Sponsorship’s double-edged sword cut deeply when 15 steelbands abruptly lost their sponsorship and grants following the closure of state-owned Petrotrin. The impact of the sudden loss of a financial cushion was disorientating. Up to two weeks ago, Pan Elders, a five-time Panorama champion (Medium) previously supported by Petrotrin, was unsure about making it into the 2019 competition. Bandleader Hollister Smith seemed distraught, telling the media that he couldn’t even meet the minimum 40-player requirement due to lack of money. Pan Elders has since overcome those hurdles enough to stay in the competition with Scrunter’s ‘De Will’ arranged by Duvone Stewart.
In the financially uncertain environment, the Petrotrin experience has been sobering for both bands and sponsors as they negotiate the line between sponsorship security and the high risk of sponsorship dependency.
Though generally accepted that sponsorship should evolve into band sustainability, few bands, even those backed by big bands, could guarantee their survival if the plug was pulled on their sponsorship. Only Trinidad All Stars, which has been investing in real estate around its panyard on Duke Street, Port of Spain, seems inviolable.
For the state-owned National Gas Company, the Petrotrin experience is a cautionary tale. As one of the major sponsors of steelbands, if not the largest, NGC sponsors one large band, NGC La Brea Nightingales Steel Orchestra, and two medium bands, NGC Couva Joylanders Steel Orhestra and NGC Steel Xplosion Steel Orchestra. It is also a partial sponsor of Gonzales Sheikers under a Designated Donation agreement and supports the Laventille Road Police Youth Club through sponsorship of the club. The three bands bearing NGC’s name were all selected because they are in communities where NGC has facilities and therefore has a direct and strategic interest in teir development.
According to Lisa Burkett, Manager, Corporate Communications, NGC has “invested” $9 million in its sponsored steelbands over the period 2012-2018. Without disclosing sponsorship figures for 2019, she said budgets have been reduced. “Even though our ability to sponsor has dramatically decreased we have increased value for the bands by focusing on sustainability.”
Band sustainability may involve what NGC calls, a financial headstart. La Brea Nightingales, for example, got financial support to purchase a truck which it uses to transport its pans and is the nucleus of a transport business. Couva Joylanders was given financing for the construction of a theatre from which it earns rental income. An MOU between the parties guides the use of money which may require bands to run programmes in music literacy, pan tuning and manufacturing.
Apart from band sponsorship, NGC has invested in Steelband skills development through a three-year partnership with the MIC Institute of Technology in which 15 young persons will be trained in the art of pan tuning.
Sunity Maharaj ♦ Photo: Maria Nunes