Budget for Tobago’s culture

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the Pembroke Folk Performers cook by the fireside during the Salaka Feast, Pembroke Village. The event was part of the village’s Tobago Heritage Festival presentation last year. FILE PHOTO –

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has promised that the 2024-2025 THA budget on June 24 would focus on building human capacity, along with “the roads and drains that everyone wants.”

Mr Augustine is correct to think of the assembly’s spending to improve Tobago’s human resources as well as its infrastructure, but he must also be aware that one of the island’s best-known and longest-running cultural events, the Tobago Heritage Festival, is facing significant challenges.

Has he been dazzled by Tobago’s October Carnival celebration, which seems to have pulled itself together after a shaky start to becoming a promising asset on the Tobago festive calendar?

In November 2023, the chief secretary declared himself pleased with the 2023 Carnival and the opportunities for business that it brought to Tobagonians.

The THA also managed to reduce its spending on the festival year-over-year, dropping from $17.5 million to $12.5 million, suggesting that experience improved efficiencies in the event.

Mr Augustine boasted that stakeholders were pleased, with hoteliers reporting close to 100 per cent occupancy and businesses declaring a 500 per cent increase in earnings over the Carnival season.

Tobago’s Chamber of Commerce endorsed the second October Carnival with a perfect score. For the contractors and service providers who staged the many events of 2023’s Heritage Festival, the experience has been different.

After almost a year, THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris announced in April that 95 per cent of the outstanding payments had been made.

Eight months after winning the festival’s calypso monarch competition, all Garve Sandy had to show for her winning performance was an oversized presentation cheque and no actual prize money.

Unfortunately, the THA has managed to earn a bad-pay reputation with service providers across multiple events, including Carnival 2023, the Tobago Jazz Experience, the Blue Food Festival, the October Carnival and the Heritage Festival.

Tobago’s cultural and creative community isn’t so well-funded that it can weather that level of financial instability. Most of the events staged for the Heritage Festival are community events and it’s deeply disturbing to realise that nine of these events, most based on local cultural and social traditions, have been dropped from the 2024 roster along with the opening night gala.

What, the potential patron is entitled to ask, is Tobago’s Heritage Festival without the participation of Store Bay, Black Rock, Pembroke, Les Coteaux, Belle Garden, Buccoo, Goodwood and Scarborough?

Mt Cullane, Mason Hall Charlotteville, Moriah, Speyside and Roxborough are still on the bill, but the THA must investigate what’s happening with its signature event.

October’s Carnival may be the shiny new ornament on the Tobago event calendar, but the Heritage Festival speaks directly to the island’s shared cultural traditions and must be accorded the respect and support it deserves.