for building vibrant and dynamic institutional support for their development as citizens of the future Caribbean.
· To encourage excellence by bringing masters and youth together to initiate systems of apprenticeship for young artists.
· To promote the development of cultural industries and merchandising in order to maximise the economic potential of CARIFESTA and the arts, for the benefit of the artists and Caribbean societies as a whole.
During this pandemic officials continually lament the struggling economies and a tourism sector that will take years to rebound. Oftentimes we focus so much on tourism we forget that the reason tourists flock to our part of the world is to enjoy our indigenous culture. We must never lose sight of this.
We should not therefore now miss out on a golden opportunity to embrace what is ours and show it to the globe. There is plenty money in the arts, money that can jump-start many of the ailing economies across the region. Ask Bajan superstar Rihanna who now boasts of being a billionaire – the world’s wealthiest female musician.
While the physical staging of the event may not be possible, no stone must go unturned until all other options are explored. With the technological advancements we have made there are ways to present our cultures virtually.
There are ways to showcase all that is Caribbean to the wider world. We can offer patrons what in essence is a virtual reality as they explore the arts and culture of each participating country. We can do pay-per-view events that allow our brothers and sisters in the diaspora to be a part of the celebration.
There are possibilities that have to be explored. CARIFESTA is too pivotal. We cannot be satisfied to receive news of Antigua’s withdrawal and interpret that to mean a no show. The show must go on some way, somewhere, somehow. Our region deserves it. At a time when the pandemic has daunted so many spirits, CARIFESTA could prove quite therapeutic.