St. Lucia Jazz: Is change coming?

Google “Saint Lucia Jazz 2012” and the rousing and colourful reviews that used to be tagged to the festival in times past by such respected publications as Time Magazine, Billboard Magazine and Jazziz Magazine, seem to be a thing of the past.
My own assessment of this year’s event in the STAR newspaper back in May, and started with these words; “to say that overall the 21st edition of Saint Lucia Jazz was quite dull might be putting it bluntly or speaking mildly, it depends. There are several adjectives that I could use to describe the just concluded festival, but “exciting” and “great” would not be two of them….” However, despite the heavy negative criticisms of the event over the years, someone hasn’t been listening and this year seemed to have been the worst in terms of mistakes being repeated and a “laissez faire” attitude towards trying to improve and excite patrons, both locals and visitors, about the event. Every year there is talk of a committee to review the event, but the status quo seemed to have been maintained over the years.
For the 2012 edition of Saint Lucia Jazz which happened to be the 21th anniversary of the event, a special “think tank” was put together, reportedly bringing together key persons who have been involved in one way or the other over the years.

Interestingly enough, some of the findings including the demographics of the event, the spend by visitors and their acts of choice did not seem to be reflected in the direction the event took this year. For one, organizers still seemed to be pandering to a younger audience even though the festival was designed to attract visitors and those arriving here for the event fell heavily in the 30-49 age bracket. Then there was the general sentiment as well, that Jazz on the Square was the largest event of the festival which allowed for local buy-in to the event and set a mood and atmosphere for the event in the city. That, to the surprise of many was axed by organizers this year. So is there anyone at the SLTB listening or prone to change?
Four months after Saint Lucia Jazz 2012, the Saint Lucia Tourist Board embarked on another consultation process in reviewing Saint Lucia Jazz and deciding on the way forward. Some we spoke with have shrugged it off as another talk-shop with no results. Yet the SLTB says change to the festival is imminent.
This time around a consultant was brought in from overseas, Professor Lincoln Martial, a former professor at the George Washington University and a Bahamian national. Working alongside local consultant Dawn Charlery John, the pair targeted various focus groups between September and October and are scheduled to present preliminary findings to the SLTB this week.
Deputy Director of Tourism Tracey Warner-Arnold told the STAR last week that time is of the essence and the process has to be closed by mid- November to allow the SLTB to pursue a line-up and a whole new creative direction for Saint Lucia Jazz.
About the consultation process Arnold says that a number of key focus groups were interviewed and challenged to share their views on Saint Lucia Jazz. “We are also doing the US, our reps, our PR agencies, our ad agencies there as well as in the UK. We are also touching base with some of the international media that have attended the festival over the years to get some of their feedback comparatively our event versus other events,” Arnold told the STAR. The preliminary findings she says will be reviewed and discussed this week. “We have established a Jazz review committee so that committee and the special events committee together will get that presentation and it is really for us to tweak and adjust and look at what we think is the right way to go,” Arnold says. “If we feel we need to get anything more, if there are any adjustments then we go back to the consultants and the final report will be presented by November 15,” she informed us.
Coming out of the consultation the deputy director of tourism expects there to be a number of groupings and committees to deal with the production of Saint Lucia Jazz 2013. One area she sounded excited about was the tie-in to the local creative industries here. “In terms of the creative industries and how we develop the creative industries in tandem with the artistic direction of the festival is something we have to look at,” Arnold says. “Where we want the festival to go in terms of the artistic direction and keeping that intact with the line-up is another key component,” she disclosed. However she says the special events department at the SLTB consists of just two persons and that would have to expand in keeping with the way forward. “So it sounds a bit challenging, a bit scary at times, but we are all very excited about charting a new way forward for Saint Lucia Jazz in 2013. We are not sure how big the re-design will be but we certainly want to see change for 2013 for sure” Arnold sounded.
We can all hope that at least some of the many voices and opinions which were sought through this consultative process will contend in charting the way forward to making Saint Lucia Jazz 2013 much better in terms of quality of line-up, the purpose of the event, theme and artistic direction. We can hope too that components like music workshops when individuals like Keates Compton and the late Desmond Skeete were around will return and that we get more on our returns from the celebrities in tagging them on to the marketing of the island beyond just their few hours on stage. Hope is good, actual tangibles and success is even better. And so I wait, with bated breath?

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