Diary

Carnival Village Trust’s Response to the RBKC Notting Hill Carnival Residents Survey

 

Happy New Year to all our fellow Carnivalists and friends! We hope 2015 treated you well, and 2016 has some exciting things to offer.

At the end of last year, over 50,000 RBKC and surrounding ward residents were given the opportunity to take part in a survey and give their views on Notting Hill Carnival, held every year on the August bank holiday. The Tabernacle W11, a Carnival Village Trust venue located in the heart of Notting Hill and home of Mangrove Steelband, has been a central community hub for the greater part of the duration of Notting Hill Carnival. The Tabernacle W11 chose to fill out the survey, and have now released an official statement in response. Below is the statement.

NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL

Making carnival great and a fair deal for residents

A CVT RESPONSE TO THE RBKC SURVEY

INTRODUCTION

The Carnival Village Trust Limited (CVT), incorporating four Founding Partners, is London´s development agency for Carnival Arts. The CVT is a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funded for the next three years by The Arts Council England (ACE) to develop and promote Carnival Arts at The Trust’s two venues – The YAA Centre and The Tabernacle. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) also funds CVT to operate The Tabernacle  as an arts and community centre.

CVT is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status with a Board of Directors currently made up of representatives of three of the four Founding Partners and three elected Trustees.

CVT’s key goals for the next three years are:

  • To deliver, produce and support excellence in Carnival Arts
  • Provide strong governance, leadership and accountability
  • The development and support of Carnival Arts – supporting individuals and other organisations.
  • To operate and manage two vibrant, inclusive venues: The Tabernacle and the YAA Centre.
  • To ensure financial stability and viability for The Trust.

CVT welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Borough’s survey on the Notting Hill Carnival. This response has drawn on the collective deliberations of CVT’s Board of Directors and Founding Partners, previous reports (1) and related events held at CVT’s two venues.

Large scale public events are often described as “contentious conversations between challengers and power holders” (Charles Tilly, 1998). CVT sees itself as not exclusively ‘Challenger’ nor ‘Power Holder’ but as an agency that embraces all of these roles as well as advocate, champion and promoter, engaging with all the stakeholders and constituents that make up, are affected by and participate in the Carnival.

These stakeholders and constituents range from the five Arts Arenas and their members, the public including  visitors,  tourists  and  audiences,  Corporate  Donors  &  Sponsors,  local  residents  and traders, stall holders, the Emergency Services, The Funding Agencies and the Regulatory Authorities.

CVT acknowledges that these conversations and discourses with all these constituents are happening against a backdrop of changing demographics to both the Borough and London, a world- wide economic crisis with a likelihood of continuing austerity, a greater willingness to return to current definitions and policies on belonging, citizenship and immigration and heightened concerns around public and personal safety and the threats from terrorist actions.

Therefore, making the event ‘great’ and ensuring a ‘fair deal for residents’, the focus of this survey, will be a major challenge for everyone.

CARNIVAL

The London Notting Hill Carnival, like several other Carnivals in the UK, has an acknowledged parentage to the Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago. Defined as a Diasporic Carnival, London Notting Hill Carnival is “not simply exports but also redistributions and reinterpretations of the “original”.(2)

Carnival is both an event that happens in a public space and an art form.

As both an art form and a street festival, Carnival has three main modalities:

  1. A ritual of resistance
  2. A festival of otherness and
  3. Performance Art.

However, for many, the Carnival is also a street party; the annual Bank Holiday festival whose popularity and appeal is participating in a joyous, care free celebration with very few inhibitions.

CVT recognises and accepts that Carnival is all of these things. But as important and as part of its orthodoxy, Carnival is, foremost, an art form that reflects the diverse cultures of London’s many communities and therefore to make the event great will require all stakeholders to focus on developing and promoting this performance base. The managerial, operational and funding of the event need to take whatever steps are necessary to put the creativity and artistry at the centre ensuring that the physical occupation of the performing space is safe and secure for all.

Carnival is not a singular art form but an integrated framework for live performances that are rooted in several other art forms – Masquerade, Movement, Music and Mayhem – involving the human body, space, time and movement.

The platforms for these live performances – the streets of North Kensington and Notting Hill – must be populated by the best exponents of each carnival art form and managed for the benefit of performers, residents and audiences. And some would also include, local enterprises and traders.

Set against this is the impact of the place shaping roles of RBKC that has unchallenged supremacy to define and shape the use of public space and the duration of its use for Carnival. The streets have always been seen as the “mean streets” where the dysfunctional and alien elements of minority communities conduct and ply their trade. Public places are thus ritualised as contested terrain that any occupation or use by minority communities must be controlled, monitored and policed.

Over the 49 years of Carnival in Notting Hill, the Carnival physical footprint has evolved to what it is today, with each change being mediated through the active engagement of Carnival’s leaders.

The overwhelming impetus of the regulatory authorities is to create a processional linear route for the Carnival, more akin to a horse shoe rather than a circle, as this configuration is best suited to the management of public safety and the control of potential public disorder. This use of performing space has the net effect of undermining the spontaneity that is essential to the public display of Carnival Arts and minimises the interaction with the public. For example, the agit prop essences of the Mas Player’s display (caraying) are being consistently moulded by these physical restrictions and, in time, could lead to aspects of the carnival art forms being divorced from its key performance roots.

It is not surprising that the frequent instances of confrontation between artists and performers and stewards and Local Authority officers are around the operational use of this public space.

The regulatory authorities continue to define this space as being ‘mean’ and contested; the artists and  performers  as  a  stage  without  a  proscenium  arch:  an  artscape.  One  is  concerned  with regulation and control; the other with spontaneity and freedom to express their artistry. Residents, on the other hand, are having to battle for safe, healthy, quiet and consensual use of the space.

This particular conversation with the relevant parties needs to engage with a more representative sample of the participating organisations and individuals. CVT will be happy to host such conversations so that ritualistic confrontations are minimised.

VIEWS ON THE NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL

We unequivocally assert that ‘Carnival brings the community together’ as a celebration of the arts and a platform for excellence in creativity and the arts.

Where else in Britain would you get a Street Festival having as one of its participants the Folkestone Rock and Roll Club – complete with pink Cadillac and dancers – rocking and rolling to Elvis’ Blue Suede Shoes, and not 300 yards behind, a local Pastor from The Church of God, exhorting audiences to take the path of righteousness and being drowned out by the symphonic sounds of Mangrove Steel Band? Or the folk dancers from Sri Lanka in some quaint choreographic movements, and the street musicians from Rajasthan with their elongated trumpets and bugles?

These things actually happened during the last 49 years of Carnival in Notting Hill.

Notting Hill Carnival has come to be the beacon of inclusion, a symbol of diversity and a sterling example of multi-culturalism at work.  And despite its Trinidadian roots, it is a festival that is now quintessentially  British  acquiring  characteristics  and  features  that  stand  apart  from  any  other Carnival in the world.

Carnival has become a symbol of London and certainly of Great Britain. What happens at the event– whether good or bad – makes world-wide news.

Carnival is thus a litmus test of how successful Britain is in making the nation great again. A good successful Carnival is thus an indicator of Britain at peace with itself. A great Carnival says to the world; London, as a dynamic multi-cultural city, is open to welcome more visitors and investors. It says the Notting Hill Carnival is a visible symbol of inclusivity.

A riotous, disorganised Carnival is an indication of a city to be avoided. A city, like too many others, that is riven with division and discord.

And any Carnival, riotous or not, is a generator of substantial financial benefits to the economy of London and the nation as a whole, calculated in 2002 to be over £93 million.(3)

Carnival is thus a barometer of British society.

Carnival is not immune to what is happening here in London. In fact, over the last forty years, Carnival as an art form has been continuously shaped and influenced by the economic and social issues facing British society. The Carnival in London has seen the legislative enshrining of equality, diversity and inclusion; the popularity of ‘world music’ such as soca, dance hall, bashment and zouk; the runaway cost of living with a credit crunch and austerity measures; computer-aided design; the social network and digital marketing of its performing Bands; the production of masquerade being overtaken by the Chinese and their made-to-order costumes; the popularity of synthetic fabrics, fishing rods, bikinis, beads and feathers; the emergence of the entrepreneurial producer and performer as Band Leaders; the dominance of T-shirts and ‘fun’ Mas (Chocolate & Dutty Mas) and the fitness craze with Zumba and aerobics.

Applied concurrently, these deceptively unrelated components had the capacity to irretrievably alter the form and content of the Notting Hill Carnival. The challenge facing us is that Carnival, in the Grove, is changing from a Carnival with a cutting-edge creative crucible, to a market-driven, manufactured and mass produced commodity.

If we are to make the Carnival great, we need to address this challenge.

ORGANISATION OF THE NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL

CVT  is  not  directly  involved  in  the  operational  or  managerial  aspects  of  Carnival,  but  is  fully supportive of the work of the Arts Arenas and LNHCET. We have offered these organisations preferential access to our physical space as well as the expertise of our Board members.

As London’s Development Agency for Carnival Arts, we are concerned to ensure that the organisation and management of Carnival synchronises with our own efforts to develop, promote and celebrate the arts that are being displayed on the streets.

We will continue to routinely invite each of these bodies to all our fora and planning groups, so that all issues are fully aired and expertly planned.

There are three particular activity areas whose presence, placing and operations require urgent reviewing if their continued participation is not to adversely impact on the success of the event – the Masquerade, the Static Sound Systems and Stall Holders.  For each of these areas, there are a number of contentious and challenging issues that need to be addressed and our goal is to have these discussions in a structured, timely and professional manner. The findings of this survey could be that timely spur to bring all interested parties together so that a consensus is reached.

CONCLUSIONS

To help with creating a better understanding of what needs to be done to make Carnival great and to secure a fair deal for all residents, we would like to note the following:

a) Greater support – financial, professional and administrative – for democratic, accountable and effective organisations for the Carnival Arts Arenas working with artists, artisan and aficionados of Carnival.

b) Taking appropriate  measures  to  make  the  performance  on  the  road  more  attractive, appealing and accessible to audiences; such measures to include, but not restricted to:

–    better serviced vantage points along the route with reserved toilet and disabled facilities

–    defining the position of Chocolate, Fun, T-shirt and Dutty Mas

–    reviewing the siting of static sound systems

–     ensuring Sunday remains exclusive for the participation of children, schools and youth centres

–     using  artistic  criteria  and  the  attainment  of  excellence  to  determine  eligibility  to participate.

c) Placing an enforceable responsibility on leaders of each performing group or band to encourage behaviours (e.g. noise and litter reduction and on-street urination) aimed at reducing nuisance to reside

d)  More pre and post-Carnival programmes, also aimed at all centres of learning, to situate Carnival and its traditions firmly in the arts sector and to recognise achievement and excellence.

e) More intensive and targeted marketing for effective promotion of what constitutes ‘good behaviour’ at Carnival.

f) Establish and service a Carnival Partnership Board that will serve as an all-year round forum for residents, Carnival Arts Arenas, LNHCET and CVT.

Carnival Village Trust

14 January 2016

(1 Wong, A. National Discourse on Carnival Arts, Carnival Village, October 2009 )

(2 Riggio. M.C. ed., Carnival, Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience, Routledge, 2004)

(3 Notting Hill Carnival A Strategic Review, GLA, June 2004.)