Carnival in the Caribbean has grown to become more than just a festival (if it was ever “just a festival”). It has become a real and tangible layer of Caribbean society that contributes to industry, art, history and identity. The Cuban poet and scholar Antonio Benitez-Rojo in 1992 said of the Caribbean Carnivals that “Of all possible sociocultural practices, the carnival…is the one that best expresses the strategies that the people of the Caribbean have for speaking at once of themselves and their relation to the world, with history, with tradition, with nature, with God. If we provisionally accept this premise…to the carnival, we are in a position to learn more about the intricacies and complexities of the Caribbean as a sociocultural system”.
On the other end of the spectrum but still supporting the relevance of the Caribbean Carnivals to the region Dr. Jo-anne Tull documented in 2005 that “carnivals stimulate commercial activity and are significant generators of revenue within key sectors of the economy, particularly cultural industries, tourism and hospitality. Carnivals attract positive media attention, and provide the basis upon which strong destination branding can be built… The financial gain of hosting a carnival is well illustrated by the performance of three major Trinidad and Tobago-style Carnivals where in each case the ROI is significant”. She went on to illustrate the economic impact study of Notting hill carnival (UK), Brooklyn’s labour day (US), and Canada’s Caribanna done in 2003- all of which had substantial income generation compared to disproportionately lower capital investments in the festival. The highest returns showed Notting Hill’s carnival generating a whopping income of £93million from a capital investment of £10million.
The Carnival Studies degree at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, offered through the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, is the only curriculum in the region that aggressively seeks to capitalize on these two understandings and forge platforms of growth and sustainable development for those work and have interest in the Carnival disciplines.
The following is an overview of the courses within the Carnival Studies degree and a glimpse of the type of professional it fashions. A shorter version of this article was published in the January 2013 issue of “Mas Quarterly: Transforming Mas into Business”. A publication of the Mas Transformation Secretariat of Trinidad and Tobago. The article titled “The Carnival Studies Unit; UWI’s Platform for Training in the Carnival Arts” was co edited with Dr. Jo-anne Tull and went on to introduce the upcoming Practitioner’s Certificate in the Carnival Arts- The next step of using the Caribbean Carnival to express our confidence in ourselves and our future
This is what the Carnival Studies Degree is about
The Carnival Studies degree addresses both the historical exploration of the Carnival phenomenon and its impact on Caribbean identity, as well as the entrepreneurial and institutional expansion of the Creative industries within the region. The degree, at present focuses on three main areas 1) creative Enterprise management and entrepreneurship 2) Cultural Studies 3) Mas Design and Carnival research (an area soon to be expanded). The degree currently exposes students to a dynamic package of courses that prepares them for engagement in the Carnival and Creative industry as leaders in innovation, cultural research and festival management.
In the first year of the degree the student is largely exposed to the historical context of the Carnival Phenomenon. This is particularly done through the courses Carnival and Society(CANV1701) (which examines the evolution of Carnival from its pre Lenten roots to manifestations a in new world societies) and Mas: History Development and Meaning (CANV1702)- which explores the visual heritage of the Trinidad Carnival through its masquerade. These courses serve as pathways into the carnival topic for both beginners and those seeking a deeper engagement with the festival through academic exploration. This initiation into the Carnival Studies degree is supported by the courses Introduction to Cultural Research Methods (THEA 1004) which provides the student with a frame-work for investigating cultural phenomenon and Intro to Business for the Arts (CANV1005) which is a comprehensive overview of the managerial and administrative requirements for practitioners within the arts.
The second year of the degree rapidly expands into creative enterprise management and entrepreneurship. The courses Economics of Culture (CANV3058) and Enterprise Internship in the Arts (CANV 2012) vigorously exposes students to the Cultural Industries from both a theoretical and practical perspective. Economics of Culture focuses on the foundational theories and practices used for examining systems, firms and products located within the Cultural Industries (with specific attention to their role in Caribbean development) whilst Enterprise Internship in the Arts is centred on providing students with the managerial skills that would allow them to develop arts and cultural organizations as centres of creative enterprise. In this course students are directly connected with firms, entities and individuals in the wider industry for practical experience whilst being in taught in lectures the tools and techniques for entrepreneurship, strategy making and marketing (directed towards a panoptic approach to development in the arts and arts based enterprise). The Historical and cultural investigation of the Carnival and Festival environment continues at this level through the courses Trinidad Calypso: History, Development and Meaning (CANV2702); The Art of the Festival and Critical readings in Caribbean Arts and Culture (THEA 2011).
The final year of the Carnival Studies Degree is without a doubt the most Dynamic of the three and the year which distinctly impacts upon the student.The primary stimulant of this expansion in the student’s discernment and proficiency is the course Festival Project(CANV3499) which spans semester 1 & 2. Through Festival Project Students have the opportunity to initiate their own arts based multi-disciplinary project. After initial lectures that examine the stages of proper project development, students are required to command, to realization, their own creative initiative. The Festival Project, offered in place of the Caribbean thesis (which all humanities students are required to take), sets itself apart through the reality that students are assessed according to their project’s success in demonstrating that it has impacted positively and significantly on its chosen community. The demonstration of leadership, resourcefulness and innovativeness are assessed as well as the student’s ability to corral the skill set gained throughout the body of the degree. It is this independent study collated with direct community involvement and institutional support that has allowed many past student projects to become business models, events and community projects in their own right beyond their final year assessment.
This is a broad but correct definition of the shape and form of the current Carnival Studies degree programme which seeks to positively influence the design of systems within and the institutional development of the Carnival and festival landscape.