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Hard times won't stop the carnival

MASTER: Professor Black in his workshop

TIMES ARE tough but one thing is certain – cutting costs is not going to stop the Birmingham Carnival because it’s a dazzling extravaganza that has been part of the city’s cultural heritage for far too long.

These are the determined words of Ava Johnson, one of the stalwarts of Birmingham Carnival 2000 Ltd, who is now campaigning to get carnival back on the road for 2016 – and that means making plans now.

With so many austerity cutbacks, the biennial event has suffered the same brutal spending cuts as many other high profile celebrations in Birmingham, but no one on the carnival team is prepared to hang up their sequinned outfits and call it a day.

“We’re currently looking for sufficient funding to re-launch carnival and give it a charitable status,” explained Ava, who said this year’s event planned for August had to be scrapped through lack of finance.

Funding presents a challenge with the last carnival in 2013 costing £116,000 to stage the famous street parade from Handsworth’s Soho Road before arriving in Handsworth Park. Security alone cost £31,000, the electricity bill was £22,000 and the clearing up costs were £18,000.

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And it’s already been well publicised that Birmingham City Council is no longer in a position to help out. A spokesperson said: “It is common knowledge that due to financial pressures, the council has withdrawn subsidies from community events, but will continue to support these events ‘in kind’ in the future with officer support.”

Ava added: “I’ve had so many people stop me and ask if Carnival will be on this year – it’s impossible but it’s made us all the more determined for next year. We intend to start by holding a street parade in October during Black History Month to raise awareness and attract potential sponsors.


PARTY HARD: Lord Mayor Mike Leddy enjoys a dancing lesson at the last carnival in 2013

“Traditionally carnival’s roots lie in Handsworth with its strong Caribbean links, but it’s always been a Birmingham event and I’d like to see a small parade held later this year in Broad Street right in the city centre as a taster for 2016.

“Birmingham is now much more of a global city than it was when African Caribbean people came here in the 1950s and I’d like to see that reflected in carnival – we need dancers from Eastern Europe and the Chinese community included in the street parade. We need to grow the carnival to be an event that reflects the Birmingham of today.”

Ava also feels it’s time that one of carnival’s legends – costume maker Professor Black, aka Arlton Browne, needs to be given the acclaim he deserves as an outstanding developer of carnival costumes from his workshop at Handsworth’s Oaklands Centre where he has made thousands of stunning carnival outfits since the 1980s.

“What Professor Black has given visually to carnival is priceless and we need to recognise all his hard work, given for free, by being able to display the incredibly beautiful costumes he has created over the decades,” added Ava.

“Over the years a procession of fashion students has learned at the feet of the master who has always been keen to support the next generation, so it would be good if some of those students could put something back by helping us to stage the celebration.”

Ava said: “It’s a mammoth task and if anyone wants to take carnival that would be fine by me! We need more young people to get involved, so I’m planning to make sure more schools, colleges and art and design faculties increase the interest of the coming generation.

“Carnival has always been part of Birmingham – it’s far too valuable to lose, so no – let’s not stop the carnival.”

Anyone who can offer help can contact Ava on 07732 236 631 or email: a.m.johns119@hotmail.co.uk

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