The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same!

The times they are a-changin’.

This post seems to be older than 10 years—a long time on the internet. Dated info and offers may no longer apply. Some technical info might be outdated. Please feel free to post a comment with any updated info .

masquerade at the Federal plazaHere are the details from a post on The business of Masquerade originally I   posted  On a conversation with masman Richie Richardson,  much I am sure has change… much  it seems has remained the same! Tomorrow I  have a Special Valentines Day offer on a Seven day online version of my Creative Incubator’s Creative Entrepreneurial Program That will run online Next week.  So I really  have little time to truly follow a debate from my native TT,  While specifics may differ, the issues being discussed are at the crux of discussions I am having and have been having with interest in St. Lucia, Trinidad, Jamaica, Paris, Lagos,Senegal, Russia, Germany,  India and Right here in NY!  It is a conversation specific to masquerade that I entered into in 2004…


This interview was done January 2004, just before I took Mas production and Richie Richardson to Federal Plaza, International Court of Appeal!  For Artist Mosaics February Seminar! A fashion and masquerade designer as well as an accomplished Graphic artist, I spoke to Richie on another,seldom explored alternative in masquerade design!

See it here



BSS I am aware that you have not produced traditional mas for quite awhile!2 pictures for you


RR I designed for savage in 1991, I at that time decide that I would use an exhibit,

rather than a traditional band fete to sell the mas…



BSS How did that work


RR Savage, when they came to me, were interested in “crossing over’ and based

on my experience, even though I had recently arrived, I had made some vital connections. I

approached the Castillo Center in the village, they loved the concept and we

did that Show/launch there! It was an overwhelming success, which showed

great potential for future expansion. I was able to see this potential. because I had not,

come from a mas camp experience. I came from a mas studio, working

Under Carlyle Chang, creating and designing, and exhibiting masquerade for

International venues!


BSS So, Mr. Chang had been doing this for years?


RR Mr. Chang practically lived by this, He designed for bands, but for most of the 80’s , sorry for most of the 70’s he had moved away from designing and went full, scale into designing mas as an art form, while most mas men saw the actual mas as a temporary thing, that you do for a couple days, then discard. Mr Chang, however, noticed that people were picking up what we were discarding and exhibiting it! 2 pictures for you

While we were discarding other people were curating what we were throwing away, and were getting recognition for keeping something alive, because we have this natural ability to constantly create, we think, that that’s enough! We’re missing out on a much bigger context, the context of documentation …and Caryle Chang was doing that.

So it was already being done, this was my blueprint. I had learned, my introduction to mas, it was fitting then that when I considered doing mas…it would be natural that I did it as an artform!

In 1991 I produced with Savage (Usa and in1997 I did Rage Xcess Rage, a J’ouvert band! Those were my only productions for the West Indian labor day celebration.

In fact I’ve done more Halloween production than any other type…


BSS …. So you produce mas outside of carnival


RR. I produce Mas outside of carnival, hence the masquerade format… it provides several factors. Mas, is an industry, Masquerade is an industry, and carnival is an industry. Carnival is the product, in that it is a celebration, a culmination of all that, but carnival is a culmination up to a certain point because it represents a————


BSS Is it trades show?


RR Yes it is…and after that you disappear and the “career is thru…masmen, the wire benders the great artisans, have no role any more. So it is an industry and an art form. More than any thing it is art and it is our art! That was started pre-emancipation. It is our art and for us really and truly to hold this legacy, to own this legacy and to capitalize on it we have to see this. I don’t knock those who see only carnival, some of us have to do that. It is however bigger and broader and some of us have to look towards other avenues


BSS Have you documented all of your exhibitions!


RR Yes I have exhibited @ the Castillo center the United Nations, Madison Square garden and the Smithsonian (more on Richie’s and Sandra bell’s exhibition of mas!)


BSS… And what of the response from the Caribbean community, I can’t seem to remember ever reading of this in the Caribbean press. I started this project looking to reconnect to my cultural roots. At the end of my fashhion design studies I started searching for what “trini-Style” meant. So I began reading the Caribbean press diligently! Yet I never heard about these artists and artisan, our cultural heroes, I may have heard Richie is in DC not specifically “Richie is exhibiting our culture at the Smithsonian. I was working with another artist you mentioned being at the Smithsonian I never even knew that it was going on. There seems to be a tradition of lack of support1.


RR When I did exhibit, I’d invite my community, but generally speaking they did not attend, there is an aversion to doing something different and new. (the need for a culture of support to place us ahead of the curb)When facing something that has been done for 30 odd years, to be willing to go in a different direction, often is taken as a slap in the face…initially they don’t give you that support, immediately, Now I’m beginning to get that recognition and respect. I’ve been doing this for ten years now, with endless critique, simply because I was doing something no one else was doing. The Support came from some key people

BSS Who believed…


RR not just believed they had the vision… they knew… so they gave support for it, the support was there but very miniscule! So I went out. I was in America and decided to take a shot and approached it as an American artist would… to the broadest market possible. Selling ice to the Eskimos, isnot always rhe best idea. We, already knew this, and even though I was taking a different approach, it was to be available to ordinary Trinidadians…or to the Caribbean community; I redefined my market in doing so it gave me a platform to grow and thrive (defining your market)

BSS I appreciate your encouragement. I’ll acknowledge that you have repeatedly encouraged me to go out. I have found two things that really bother me the lack of females in lead design roles in mas, and the non existence, the fear of anything new in the “tradition’

74 pictures for you

RR.. Again, those only exists in our community not in America.



BSS In searching for our definitions the natural instinct is to go home. When I am asked to do shows, I am always designated, a “Trinidad designer as a Caribbean designer!’ So I felt that I had a responsibility to genuinely represent the culture, I began studying “Trini-style, Caribbean style” and found very little documentation, real definition or even “experts’ on this. So I started slanting towards , a heavier emphasis on presentation, a more theatrical aspect veering towards masquerade! I remember discussing this with other Trini students @ FIT who had chosen specifically to study with an aim of returning , something to the culture and their country!


RR They would not let them in


BSS They would not let them in!


RR I’ve found that anything that challenges…and you have heard me say so before.. Experience is knowledge, but experience can also generate ignorance. You could be practicing for 20-30 years and you become so fluent, in one particular way, you assume you know better, that happens… and part of it is that Carnival is also TRADITIONAL, anything that comes and challenges that tradition…people will fight you….understand, I never had a fight … I simply went where I was accepted


BSS Is that why you keep encouraging me to exhibit? Admittedly even in fashion design there is a way that the discipline is practiced. The question then comes to mind, how one goes about pursuing this? For many in my generating and younger… this is unchartered territory, I recognize it’s importance in adding value to what already exist. Then there is the area of research. Most of the mas men I know of are unaware of new developments in technology, products and processes that can be adapted to the art form! I constantly keep educating my self. For example there is a micro-beading process for example that can be applied via, screen-printing and heat transfer. Imagine the pattern effects and sun! The very costume base- Bikini and bra is dated. The machinery, cutting, fabrication and draping techniques available, will not only cut cost but open up the creativity and design options1


RR well if you look @ the model those people who work outside the box are the ones who will always create and change! That is the nature of growth, they may be ridiculed, extradited, all those things, but eventually you will create a path that others will follow. Look at everyone who has created mas and there is one person who has undeniably changed the color, nature, philosophy of mas


BSS Peter Minshall


RR Peter Minshal, before him it was George Bailey. Now pay attention to this, the richness of Trini-Mas is huge and everyone of these men are really geniuses. Making great contributions, but most of them are merely part of a collective, They did the same mas year after year! Bailey came and changed the first concept, from when mas was on trolleys. Bailey came along and made man the mas and took the mas to the streets(see further update) that was 50’s, 60’s. Then Minsal came along in 70’s, 80’s. but Bailey was part of a collective thinking too , in every group of people there is a free thinker. He was initially ridiculed, as was Minshal but eventual they are copied and become the standard that everyone uses


BSS So today when I am told this is how it is done, it was not always done that way!


RR No it was not! Mas is creativity and creativity is about change!


BSS I remember Bailey’s name but have not found any info on him before now!


RR He is well documented!


BSS Well honestly I decided to speak to the present mas practitioners first to see what the present practitioners knew! What they were passing on, I have been researching for two years and this is the first mention of his name!( I have found info on the web but had book marked it for later reading) I have asked the questions but I’m not sure many people are aware of the design elements that create, change or influence the mas.


RR That was the point. I am a student, I really, really love this, and to be effective you must study this, You can’t assume you know all there is! Where Bailey made man the float and man the mas and transformed it to an epic presentation. Minshall fused the analogy! (see added updated on RiChie’s clarification from a veteran mas man) He came from a background in theater and was able to connect the “Masquerade”. It is all presentation, it is living art…Whether in an opera theater, Halloween, And IT IS LIVING ART!


BSS How?


RR Minshall was so far ahead of the curve he started Nothing hill then came back and designed for Lee Heung. He realized he was working within structures that did not suit him so he went out. What Minshal did more than anything else…, What made him controversial, is that he said mas was story. Mas was not necessarily color was story! Big difference! That was where he made his mark! While everyone was doing feathers and plumes, Minshall went with black and brown and …. What he emphasized was the story, theater. Mas, has always been about the theme, section after section varying on theme, with Minshall each section revealed a new part of the story!


BSS Is this generally understood and accepted. While interviewing the mas men in Brooklyn they were at a loss as to the relationship if any between the design, the mas, and presentation! It was about ‘buying the section ‘ or “my section”


RR Maybe you’re right, for me, if I found a lack of harmony in thinking I went separately, What I’ve discovered more than anything else is

this: There are teachers, In everything you do! I am a third generation artist; I recognize what history means, what teaching means, what being a good student means!


BSS You know what graduating means!(A time to graduate)


RR Yes I know what graduating means, and you do not fulfill your role until you understand what they have done. For me it is standing here and passing this on, I mean I will not contradict what anybody else, the Hawks, the Burrokeets, the Savages, Sesame flyers, they all have made fantastic contributions, I can’t stand and tell you that they are not making a contribution or validating the culture! My thing is when I open my mouth to speak I am honoring the road that is laid out that ancestral track, I do that simply because I could not be here if it weren’t for them, if they had not cleared that road for me and I had to know that if I planned to walk down the road claiming it was mas Trini style!


BSS Which was my reason for this …yes I saw mas, I knew of mas before I knew of WIADCA, or the Parkway, I spent my lunch times in the Mas Camp near my Belmont School, but I was brought up to view mas as decadent, sacrilegious, evil. I saw it up close through the women who played, I helped my mother fulfill orders for costumes when I was ten, By twelve I remember having to design costumed dolls for school projects, yet in my upbringing, mas, art was always seen as idle, decadent. When I initially decided to pursue art I found a lot of resistance. When I came here to study, it was tough to relate to the American Iashion industry…This was not a hustle, it was serious businessm. From breaking down the elements of design within the art form and tp creatimg line and brand consistency, laying out stories, story boards. Everyone claims to be a designer, however the discipline of design is an industry! I automatically assumed that there was a similar form, structure, to put forth the bands and create these ‘businesses” I thought, when visiting the camps I would find a well oiled design process and manufacturing machine. I was surprised, that after all these years; they had not set system to come up with pricing. The mass makers, volunteers, everyone kept speaking about the passion. PASSION AS PAYMENT! $ 300 million and that’s a conservative estimate yet the creators were paid in passion! The people profiting were not the artist!


RR The thing is bonnie you and I recognize that passion is implied. If you don’t have passion, art or creativity may not exist! This is a business. But for the people who practice mas, there is a lack of recognition that it is a business and here’s why? When they purchase material, it is business. They rent a space, it is business. If it were not businesses they would have gotten everything free. The vendor would have said “go ahead take, man, No problem.” The man renting the space would have said, go ahead it’s free. Everybody recognizes it!


BSS I keep hearing it is the love of culture. Somehow, they seem to think that the artist should create, freely; he owes a love to his culture! I’ve heard politicians, reporters, D.J’s, announcers applauding the love of the culture, even while they themselves get paid for adds, spaces they rent, voice-overs the shows at the Museum!


RR That is my point even the people who are saying they should do it for free, they are lying to themselves. They are lying to the artist. Do they tell every one come in for free. Do they say take all the drinks, don’t pay! Yet they expect the artist who is creating the very concept they are making money off to do exactly that!


BSS The artists, masmen,panmen,calpsonians are an integral part of the entertainment process!


RR That is true


BSS I was approached by a local band to design their t-shirt… branded logo mind you! That would evolve into a merchandise line! I quoted an industry rate for basic not specialized work and offered to transfer all rights! They offered to pay $75.00, I refused. We have such gifted artist in our communities, many have studied, but they are not taught the business of their art! Here and in the Caribbean. There are industry shows, say print shows, where for example artist will sell there work for $450 each, a design , not the series, standard! We fought for these programs through CUTTAGE and the Designer’s Association in TT almost 20 years ago. I sit in trending workshop and seminars and hearing talk of the future importance of multiculti (multiculturalism today) elements in our design. Then go to my communities and see these artists pushing each other out of the way for $50-75.00 or hanging around unemployment offices! The talent is out there. The funding, the demand! That’s why I started AM project, but the artist …


RR well I do press, I do Caribbean press, hoping to expose more people, However I keep seeing people already on the circuit! The majority of people would not come,lack of interes? Or is there a high degree of ego and ignorance involved. Many believe supporting you, would be saying others are wrong. Well it is not wrong, it is different. It is a matter of exposure to art (the role of our black press preservation and economic success of the culture), My personal philosophy… when we launched rage we did a production, in front of the street @ our camp. Bring the customer directly to the camp. At our camp we never had a bar we sold merchandise! We made money, probably one of the most successful band fundraisers in the history of NY Mas


BSS I have been campaigning preaching to these people about merchandising


RR This is a business, why put out a huge amt of money to do a party.


BSS I’ve asked this. I’ve pointed to low, no cost set-up, I’ve volunteered my self , my services, those of my girls… I’ve asked for pictures, sketches from over 30 years of mas.


RR We’re back there again, that experience and tradition thing, where they feel they know it all, where there is little you can tell them especially if you are a new comer! I mean how dare you…A total newcomer! That is why I did not get the support when I initially started. I was totally new!


BSS I noticed however there is not even a process for accessing, reviewing new talent!


RR How dare you… How dare you tell us to do it differently? I did not see it as airing I came out of a tradition where I was expected taught to be original. I was following my natural calling!


BSS Now that you mention it …I’ve never been called on to rise to my challenge I have critiqued for two years, not one person has asked how! When I enquired as to the process… “someone did the research, and provided the background. A section leader may pay his section fees, design his costume, then someone would sketch, render the entire Mas, then they would come up with a story, or some variation on that! No one is sure who owns the intellectual property rites to what, the band, the researcher, the section leader! So there is no compensation or merchandising! It is mainly reproduction, in itself viable, but for Masquerade and the competition… Every design competition I know sets originality and IP standards to preserve the integrity of the art form. Forget about Personality branding and marketing. Eve, Sean Jean, and Calvin Klien may not design the lines themselves. They may not even fully own the companies, but there is consistency, there is face associated with the line. There is a person who answers questions during interviews, who set the tone, who sells the concept! But Mas! The artist rendering is often given credit, but he may not be the designer he is never brought out to sell!



RR Rendering, so there is no story, no cohesion, no thematic,


BSS sporadic, no focus


RR A lot of bands work with design, a major band once came to me, why couldn’t we work together; my approach was all design business and they were not prepared with design as a business. They had expected $75 a rendering, not $350-450 A design


BSS but that is fair and industry standard. Even if from oncept tpfinished product you spent Two days, 16 hrs, and agret design even computer generated, may be the product of weeks of work… that less than $ % an hour, with no benefits, ajobe at afast food joint is better!


RR I know, I said Masquerade designer, graphic designer, this is my business. Then again, I do watercolor, a layering process! I do not do poster paints


BSS Do you retain your rights?


RR Yes, I do What I have done, everything I do Is based on the future and continuity. For me it is important that I retain rights especially for exhibits 1


BSS … And at $450. you won’t sell it!


RR You really cannot buy it, I’m licensing my work!


BSS- When I spoke about that they looked at me as though I was crazy when you explain that a transfer of copyright, would escalate the cost. So they do not deal with professional designers! There is a lot involved in the design process, when I was interviewing the section leader, I found a system that did not leave room for business. A section leader pays to be part of the band and a copy of rendered artwork. When that section leader designed his section costume, he’d give a rough sketch to the artist. Now he originated the concept, and was not paid for it, but for all intents and purposes it is his to retain after the season, the artist rendered a work for hire without any creative input!


RR He owned the copyright it is his work. His involvement in the band is what he paid for, it is a marriage of convenience. They cannot profit from it unless some compensation agreement is made


BSS I believe that in order for advancement to be made these are issues that have to be dealt with! Another issue is compensation via revelers fees. Well I reviewed one section leader his costume was priced to sell @ $150.00 US. I know my business. I immediately saw he was operating @ a lost. A cost analysis showed a production cost 0f $ 180.00. Tips on cutting cost. They have a system of not counting all their cost so each year, they swear never again! He is an award winning artist. His costume, sewing and craftsmanship were just beautiful. He got no funding! That costume was worth at least $480.00 but the Market won’t support that price, people do not value the work! Adding value to the mas

RR The model they used is not based on common sense! They give a party; that’s venue, d.j. flyers and advertising to launch. They are competing for the same core group. No coordinated launch (marketing for press and exposure ala seventh on sixth) dates, midway comes the cops, license, noise pollution…bus de fete! When setting up as a business…why must this be about alcohol, you are not selling alcohol you are in the mas business not the distillery!


BSS I have always seen a particular brand of malted beverage at the mas camps, I always assumed Guinness supported mas men. Now I wonder how much money does Guinness (this company) give the mass man. Well I learnt they got beverages to sell. Whatever money is being given is not reaching the mas man. Now these beer companies that enjoy such high consumption do they lobby on behalf of their supporters rights, where are these high paid lawyers when the raids of the are going on…, do they take the issue on, it is really to their benefit!


RR we have the mentality of servants. We believe in serving. When 10% of all we do is spent in mas and 90% is spent elsewhere. Hoping for trickle down!


BSS here’s something else; you have a 500 -400 strong mas band! Everyone needs to carry keys, drinks, tissue, towels, and shoes. Lets say 1000, 1000 persons who need shoes to play mas, Payless $15×1000, Nike $ 60x 1000, that is $15000.-$60,000. No product endorsements, sponsorships, at the least coupon deals! Do not get me started on those flags they wave. @ Least 3million flags a years representing countries, yet not one buck back into the community! And no one wants to insist that there be some accounting as to the monies that is involved!


RR Again They do not recognize the merchandising they do not see it as integral. It is a total absence of facts. They relate giving a party to the success of a band (what about this is true) That has little to do with the success of mas. Those are people who want to have a good time. Yes this is integral to carnival, But mas, the selling of the costume. When people buy merchandise that directly supports your costumes, your band, it not only supports it, it also keeps selling the message! Self-generating, self-supporting! But if you are showcasing mas and everyone buy’s Guinness they buy Guinness!


BSS I suppose a party makes sense if 75% 0f the people attending would play in your band! I believe that parties would be great as fundraiser providing, costs are kept low; they made 3 times what they cost so money goes towards the mas! At present the fetes compete in terms of focus, it’s about intent. A “fete” division as such is a lucrative part of the Mas organization! But what are you selling Fete or mas!” Maybe the problem is that the leaders are promoters not mas artist, so their loyalty lies elsewhere!


RR Just be mindful, lead by example, When we had Rage, Many complained it was not a mas camp, but a ‘Studio, and it was not said as a complement. Two years later these same people were framing their work in glass. Soon their will be another mas Studio. (During 2004 labor day celebration HAWKS took the initiative and set up a mas Studio!) No one had framed there work before. Traditionally these guys placed a plastic over and tacked their work up. PEOPLE DO PAY ATTENTION the very ones who criticize do! That is why I tell you just do what you have to others will follow!


BSS For the two years I have been following this I have been amazed


RR for 32 years we’ve been doing this… there are over 40+ carnivals in the US, that is growth it means there are 40+ groups of people who are contributing to their own welfare, to the economy! But also introducing a new culture to the arena…so that is growth! The movement is taking shape. When I am asked to do an exhibition or workshop, I use the word Masquerade… almost everyone knows it, almost everyone knows what your are speaking of. This is the good part. The flipside, the politician the sponsors, the business men. We have become the practitioners who will do it for free and they make the money. Well the Caribbean Research Institute estimate that we spend upward if of $500 million during the NY Carnival season! No one can say how that money comes back into the community. We are good servants, and I mean that in a pre-emancipation sense, not a valued hired help who gets paid for services. When I walk into my friend’s house I am helping her clean!. But when I walk into the business she works in I am now helping that business. Two for they price of one


BSS I don’t think it is purposely done. I don’t think the average person understands their role (our role in our survival) What we contribute, What we are entitled to and what we are worth to his city! For Example the issue o WIADCA I have found not one person that can document financial help to the artist, no up-front funding to offset the mas, to offset the cost to the consumer , very little prize money and even less accountability


RR It has been questioned


BSS But we are speaking about accountability. A legal necessity with their 501c3 status! I have nothing against WIADCA. This is their event they are event planners, I do not see them as arts advocates! That is like trusting the MTA to negotiate the salary package and benefits of the workers. That is why you need a mas men’s union separate from WIADCA. If I were WIADCA, my goals would be to do as much as possible for the least money! That is in the interest of my organization. It is up to Carnival artist and entertainers to create a union to look after and negotiate on their behalf!( the history of trying to unify the carnival artist!)

RR But when you are given something for nothing there is no accountability thus back to business.


BSS That and the fact that many see this as “a little hustle on the side.” They do not themselves, want an account of their earnings!


RR They assume it will cost them!


BSS We assume a lot! For example I always assumed that WIADCA official were running the parkway. Well last year (2003) I was asked by a visitor to be directed to the nearest WIADCA official I asked at the booth , A media booth. Where that would be, (Nostrand and Eastern parkway)

The best answer… Try the Museum! It suddenly dawned on me I had never seen an official except those in the parade , on the Parkway! (arrange interview with WIADCA) I noticed also that t-shirt bands were in between the mas bands, contrary to what WIADCA had issue!. So the next day I asked a reveler , a veteran masquerader what had happened to affect this change , why had WIADCA changed their policy! I was told that WIADCA”s people for the most part, were deployed at the museum., that this was the first year they had had someone @ the starting lines, And that to find A WIADCA official on the route was near impossible! That was the year I realized that that it was the NYPD who ran and were responsible for the parkway. An organization not trained in “CARNIVAL “ crowd control! Last I checked they did not provide training in cultural production to their officers,(check with police official about training procedures) So they handled it how they knew best! It was the bandleaders who knew how this is done and use their experience To guide things along!


RR The question is, do they care! When they got money there was funding in the budget for production! Again no accountability, no business!


BSS when you did savage there was no money up front grants!


RR When I did savage I went out and found money for the monarch! The monarch usually foots the bill . Since I exhibit I needed to be able to have access to the monarch costume!


BSS What happened?


RR there was a perception that I was getting too much media and the focus, on the designer became an issue.


BSS I noticed the disparity issue, but last year (2003) year it was the group that got the press, and not the designer! The problem I see is the lack of understanding in marketing art , within this culture and seeing the masband as a business!


RR Again…. Credibility, ownership, and value issues. The Castillo Center wanted the exhibit to succeed, so they did the press.


BSS… which, properly done, brought focus on the artist, his art form and later funding sources, which if they did not continued was lost! That happened with 1199, here however they came with a recognizable name, an established brand, and press credibility. They got a lot of press both in media and scope. Had the designer’s press and media been right, for both his presentation and himself been tighter, he would have been able to piggy back on this1

RR Exactly!


BSS I was speaking in the project I am working on to one of the artist, (the Artist Mosaics project)She wants to exhibit solely in her home! But in this case proper showcasing and exhibiying, would add to the value of her product! For her product to be profitable it has to be high end! It matters that it sits in say Oprah’s home or a corporate lobby rather than my living room!


RR It has been done there is a model! Follow your instincts it is part of your heritage! You can visualize the end result, not everyone can… where mas is not in a back yard, but in a studio, operating 12 months a year, fully funded. That should be the profitable business!




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