It has been a long time coming, but finally, there is a permanent home for the various elements of T&T’s Carnival.
Anyone interested in learning about the history and evolution of this country’s biggest cultural festival can visit the newly opened Carnival Museum located at 81 Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain.
Until now, apart from a small collection of costumes and archival material at the National Museum and Art Gallery, there was little on display anywhere on these twin islands to back up claims that our pre-Lenten festival is the Greatest Show on Earth.
That is a grievous shortcoming when one considers that T&T Carnival, which has evolved to include the unique, widely acclaimed components of steelpan, calypso, soca and chutney, is more than two centuries old.
The T&T Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA) and the Carnival Institute of T&T (CITT) are to be commended for showing some initiative when First Citizens called for proposals for the use and repurposing of the former location of the Trinidad Co-operative Bank, more popularly known as The Penny Bank.
The result is that a facility located in a historic building, once a hub of banking activity, has been transformed into a centre of culture and art. Finally, a real effort is being made locally to display and preserve historical documentation, images, art, music, film, instruments, costumes, cultural artefacts and information.
At present, visitors can view a temporary exhibition of photos, clothing from calypso greats, traditional Carnival costumes and albums. However, as the site is developed, there will be much more to see at the museum, in rooms which are dedicated to mas, pan, calypso and soca music, including classes and demonstrations of these various art forms.
TTCBA and CITT officials should tap into the expertise of researchers like retired Alaskan judge Ray Funk, who has channelled his more than two decades of knowledge and passion for T&T Carnival into articles on calypso, steelpan and mas, as well as lectures at schools, universities and libraries.
With the establishment of the Carnival Museum, finally, all the talk and promises of a facility dedicated to this country’s indigenous art forms have become a reality. However, it is just the first step. In the quest to make the carnival industry a major pillar of a future diversified T&T economy, a proposal developed during the last Patrick Manning administration for a National Carnival and Entertainment Centre at the Queen’s Park Savannah should be revisited.
The plan was for a state-of-the-art, locally designed facility that, along with the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), would transform north Port-of-Spain into a cultural and art district.
Although NAPA was eventually constructed, the National Carnival and Entertainment Centre is yet to be made a reality. Instead, the annual Carnival celebrations are held at the Grand Stand, where much of the infrastructure is assembled and dismantled every year at a cost to taxpayers.
After years of more lip service than a commitment to the concept of T&T as the birthplace of Caribbean-style Carnival, it is time to seize the opportunity and develop permanent facilities for various aspects of the festival.
Only then can this country truly lay claim to being the home of the Greatest Show on Earth.