Caribbean Calling Turns to Mia After TDC Setback
By JOSANNE LEONARD
As Stratford prepares to welcome 80,000 people on July 27 for the opening of the London Olympics, with another 80,000 expected to view it on big screen in Hyde Park, efforts to mount a Caribbean Call cultural and business partnership for London 2010 are being ramped up with the recent success of a string of meetings with the Barbican Arts Centre and connect Connect Centre and Connect partnership (40 partners from six Olympic boroughs), cultural Olympiad, British Council and Arts Council of England.
The Caribbean Calling project began in the autumn of 2008 when I teamed up with Keith Khan, a second generation Londoner of T&T heritage, to pitch our idea of a Caribbean multi-sector arts programme to the prestigious Barbican Arts Centre. We knew that London, a melting pot of 300 nationalities with which the Caribbean has deep roots, was going to draw in the whole world for the XXX Olympiad. With two hundred and four nations, 15,000 athletes, 10,000 officials, 20,000 journalists and an anticipated 350,000 tourists as estimated by the London Organising Committee, the opportunities for showcasing the cultural wares of the Caribbean were very obvious to us and so we set about the task of starting conversations with potential partners for Caribbean Calling.
We first met with Louise Jeffreys, then the Head of Theatre in late 2008, who was very enthused at the idea. A few months later (Spring 2009), Keith and I met for a second time at the Barbican, this time with all of the department heads over a light lunch – again through Louise’s intervention. The food was delightful and the conversations with the various department heads were exciting. The prospect of pursuing a three year programme beginning in 2011 through 2012 and into 2013 looked very good on the UK end and we felt it would be a slam-dunk proposition here at home. Later on, we were invited to meet with the Connect Partnership, a group comprised of live venues, local government councils and educational bodies in the five (now six) host Olympic Boroughs. Its main aim – to collaborate and create events and activities leading up to 2012 and the London Festival 2012, all part of the Cultural Olympiad set up by the London 2012 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). Back home, persuading officials and agencies in the Caribbean was a much tougher and agonising sell. As the months passed, our hopes dimmed as we encountered luke-warm or little interest and with the clock ticking on the customary lead planning time required by the Barbican and others, Caribbean Calling looked less and less likely. But we persevered and kept the conversations alive in London and the Caribbean.
Then in 2010, I met up with Ambassador Byron Blake who was doing a Study on New Export Services for the CARICOM Secretariat. A big believer in the integration process, Ambassador Blake along with others, had worked feverishly to ensure a co-ordinated and timely Caribbean effort for the World Expo in China. It was not without its challenges. Ambassador Blake was clear that London 2012 was a huge opportunity for the region to capitalise and did not hesitate to include ‘Caribbean Calling’ in his final list of recommendations.
In the interim, and with no focal point for supporting our goal of a regional programme for London 2012, we set about bringing together like-minded persons and organisations to build momentum and garner support. Persons included Earl Jarrett, CEO –Jamaica National Building Society and Chairman of Meet Jamaica 2012, Dennis Lalor, Chairman of Air Jamaica/CAL Divestment team, Stanley Beard, Chairman of T&T’s Tourism Development Company (TDC) and Sancia Templar, President of Jamaica Promotions Company (JAMPRO). Further and through individual and collective efforts, discussions were also initiated with key government ministers in T&T as well as regional institutions like Caribbean Export and Caribbean Development Fund. What seemed to be emerging, however, through the interface with officialdom in T&T was an entrenched passive resistance to being part of a Caribbean effort for London 2012.
On the London front however, and buoyed by the positive responses from the Jamaica partners and the TDC’s Chairman in the period leading up to June, Keith Khan and I began a fresh round of talks with our UK friends at the Barbican. Louise Jeffreys had been appointed Head of Programming in 2010 and remained supportive of a pan-Caribbean arts and entertainment collaboration. Though almost two years had lapsed since our last presentation to the Barbican, Jeffreys agreed to host the Caribbean Calling team at the last Connect Partnership Meeting before the usual summer break and provided four dates from which to choose between June 30-July 20, 2011. With the opportunity to meet all of the major partners involved in the Cultural Olympiad clinched, we reached out to local and regional potential partners and stakeholders to join and participate in the London meeting. These included the TDC, Meet Jamaica 2012, Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company, JAMPRO and Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA). In a spirit of real collaboration, July 14 was chosen to facilitate the participation of Caribbean Export because of its pivotal role in pan-regional private sector development and especially the creative industries.
The TDC had assumed been a pro-active partner responsibility since February and was receiving much traction with counterparts. In early July however, for reasons neither obvious nor fully explained, TDC and the Ministry of Tourism withdrew from the meeting, and, ostensibly, the overall effort. This was two weeks before the Connect Partnership meeting. Mercifully, through that open door stepped Mia Mottley, a Barbadian legislator. She secured some assistance from Carib Export which went towards supporting a smaller but very effective mission.
And so began the most recent journey to London. Between July 14 -16, a series of meetings were held with a mix of organisations to explore partnerships between the Caribbean and UK for 2012. Hosted by Louise Jeffreys, Head of Programming at the Barbican, the Caribbean Calling project vision was shared with representatives of London venues which included Hackney Empire, Arcola Theatre, Shoreditch Festival, Royal Guildhall of Music & Drama, Wilton’s Music Hall, Rich Mix and Theatre Royal Stratford East, and various departments of the Barbican, among others. Also present were Arts and Culture Officers from Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Hackney Councils.
Peter Minshall, world acclaimed Masman, was the special guest speaker via skype and his contribution inspired the Connect Partnership gathering. Minshall’s conversation reminded the London arts and cultural leaders that the Caribbean epitomises the new world where a collision of forces and cultures had transformed the Caribbean into a unique collage of cultures, the envy of many in the developed world. His imaging of the T&T Carnival (which birthed the Notting Hill Carnival) with the masquerader, painted and adorned in mud “dancing to the strains of Beethoven played by hundreds of steelpans” delighted the London gathering. By the end of the evening, many of the venues’ managers were excited by the prospect of Caribbean Calling as a bridge to link with the cultural communities of the region at their creative best.
On our London beat, we met with Ruth MacKenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad and Jenny Waldman, one of her senior producers. The Cultural Olympiad, the nerve centre of the nationwide arts and entertainment events to date will culminate with the Great London Festival during the summer of 2012. We were encouraged by her positive response to the goal of greater participation of the Caribbean in some of the major events of the Cultural Olympiad. She agreed to facilitate access to a number of producers and partners for events in the summer of 2012, like the River of Music (six free open air concerts in each Olympic borough along the River Thames); Live Nation’s ‘live sites’ (4 Olympic-themed open air venues combining the games and live music – Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Potters Field); Great Hackney Weekend (100,000 people in an outdoor event sponsored by BBC’s Radio 1); a collaboration around UK Carnivals with Brazil (hosts for 2016); World Festival of Poetry at the South Bank Centre; the Summer Reading Challenge and the producers of the Paralympic Games in September 2012.
MacKenzie was not alone in expressing openness to a collaboration with Caribbean Calling. The British Council’s Jim Hollington, Director of Operations and Support and Vicky Richardson, Director – Architecture, Design, Fashion were also very receptive to the prospect of a collaboration with Caribbean Calling as part of a longer term partnership. Special mention was made of the British Council’s Fashion & Cultural Heritage event in early 2012 and a three-month celebration of Architecture and Design during the summer of 2012. Also expressing support for UK-based creatives to work with the Caribbean was Antonia Bryatt of the Arts Council of England (ACE). Discussions were also initiated with the London Design Council for the promotion of Caribbean designers and in particular the EU-funded Design Caribbean project under Carib-Export which will be staged later this year in Santo Domingo.
MacKenzie of LOCOG’s Cultural Olympiad has since followed up with a further commitment to visit the Caribbean in early October to share the vision of the Cultural Olympiad and the goal of inclusion of the Caribbean in the big London Festival of 2012. The momentum is gathering elsewhere as project plans are being worked out with the Hackney Empire, Barbican and South Bank Centre with expressions of interest from other venues like Rich Mix, Shoreditch and Theatre Royal Stratford unfolding. AVH Production, a Monaco-based media and production company has teamed up with some of its UK partners to get behind the Caribbean Calling partnership. With its commercial connections in the media and events industries (Cannes Film Festival, MIDEM), its global access and networks will be important to maximising market presence and guaranteeing top drawer production values for international marketing and promotions.
In the past six weeks, the Caribbean Calling team has made a significant and unparalled breakthrough. 2012 is a big year for the entire Caribbean with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt leading the charge on the track. The 2012 Olympics hailed by many as the “Caribbean Olympics” will mark sixty-four years since the Caribbean announced its arrival and challenged the world in track and field at the 1948 London Olympic games; 2012 is the 50th Anniversary of Independence of the first two English speaking Caribbean nations – Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – which set in train a steady movement of Caribbean leaders through Lancaster House to an independent Caribbean; 2012 is the fortieth anniversary of Carifesta; and not to be missed in 2012 is the wonderful opportunity to showcase and celebrate our Caribbean Culture during the Notting Hill Carnival which implanted T&T/Caribbean culture as a unique and living part of London’s cultural landscape and a significant contributor to its tourism as the largest street festival in Europe.
As the countdown to London 2012 enters the homestretch, Caribbean Calling remains committed to a vision of a united Caribbean celebrating all of the region at its finest on the biggest stage in the world.
Caribbean Calling lends weight and increases the prospects of initiatives being planned by some countries, agencies and private actors. It provides the key missing link, that of co-ordinating partnerships for collective planning, sequencing and packaging of activities and creative marketing for maximum immediate and long-term impact.
London 2012 will allow us to lay the building bricks for a legacy of sport, culture and business well into the future and provides an opportunity to close ranks as nations and re-imagine a Caribbean, very different from the past. London’s Calling; just be ready