Had Guyana not stepped in for the finance-starved Bahamas and hosted the Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (Carifesta) in 2008, the premier regional showcase of film productions, dramatic plays, craft work and traditional dances might have died a natural death. But the showpiece is on again this year thanks to the generosity of authorities in Suriname.
Founded in Guyana back in 1972 to wide acclaim, the festival was supposed to be held by a different country every two years, but for the most part, very few of the governments that had indicated an interest in hosting the region’s premier cultural event have managed to keep their word, leading to a sporadic holding of the festival since then.
Al Creighton, a respected Caribbean arts critic and former deputy vice chancellor of the University of Guyana, says the festival that had promised so much back in the late 1960s and early 1970s now has a “precarious fortune” and is clearly in decline, as organizers have to scramble to find a government that will host the festival whenever the scheduled time comes around.
He cites the example of Guyana rescuing the festival by putting up its hand to replace the Bahamas in 2008 when it backed out in 2007, leaving artists in the lurch as it had cited the effects of the global economic crisis at the time. It again defaulted in 2010, pleading force majure. Anxious to make amends, the Bahamas again offered to play host in 2010 but bailed out at the last moment, blaming unchanged economic woes and again casting a pall of uncertainty over the festival’s future.
All this has prompted Jamaica-born Creighton to conclude that “the holding of Carifesta continues to be sporadic. There has been no regularity in its timetable, and from year to year, it is still never known if and when another country will volunteer to host it.”
That Suriname is doing so for the second time in 10 years is testimony to its commitment to the regional integration movement, having been one of the last nations to join the community back in 1995 and the only one that is Dutch-speaking.
Analysts say that Suriname’s agenda, being that it’s at the southernmost geographic part of the grouping and has a different primary language, is the reason it jumps at every opportunity to participate and even host regional activities, but how long it can continue to do so is now being questioned. Creighton points to the fact that after Barbados had hosted the event in 1981, there was a gap of 11 years until Trinidad stepped in. Before then, Cuba organized Carifesta in 1979 and Jamaica in 1976, but the reggae island’s offer to again do so in 1989 was blown away by a devastating hurricane that same year.
In effect, only a handful of countries seem willing to have Carifesta on its shores—Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname and Jamaica—but the Jamaicans have not in recent years said they are willing with any real conviction, as they have their own economic worries to contend with. And of the smaller Eastern Caribbean sub-grouping, only St. Kitts has done so, back in 2000. None of the others have volunteered.
As a result Carifesta appears to have a very uncertain future “as the host takes all the administration, planning and logistics. This makes it a daunting task that quite likely frightened off many governments. Another factor is that there is little sense of ownership of Carifesta by anyone, and, therefore, there was no feeling anywhere of responsibility for it,” said Creighton as he mourns for its future.
The current festival is running in Suriname from Aug. 16-25.