Caribbean Festival of Arts

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Caribbean Festival of Arts, commonly known as CARIFESTA, is an international multicultural event organized on a periodic basis by the countries of the Caribbean. The main purpose is to gather artists, musicians, authors, and to exhibit the folkloric and artistic manifestations of the Caribbean and Latin American region.


The first Caribbean Festival of Arts took place in 1972. This event was organized by Guyana's then President Forbes Burnham, based on a similar event that took place in Puerto Rico in 1952. He held a number of conferences with Caribbean artists and writers that eventually led to the first Carifesta.

CARIFESTA was conceived out of an appeal from a regional gathering of artists who were at the time participating in a Writers and Artists Convention in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1970 and which coincided with Guyana’s move to Republican status.

The three main considerations with regard to the festival were:

  • The Festival should be inspirational and should provide artists with the opportunity to discuss among themselves techniques and motivations
  • It should be educational in that the people of the Caribbean would be exposed to the values emerging from the various art forms and it should relate to people and be entertaining on a scale and in a fashion that would commend itself to the Caribbean people
  • The regional creative festival was first held in Georgetown, Guyana in 1972, attracting creative artistes from over 30 Caribbean and Latin American countries.

It is a celebration of the ethnic and racial diversity which separately and collectively created cultural expressions that are wonderfully unique to the Caribbean.

The cultural village life of CARIFESTA is intended to be a mixture of the States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); the wider Caribbean, Latin America; and a representation of Africa, Asia, Europe and North America It is a vision of the peoples with roots deep in Asia, Europe and Africa, coming together to perform their art forms and embracing literature inspired by the Caribbean’s own peculiar temperament; paintings drawn from the awe inspiring tropical ecology; and the visionary inheritance of our forefathers


According to the CARICOM Organisation, CARIFESTA aims[1] to:

  • depict the life of the people of the region - their heroes, morale, myth, traditions, beliefs, creativeness, ways of expression.
  • show the similarities and the differences of the people of the Caribbean and Latin America
  • create a climate in which art can flourish so that artists would be encouraged to return to their homeland.
  • awaken a regional identity in Literature.
  • stimulate and unite the cultural movement throughout the region.

Described as something of an artistic and cultural "Olympics" observed by both regional and international states, the festival includes both a cultural opening and closing ceremony with many diverse events in between, including:

Drama - ranging from elaborate musical productions to comedy, fantasy, ritual, history, folk plays and legend.

Music - concerts, recitals and musical shows provide tantalising folk rhythms, soul-searching jazz, as well as pop, classics and ballet. There are Indian tablas, African drums, Caribbean steel pan, piano, violin, flute and guitar - in other words, music for every taste.

Visual Art - exhibitions of sculpture, graphics, paintings, drawings, and photographs are a visual testimony of each country's art forms.

Literature - an anthology of new writing from the Caribbean region is produced for CARIFESTA, and authors often launch their works at the festivals. There are also poetry recitals and lecture discussions at universities and Conference centres.

Folklore - groups from over a dozen countries reveal the colour and the mystery of Caribbean and Latin American folklore and legend, among them the Conjunto Folklorico Nacionale of Cuba, the Ol'Higue and Baccos of Guyana, Shango dancers from Trinidad, Shac Shac musicians from Dominica.

Crafts - among the unusual events at CARIFESTA will be live demonstrations of ceramics, wood carving, painting and drawing.

Dance - this part of the programme is all-embracing and covers courtly Javanese dancing, intricate ballet, earthy folk plays, dramatic modern choreography, classical Indian movements, spontaneous improvisations and pop.

Heritage Exhibitions - host countries such as Guyana and Suriname that boast diverse heritage showcase cultural exhibits and anthropological studies of the indigenous people.

Family Life - CARIFESTA usually includes "Kid Zones" and family workshops to educate and entertain families.

Regional hosts[edit]

The last host of the festival was Guyana in 2008. Suriname has taken up the challenge of hosting the event in 2013 for the second time under the theme "Culture for Development".[2]

Carifesta now falls under a regional initiative to develop cultural events. In 2008 a task force was set up " develop a comprehensive Regional Development Strategy and Action Plan for the Cultural Industries in CARICOM. This Task Force was also to make recommendations for an appropriate incentives regime and financing mechanism for the cultural industries, among other developmental areas to be addressed." Dr Hilary Brown, CARICOM Secretariat’s Programme Manager for Culture and Community Development, made this announcement at the 21st Meeting of the Regional Cultural Committee (RCC), which opened at the Courtyard Marriott in Paramaribo, Suriname, on Thursday, December 1. She explained that the RCC would discuss with Suriname, plans for CARIFESTA XI, starting with logistic and promotional arrangements. “The Caribbean Community welcomes the offer of the Government of Suriname to host CARIFESTA XI in 2013 and we are all looking forward to the event with great anticipation, she stated,” noting that CARICOM was at a “crossroads in the development of this highly valued regional expose’ of Caribbean arts and culture.”

It will be the first time the Dutch-speaking CARICOM country will host the event under the new model prescribed in the strategic plan developed in 2004. The new approach provides more opportunities for professional and artistic development for the region’s artists. The plan proposes that CARIFESTA is geared toward inclusion and creating legacy.

Apart from the 15-member CARICOM grouping, the event plans to attract countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), of which Suriname has recently become a full member. President Dési Bouterse was adamant that in the spirit of globalisation more than 40 Latin American countries would also take part - the highest amount of participating nations in CARIFESTA history. He anticipates that Suriname will host more than 2,000 participants, given the fact that the contingents from each country should number at least 50.

Host city Paramaribo prepares to welcome painters, sculptors, theatrical artists, musicians, dancers and arts and craftsmen. The festival will be held in the historic wooden inner city of Paramaribo and the organisers say “from the Independence Square and the Presidential Palace, down to the heart of town, people are supposed to feel that CARIFESTA is in town. Paramaribo is going to be a Festival City that week”.

Suriname plans to host premier CARIFESTA events such as a Curry-Duck Fest and a Rum Festival featuring all rums of the region, with bartenders mixing up their cocktails.

In accordance with the advice given by the CARICOM Secretariat, Suriname has budgeted US$5 million for the event, knowing that the cost could increase. The Management Team are looking to various sponsors including the mobile phone companies operating in Suriname as well as the state oil company Staatsolie and gold miner Iamgold to provide much needed funds.

Theatres, exhibition halls, galleries and centres are having infrastructural "face lifts" as the country invites the world to the largest Cultural exhibition.

National carrier Surinam Airways and Dutch airline KLM are being approached to provide special rates for participants from the Netherlands which will open CARIFESTA's arms to Europe.

The Bahamas has received negative reviews for failing to host the festivals twice. Once in 2008 when Guyana took up the challenge and again in 2010 when they had shown no intentions of hosting it. The future of CARIFESTA seems to be strengthening as Haiti bids to host the event in 2015.

During an address at the 33rd Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community, hosted in July 2012 in Saint Lucia, Haitian President Michel Martelly asserted that receiving CARIFESTA in his country would make it possible to increase cultural relations with other neighbouring nations.

List of CARIFESTA Hostings
Carifesta Date Host
Carifesta I August 25 - September 15, 1972 Guyana
Carifesta II July 23 - August 2, 1976 Jamaica
Carifesta III 1979 Cuba
Carifesta IV July 19 - August 3, 1981 Barbados
Carifesta V August 22 – 28, 1992 Trinidad & Tobago
Carifesta VI August, 1995 Trinidad & Tobago
Carifesta VII August 17 – 26, 2000 Saint Kitts & Nevis
Carifesta VIII August 25 – 30, 2003 Suriname
Carifesta IX September, 2006 Trinidad & Tobago
Carifesta X August 22–31, 2008 Guyana
Carifesta XI Cancelled The Bahamas
Carifesta XI August 16–26, 2013 Suriname
Carifesta XII August 21–30, 2015 Haiti
Carifesta XIII August 17 - 27, 2017 Barbados


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