The chief of the East Midlands’ foremost Carnival organisation has reiterated the importance of generational legacy in keeping the tradition alive.
Donna Briscoe-Greene, CEO of the East Midlands Caribbean Carnival Arts Network (EMCCAN), states that preserving elders’ experience and skills is ‘a matter of urgency’ ahead of this year’s circuit.
“The volunteers that are fundamentally the most experienced and most involved are a bit older now and need to pass that information on.
“We are predominantly led by a board of directors that hold decades of experience in this area of work, so it’s really important to understand that their passion and time is of value,” Donna says.
Donna, who previously ran the Maypole Cafe Bar, has been overseeing the delivery of the regional Carnivals across Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Northampton since she was appointed as CEO in 2022.
From an outsider’s perspective, Carnival may appear to just be a single day – but for Donna and the regional teams working behind the scenes, it’s a parade that keeps marching all year round.
“The Carnivals take place from June to August,” Donna explains. “But before that, there’s the workshops, the costume building, the dancing…all of that development, and then building the infrastructure to deliver it.”
More recently, EMCCAN’s role has included raising greater public awareness of the history of Carnival and the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
In March, a showcase was held at the Albert Hall in Nottingham titled ‘Jouvert to Last Lap’, which showed attendees what a full day of Carnival is like, as well as going into the lore behind some of the recurring character costumes like Jab Jab and Midnight Robber.
“We had music from the Ebony Steel Band, different troupes from Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, and Northampton provided the amazing narrator for the day,” Donna says.
She adds: “We all collaborate really well as a network, and choosing the Albert Hall was about trying to get into a new space that we wouldn’t normally be seen in to reach audiences that we wouldn’t normally reach.”
“Blood, sweat and tears have gone into this, quite literally”Donna Briscoe-Greene, EMCCAN CEO
On the cusp of Carnival season, EMCCAN also hosts a Regional Costume Competition, which was held in Leicester this year. The contest sees a panel of judges assess the queens, kings, princes and princesses of Carnival on their outfits, performances and overall themes, building confidence and excitement for the upcoming events.
Through projects like these, Donna hopes to broaden people’s perceptions of what Carnival is and its importance to the community, to ensure that it is valued and maintained for generations to come.
“For Carnival, most of the costumes aren’t stored in a way that you could come back to and have a historical moment to say, ‘I remember when this was created,’ because we have to either recycle them or throw them away,” she says. “When I started working with EMCCAN, I was asked to help move some costumes, and that was when I realised what happens, which was quite hard. For me it’s not just a party in the street – blood, sweat and tears have gone into this, quite literally. I’ve seen it.”
Carnival is a day of visibility for Caribbean culture: the attire, the music, the flags, the food and of course the people and their history – but Donna says that for all of this to remain visible, organisations like EMCCAN need support.
“The hope is that we will build it into an academy, where there will be the training elements and opportunities for marketers, costume makers or designers,” she adds. “So keep on believing in us – we’re just trying to ensure that we stay as professional, well-rounded and brilliant as we’ve always been.”
Derby Caribbean Carnival takes place on Sunday 16th July and will parade from the City Centre to Osmaston Park