Carnival – more than just fun

By Richard Wright

Friday, May 16, 2014


Carnival – more than just fun

Carnival bosses Chris Slann and Frankie Goldspink, soaking their feet after The Carnival Trail.


LEGACY, or lack of it, was a subject which became synonymous with the 2012 London Olympics.

What was to continue to burn brightly after the Olympic torch was snuffed out was always going to be the focus of debate. It was the same discussion we had on the Island after Ryde won £6.1 million of Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) cash.

Legacy debate has continued for the best part of a decade. It concluded Ryde had gained a slippery square, a grand promenade and lots of bits and bobs, but in terms of 'living’ organisations as a result, just the one.

It is the New Carnival Company (NCC), which emerged from council cuts, through the partnership of a key carnival couple, Frankie Goldspink and Chris Slann.

And it has marched ahead to a samba beat to achieve big things.

Chris and Frankie are partners in life as well as in the NCC, which now has a team of five and employs 12 freelance artists and tutors.

And, if enthusiasm could be bottled, Frankie and Chris would add the effervescence.

Last week they put the leg in legacy, tramping around the Island as part of the IW Walking Festival.

They promoted their carnival trail, highlighting and applauding the Island’s carnival tradition at the same time.

And their walk finished with Frankie skipping along in front and Chris bringing up the rear, appositely in Ryde, where the carnival company is based in Queen Victoria’s old Coaching House.

Samba and batik silk banners, which have become synonymous with new carnival, were in the procession.

So, too, were some special people, who have learning difficulties and are warmly embraced in processions. That has come about through the work of the NCC.

Ryde was one of the early birthplaces of UK carnival but processions were becoming tired before the SRB came along.

Carnival was seen as a vehicle to help young people develop costume making and performance skills, boost self-esteem and generally have a good time along the way.

The injection of enthusiasm and cash brought colour, vitality and professionalism to the streets. It also formed an eclectic blend with the bands and floats in the traditional parades.

"Our mission is to bring out the very best in people, helping them to achieve their creative potential through the production of spectacular, engaging, events," says Chris.

"We see the NCC as a pioneering arts development organisation specialising in carnival and outdoor public celebrations.

"We run a dedicated Carnival Arts Centre, the busy and vibrant Coaching House in Union Road, and deliver an extensive community outreach and carnival arts training programme across the Island, the south of England, nationally and internationally."

The NCC was formed in response to the council’s cuts in arts and learning budgets, when redundancy from the authority started to loom large for Frankie and Chris.

"The writing was on the wall as early as November 2010, and we realised the way Arts Council England was changing presented us with a great opportunity," said Frankie.

"This change meant arts organisations could apply for core funding in three-year cycles — as opposed to project by project."

The NCC became an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, receiving £80,000 a year until 2015. It is focusing its new bid on involving young people and through that getting them qualifications and jobs.

It is one of only 12 carnival NPOs throughout the land and part of the agreement with the Arts Council means it is committed to delivering two "signature" events each year, which it does with the consequent spin-off benefit to all the Island’s other parades.

The NCC has just become a major player in a national carnival arts partnership, launched at London’s Dorchester hotel. It has been at the root of developing nationally accredited carnival arts qualifications.

The NCC grew the VIVA Carnival Club from the Paralympics, with the ethos disability should not be a barrier to taking part and enjoying both sport and carnival.

Members have taken part in some massive events, including the Olympic Park parade as part of the Paralympics.

"We have worked closely with a disability samba school in Rio — Embaixadores de Alegria — to help us design and make costumes, and we also have half an eye on taking the VIVA Club to Rio in 2016 for the Paralympics there," said Frankie.

VIVA Carnival Club members were key players at the Dorchester, where it became clear the partnership would play a role in helping carnival both survive and flourish.

"We know we have to diversify our funding streams — public money and earned income will not suffice," says Chris.

"Carnival as an art form will need to attract funding from trusts and foundations and through philanthropic giving, but to do so the perception on the mainland carnival can be associated with drinking and trouble will have to be changed."

In the meantime, the NCC will receive £10,000 this year from the IW Council from both its arts and adult and community learning pots, its Arts Council tranche and cash from many and varied pots.

It has been commissioned to stage kite festivals, a park safari and delivers carnival skills training on the mainland in places that include Maidstone, Devizes and Portsmouth.

At Wincanton Racecourse on July 5, it will organise Zooom — 6,000 Brownies celebrating the centenary of the movement. This summer the team is working with Bestival, the IW Festival, and Rhythmtree in addition to its main events.

Clearly you can’t have too much fun.


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