Saturday 29 August 2020

... Announcement takes the Air out of popular Iceland November music festival in 2020

 Yesterday Airwaves, the annual 4-day Iceland music festival, announced that their November 2020 fest has been cancelled.

Even though Iceland is a relatively safe place to visit during the ongoing Pandemic, the style of the festival - cutting edge bands from Iceland, Europe, America and Canada performing in many small SRO halls and bars in and around Reykjavik - just can't be re-engineered, to safely accommodate a large number of out-of-country ticket holders this year.
Why? take a look at the pictures I took from the photographer's pit at the FM Belfast concert held inside the Reykjavik Art Gallery a couple of years ago. Lots of drinking, dancing and interacting with audience (one of their keynote songs is Dancing in My Underwear).

crowd surfing at AirWaves
Organizers wrote to ticket holders saying that new health measures make proceeding with this year’s "festival impossible".
"We reviewed many scenarios: with social distancing; with breaking the audience into separated groups, with lower attendance; with less venues. We returned to the same answer: there was no feasible solution to deliver the festival for 2020."
my view from the photographer's pit at Iceland festival

We booked five tickets, five airline tickets and the top floor of a downtown building for our annual family visit a couple months before the Virus hit. IcelandAir has promised to refund both the airfare and the festival passes. Will be talking to the owner of the apartment building where we were booked into. Pity, really nice 4-bedroom place overlooking the main drag (right beside the downtown Subway shop).
We have been going to Airwaves for over a decade and hope to go back one day. Airwaves is putting on a brave face and is already promoting Airwaves 2021. Hope it happens, but, are the popularity of festivals like this all of sudden yesterday's news?
Facebook posting by sweirsweir

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Toronto Carnival CEO is not longer in charge. Concerns about the future of the 2021 Grand Parade grow

 The Winds of Change Blow Through the Offices of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival

An edited/rewritten version of my story appeared on the front page 
of last week's  The Caribbean Camera newspaper

Goodbye to Aneesa Oumarally. The Caribbean Camera has learned that the 40-something lawyer is no longer at the helm of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Veteran carnival administrators Denise Herrera-Jackson and Chris Alexander are now running the annual festival.

In a conversation with me (Stephen Weir) Ms. Oumarally explained that she had not been fired and that the decision to leave the Festival was made after discussions with the Festival Management Committee Board about the future of the 53-year old festival. Oumarally, a well-respected Mississauga lawyer is returning to the practice of law but will keep her hand in Carnival by re-joining the Festival Board.

The Festival Management Committee (FMC) Chair, Joe Halstead, confirmed her comments.  “ She wasn’t terminated,” he said in a taped interview. “I think there may be some misconceptions but this is a very simple matter. The FMC, as you know, did not have a Festival this year and clearly the prospects for next year are vague.  We don't know where we are going to stand next year (because of Covid public health rules) so we have decided that we must cut our costs.”

 “We do not have the revenues (for 2021),“ he continued.  “When we look at what costs we are going to have (without a 2020/21) revenue stream, salaries are a big part of that. We decided we can’t carry the salary of half the Carnival staff. It is not only the CEO; there are others we have had to do this to (Naila Seunath the information manager is no longer with the carnival) in order to cut costs. It is as simple as that.”

“We don't know where the money is going to come from and we don't know what the future looks like. At this point we can’t carry the burden of our entire workforce.”

In addition to the loss of the CEO and her information manager, the salaries of both Herrera-Jackson and Alexander have been cut by a reported 40 – 50 percent. According to the Chairman those who have left the Festival could be rehired and cut salaries restored if funding becomes available.

“You know I am very happy to say publicly and openly and that I'm grateful for the services provided by Anisa and Naila Seunath”

“In August 2019, I took a leave of absence from law to take on the role of CEO of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival,” Oumarally recently posted on LinkedIn. “This was not a role I applied for. At the time, I was the Chair of Governance of the (Toronto Caribbean Carnival) Board. I agreed to a one-year term. The understanding of my role was to add governance expertise to the organization, especially in the way we conducted our business, with a goal to increasing revenue.”

She left the Board and became an employee of the Festival in a year of turmoil.  Shortly before the 2019 parade, Richard de Lima, the Festival’s CEO of just six months, had his two-year contract abruptly terminated.  Soon after that, parade operations manager, Gerard Weekes suddenly resigned and returned to his home in Trinidad.

The festival went ahead as scheduled without a name sponsor or much corporate support. Oumarally and members of the FMC’s governance committee took over responsibilities of the CEO and were able to stage the festival. Their parade was held as scheduled but there was a noticeable decline in attendance, there was friction along the parade route, and there were hours long gaps on the road.

Following the parade Oumarally put aside her law practice and came on full-time to manage the coming 2020 festival. As fall approached the winds of change continued, long-time office manager Margo Harris retired and sponsorship marketing wunderkind Kal Juman resigned and took on a similar role with the Taste of the Middle East Festival.

“From the time I was named the CEO, I hit the ground running, learning everything I could about the business, it's management, how it was managed, the culture, the perceived culture, the stakeholders, the stakeholders' perception of the (festival).”

“Our planning for the upcoming festival seemed to be strong; we found ways to grow potential revenues, but we would not have actually known if we were successful until the festival,” she continued.

Those plans were dashed when the parade was axed because of the Covid-19 shutdown.   Although the annual fete, be it named Caribana or the Toronto Caribbean, has tittered on the brink of collapse it  has never missed holding the world famous Grand Parade … until 2020.

The carnival loss devastated the city, not just for the loss of a world event but also in terms of the collapse of the Black tourism travel industry into the city and the nuclear sized hit the city’s entertainment sector took.

Mas’ camps were closed. Costume launches cancelled.  Calypso and Pan concerts were deep sixed. Overnight, the Toronto Carnival lost a reported 75% of its team.

Even though the carnival was shuttered its cash box was not. Money has come into the festival coffers.  Sources at City Hall, Queen’s Park and Ottawa estimate that over $850,000 in grant money has been given the beleaguered festival to help soften the Covid blow.

The Caribbean Camera newspaper was told (who then told me) that the City of Toronto gave the Festival $625,000, the Federal Government (through Heritage Canada) gave $128,100 and the Province handed over $100,000. 

In terms of cash outlays, in addition to staff salaries, rent and an estimated $80,00 Mas band expenditures it is thought that the Virtual Road August 1st all-day on-line carnival cost $60,000.

The war chest is meant to cover this year’s costs and fund in part the Festival in 2021.  The ongoing Covid crisis means that the FMC doesn’t know what kind of Festival it will be allowed to stage and what sort of additional funding and sponsorship it could raise to make 2021 happen. It is possible they may not be allowed to hold the festival next year, or even the year after.

“500,000 to 700,000 is a lot of people and we are not going to get a city permit unless people are able to assemble,” explained Halstead. “Public Health clearance is the only way can hold assemblies like ours.” 

Even the fate of the popular King and Queen Competition is on the line. According to the FMC, they won’t get permission to hold the outdoor event until there are vaccines or other health protection measures available to all attendees.

So what next?  How does the Toronto Caribbean Carnival stay alive? According to Mr. Halstead, their board, including Ms. Oumarally, will be reconvened in September to figure out what they how they proceed, be it in 2021 or 2022 or beyond.

“We have to rethink what we do and how we do. It may be a smaller version or it may be virtual or some other thing,” he said.  “We may need different skill sets. We are going to be looking at our options between now and November and then we must present a plan to the city saying what we intend to do!


By Stephen Weir 08/21/2020

Monday 17 August 2020

A Beef Patty Director on Being Caribbean Stars

Danielle Ayow Releases Inner Trini

By Stephen Weir / Caribbean Camera
Any movie that starts right in the thick of things at the Caribana parade immediately tugs at our heart!
But You’re Not Black, a short documentary by Toronto writer/director Danielle Ayow, will also be turning heads and tearing eyes at its CaribbeanTales Film Festival Canadian premiere next month. As As the movie rolls we see that the Lakeshore is packed with revellers. Young. Old. Black. Brown. White. Yellow. The music is loud, the spirits are high and there is brotherly love in the air!But as Ayow’s story rolls across the screen, the message of carnival changes.
Even though both her Asia parents were born and raised in Trinidad, many Toronto paraders on the road don’t accept her “Trininess”.
“The first time I went to Caribana I went in a stroller. I could feel the music through the ground.” These are first words that the Scarborough director says in the new documentary.

As she gets older she brags about how how proud she is to wear a headdress when she got older and actually played Mas.“But,” she continues, “ I could always feel the side-eyes – as if I was appropriating their Caribbean culture. I felt it most from those who believe to be Caribbean is to look a certain way.”
This is a 20-minute movie that speaks to an identity crisis that dogs the Diaspora in these days of mixed heritages.
As a Chinese-Caribbean-Canadian woman, Ayow says that she is driven by people’s inability to separate her skin colour from her culture.
She burns inside to own her Trinidadian identity.

“ I say I am like a beef patty, yellow on the outside and black on the inside!” jokes the director and star of the autobiographical film. She knows that she looks Asian Chinese but burns to have her inner-Trini shine!This is a story that is rooted in the personal experiences of the Toronto actress, comedian and filmmaker; Ayow challenges the correlation between race, skin colour and culture with a specific focus on Chinese-Caribbean in North America.
She interviews fellow Asian Trinis and Jamaicans living here in Toronto. She also talks to Caribbean scholars in Canada, the US and back to the motherland … Trinidad.
Is she Caribbean? Well there isn’t a fish or cut bait answer.
Dr. Camille Hernandez Ramdar, Caribbean Studies professor at Ryerson University, talks on camera in But You’re Not Black about her own identity struggles. Born in Winnipeg to Caribbean parents she has had to work hard to maintain her Caribbean identity.
“Race is a construct. Race changes according to time and place. You know there were no Asians 100 years ago,” she tells Ayow. “I was told I would never be Trinidadian. (But I worked hard at it) and now I pass!”
“It sucks balls,” Ayow responds. “I am constantly trying to prove them wrong. It can sound spiteful, which is partly why I am making this film!”
The new movie had its beginnings three year ago. Ayow, with the backing of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival developed an 8-minute version. After that with support from the Toronto Arts community and a successful Go-Fund Me campaign, she was able to get the money to complete the 20-minute version.
But You’re Not Black
will have its world premier in Trinidad a few days before its Toronto premiere at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival on September 25th at 7pm. Since this year’s CTFF is virtual, Ayow will be taking part in a Talk Back after the showing, albeit digitally.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Brampton Museum / Art Gallery (PAMA) hires Michelle Gewurtz as new Supervisor of Arts and Culture.

PAMA Appoints The New Supervisor of Arts and Culture

BRAMPTON, ON (Aug. 13, 2020)  The Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA) is pleased to announce the appointment of Michelle Gewurtz as PAMA’s new Supervisor of Arts and Culture. PAMA officially welcomes her into the new position on Monday, Aug. 17.

 Michelle Gewurtz was most recently the Senior Curator at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) and Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University. She holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of Leeds with a specialization in Feminism and Visual Arts. Her curatorial projects explore the convergence of gender politics and creative identity, and her research interests extend to both historical and contemporary art practices.
She is the author of Molly Lamb Bobak: Life and Work (ACI, 2018). Exhibitions she has curated for the OAG include Facing Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (2019), Howie Tsui: Retainers of Anarchy (2019), the gallery's first exhibition, Àdisòkàmagan/Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes/We’ll All Become  Stories (2018).

She has also served in curatorial, educational outreach, and advisory capacities at SAW Gallery (Ottawa); A Space Gallery (Toronto); Gallery 44 (Toronto); Richmond Art Gallery (British Columbia); Kniznick Gallery (Waltham, MA, USA); and The Freud Museum (London, UK).

“We are thrilled to welcome Michelle to the PAMA team as we move forward demonstrating change for the future and striving to embrace our communities using an authentic voice. Michelle brings a plethora of arts and culture experience that will lead our curatorial team to continue to produce exhibition’s that resonate with our community and connect to relevant themes and issues that matter to Peel residents today.” - Rene Nand, PAMA Manager, Community and Cultural Engagement.

“I'm delighted to join PAMA in the role of Supervisor of Arts and Culture. I look forward to working with PAMA's team to present new ideas and develop community-oriented programming. Together, we'll enhance the art gallery and museum as a central cultural meeting place for the diverse communities of Peel Region and beyond.” – Michelle Gewurtz

PAMA is a place to explore and learn about Peel Region’s culture and heritage, as well as use conversation, questions and stories to help make new and fascinating connections to the surrounding community. Throughout the year, PAMA offers a variety of workshops and programs for all ages, families and adults. With so many different programs to choose from, PAMA has something for everyone. Operated by the Region of Peel, PAMA is located at 9 Wellington Street, East in Brampton. Visit to learn more.

Media Contact:

Erin Fernandes Marketing Coordinator, Phone 416-312-3425