STT Could End Up Hosting Competing Carnivals

The fun, color and pageantry of Carnival return to St. Thomas. (2018 File photo by Gerard Sperry)
The fun, color and pageantry of Carnival on St. Thomas might get double exposure in 2020. (Source file photo by Gerard Sperry)

St. Thomas may end up hosting two separate V.I. Carnival events on the same days but sponsored by two different entities – the Department of Tourism, which is mandated by legislation to conduct the St. Thomas Carnival, and the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee, who has overseen the production for more than 60 years and claimed Monday that it owns the St. Thomas Carnival as intellectual property.

The question of whose jurisdiction V.I. Carnival falls under, either the DOT or the VICC, arose during Monday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation and Aging. Sen. Myron Jackson said the V.I. Carnival was for the people and created by them and said he would go to court over the issue if necessary. He said the reason for the legislation mandating a Division of Festivals, which is within the DOT, is to promote and throw the V.I. Carnival, but no one can forbid the VICC from hosting competing activities.

According to Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte the department has already laid the groundwork for planning and promotion of the upcoming Carnival festivals on St. Thomas and St. John next year. He said no money has yet been expended, but almost half of the entertainment and venue contracts are in the process of being completed.

But VICC Chairman Edgar Phillips said the committee owns the festival and accused the department and the legislature of infringing on the Carnival Committee’s trademark. According to Phillips the VICC has already expended money towards the festival, solidified performers and released a schedule with the same dates the DOT is planning to use for Carnival, from early April into May.

“We have the infrastructure under our name, especially in the Carnival Village, everything in the village belongs to us. We own the power source in there, the water system, so they [DOT] should be working with us to create a beautiful Carnival for the people of this territory. Post Office Square also belongs to the Carnival Committee. We have all the infrastructure in place to promote Carnival in St. Thomas … I still don’t see why this bill was even created,” Phillips said.

During the heated exchange that followed, Jackson repeatedly maintained that the VICC does not own Carnival.

But Phillips showed no sign that the VICC was going to slow down, let alone halt, its plans for Carnival on St. Thomas.

The committee, he said, has been “in existence since 1952, will remain relevant and is working towards putting on a spectacular Carnival celebration in 2020, 2021 and 2022 – our 70th anniversary.”

In a letter responding to Boschulte, Phillips said the annual V.I. Carnival is distinguishable from the lowercase “carnivals” referenced in the legislation. Phillips said the word “carnival” refers to mini carnival events and could not possibly refer to the annual V.I. Carnival.

In his letter, Phillips said there is no legal justification for DOT or the Legislature to take control and ownership of the St. Thomas Carnival and the VICC was “prepared to institute court action should your office or its designee attempt to interfere and/or interrupt with a process we have executed successfully for more than 60 years. Hopefully, you will not force us to take this action.”

The change in Carnival sponsorship came during the 32nd Legislature after repeated requests by senators to see detailed financial records for the St. Thomas Carnival were reportedly rebuffed by the committee. The bill proposed by Sen, Janelle Sarauw, bill 32-0308, while noting the historic role of the committee, created the Division of Festivals with the purpose of organizing and promoting the Carnivals on the three islands. The bill also renamed the “Carnival and Festival Committee Revolving Fund” as the “Division of Festivals Revolving Fund.”

Monday, Boschulte insisted his department was operating on what had been mandated by law and had begun working on the promoting and planning the V.I. Carnival.

“For Carnival on St. Thomas, we have secured 50 percent of the festival acts and we have secured and booked accommodations and ground transportation. Our committees have met on a couple of occasions and applications have been registered for various competitions. We are also canvassing the community for a festival theme and have polled the community via Facebook on potential themes,” Boschulte said.

He added plans for the festival villages, parades and J’ouvert are ready for execution and that the department was “reinstating a coronation ceremony, enhancing the boat race, and kicking off celebrations in early March 2020. We will also produce Ol’ School Night with Legendary Calypsonians and collaborate with on-island promoters for branded events, including a flag fete, and an all-inclusive party.”

When it was time for Sen. Dwayne DeGraff to speak he cleared the air and simply said, “So right now, St. Thomas is having two Carnivals.”