Carifiesta Montreal festival, parade in limbo after city denies funding
City says it will meet with organizers to 'explore possible solutions'
The organizers of Montreal's annual Carifiesta parade say the event might not happen this summer after the city of Montreal denied its regular funding.
In a letter sent to Carifiesta last week, the city said it had reviewed its grant application in the context of Montreal's updated funding program for festivals and cultural events — one that allows it "to better represent the Montreal festival ecosystem."
"Given the quality of the applications received, the evaluation committee had to make choices and select projects that most closely align with program objectives. Unfortunately, your project was not selected by the committee," reads the letter signed by the cultural service department director, Kevin Donnelly.
In an email to CBC Monday, the city said it denied Carifiesta's application because of issues related to its grant submission. It said it made multiple attempts to contact the organizer to no avail.
Everiste Blaize, president of the Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association that puts on the festival, however, said he was taken aback by the decision and said he hasn't heard from the city since he submitted his application for funding in January.
He said the letter he received reads as though his festival simply didn't meet the city's new cultural criteria.
"I would like for somebody to explain why my culture, or the culture of Carifiesta, is not culture enough to fit in," he said.
"It'd be interesting to see what an ecosystem looks like when we're not part of it."
Historically, the city has provided about $30,000 to parade organizers every year. The parade, which celebrates Caribbean culture and history, has been running since 1974, although it was cancelled in 2010 due to a conflict between two competing organizing committees. It was also off for two years during the pandemic.
City to 'explore possible solutions'
The city said it updated its funding program for festivals and cultural events in 2022 to be able to sustainably support more events and to improve the financing criteria to better govern public funds.
It said Blaize was advised of the changes and that the city contacted him several times offering to help with his submission but never received a response.
"The Carifiesta project as presented was not deemed viable in 2023," it said, adding there were also issues from last year's edition of the festival that have not been addressed.
The city said it will be meeting with the organizers this week to discuss the issues related to the application they submitted and to "explore possible solutions."
Blaize said he's waiting for the city to reach out to him, but in the meantime, he's looking at other solutions.
"We've been looking for sponsors, I've been trying to get help from people to help look for grants," he said.
He said he'll wait until he speaks with the city before making any further announcements to the community.
Importance of parade in the community
Carifiesta posted the city's letter on its Facebook page Sunday night, sparking outrage from members of the community in the comments.
Matthew Veloza Quiterio, president of the Montreal Carnival Vibration and co-ordinator of Afro Pride Montreal, said he was shocked to see that the city would cancel funding "for a parade that represents such an important heritage of Montreal."
"I believe that this is something that is very painful for the community and I could see a lot of the communities right now being more discouraged," he said.
Involved with the festival since 2011, helping make colourful costumes for the parade with other groups, Veloza Quiterio said the parade is one of the community's best ways to represent and to showcase tradition, culture, values, ancestry and music.
"There's a lot of importance in an event like this," he said.
For Howard Johnson, it's a time where people from all Caribbean countries come together. "So we can party with somebody from Saint Vincent, from Granada, from Jamaica, we all come together under one flag," he said.
Johnson, a reggae artist known by his stage name King Shadrock, has been playing at Carifiesta for its past five editions. He said he knows would-be attendees that have been preparing for the festival for more than a year.
"The costumes you make, it takes a long time to prepare, and they have young people that are looking forward to [taking] part in these events," he said.
"Please, let's pull it together and let's make it happen."
Veloza Quiterio is encouraging people to support Carifiesta by getting more involved.
"If you're a local business, if you are a major company, I think it's important to help sponsor, help partnership with the organization," he said.
"It's not time to stay home and say 'whatever,' I think we need to get out as a community."
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with files from Hénia Ould-Hammou