The Need for a National Arts Center in Dominica

There has been the suggestion, by a few individuals, about the establishment of what in effect would be a National Arts Center in Dominica. I, too, would like to lend my voice to the establishment of such an institution in Dominica. It would be a center, where the work of national artistes, could be displayed and viewed by nationals, as well as tourists to Dominica. It would be a place where school children could visit and learn to appreciate, from an early age, the work of our local artistic “masters.”

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Old Mill Cultural Center

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Roseau Public Library

I am aware that we have the museum on the bay front (the Old Post Office building) in Roseau; the Old Mill Cultural Center in Canefield, and the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. However, what I am referring to would be a building that would encompass all the art forms in one central location and where the work of our artistes can be shown on  screens, in videos, or performed or read at certain periods.

We have seen and heard of notable artistes throughout the years, but sadly their legacies have disappeared and in some cases we are at a loss to identify or name the ones who paved the way for our dancers, painters, playwrights: people like Darius David, Mabel-Cissy Cauderion, Jean Lawrence, Lord Tokyo, Lord Solo, and Gaylords, to name a few.

Our artistic creativity, in all forms, is unique. Some may say that painters and writers do not have a unique craft, but the topics and the scenes that they paint or which inspire their craft, are quite different from what are present in many others countries. Our music and dance and speech are indeed unique.

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The Museum on Dame Eugenia Charles Boulevard

We have seen many artistes of promise blossom before our very eyes: Alex Bruno, Earl Ettiene, Steve Hyacinth, Arnold Toulon, Alick Lazare, Glenford John, Dave Wilson, Ophelia Olivacce’-Marie, Gramacks and the list goes on and on, but we need to have a facility where we can proudly present and conserve the work of those talented individuals and groups as a united body, not as individual artistes lost in the art doldrums of Dominica. Maybe that would be a way for all of our artistes to put their heads together and use all available resources that would help improve the standard of their work.

I recently read a post on Facebook by a fellow artiste; a very talented one at that too; about the fear of us losing one of our musical creations – bouyon music – and we know this is a possibility. But what steps do we take or have taken to preserve our own from being copied, modified or pirated? Is there a real national front present to help preserve all our art forms?

We have to get away from the sometimish attitude: local calypsos during carnival season and then packed away to collect dust till the next year while we give airplay to calypsos from other islands; local folk songs and poetry and dance during the period leading up to and during independence celebrations; and plays, just every now and then. It is time we create a culture of oneness.

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Dominica’s Lady of Song-Ophelia

Some may argue; Why waste money on arts? But our artistic talents and uniqueness identify us as a people. They are what we are…from the Kalinago weaving their craft to a fisherman making fish pots, to the quadrille group from Paix Bouche gracefully performing their pieces; this is our artistic make-up or DNA, if I may say so. Many countries have gone to lengths to preserve theirs and I don’t need to spell it out; but is there anything wrong if we do this for ours?

We have made some mistakes in terms of preserving and saving some of our cultural heritage; our symbols and our language and we must not allow this to happen again. The staging of the WCMF (though not fully of Dominican participation) has placed us in the musical limelight. The establishment of the Literary Arts Festival is another superb creation that can only continue to grow and become a really national event. Some of the greatest Caribbean authors are now gracing our shores with their presence and we have shown that we are able to hold our own within the sphere of Caribbean Literature.

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Dr. Lennox Honychurch

I also believe that our radio stations and television stations should devote more programming time to sensitizing Dominicans about the work of their own, rather than the imported American programs. Spend more time letting the people of the island appreciate what is theirs rather than spending so much time and money on programs that create divisiveness, anger and poor national morale. Our cultural and artistic development, are dependent on many aspects and they all need to be highlighted to allow our people to have the greatest appreciation for what is ours, year-round.

In the event that we do see the construction of a new building to replace the existing Roseau Public Library, one which is now long overdue, this may be one aspect that can be incorporated into the layout and functions of that building. One that may well complement what the library should be all about.

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Dr. Alwin Bully

The accolades that have been bestowed on Drs. Lennox Honychurch and Alwin Bully, protectors and promoters of our creativity, speak volumes, and in their own humble way, these two talented sons of the soil, have etched the written and spoken words in our minds — I dare say, hopefully, for a long time to come. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Streak or Nite Box shown on national TV or videos highlighting the plays? These plays were performed at very special times in our history, but where are they in terms of being regarded as such? What about listening to recorded pieces by Dr. Honychurch about the island’s history and about its people? Or  maybe a tape recording of Lawrence Brumant narrating some of his contes?

Creating an institution that can keep the works of the artistes of this land alive for generations to come is, in my opinion, dearly needed. We need to give our artistes the incentive to want to continue painting, writing, performing and narrating their stories; not only in February-March or October and November, but year round. In this way we can give the young ones the belief that they too can step in and fall in line or stand side by side with our artistic and cultural heroes and we can have the belief that when we decide to “hang our boots” there will be capable artistes filling our spots.

I hope that this can be a reality some day in Dominica. There are and will be obstacles but if we are determined and focused, I believe we can achieve such a goal. Time will tell, though!

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Dominican Literature and Self-Publishing

My last posting back in February, dealt with the growth of Dominican Literature and the strides that writers of Dominica – not Dominican Republic I will be quick to point out – have been making over the past years. Soon after I posted that blog I discovered two new authors who have joined the ranks of self-published authors in Dominica, or Dominican authors based overseas.

First, is a young lady from my home village of St. Joseph, Catherine Pierre who recently published Mindy Genie, in England where she lived for a while. Mindy Genie is the story of a young genie and its teenage master. The other is Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, who published Love Across the Atlantic in the USA, while she was based in Florida. Gweneth’s book is a story of romance between the author and her husband.

I recently finished reading Mindy Genie, I Lost My Cathedral, by Henry Johnson from Roseau and Love Across the Atlantic. These are the books in my little collection that I have recently purchased including Sonnets in the Waking Moments by Joszann St. John and Behind Closed Doors, which I am presently reading, by Augustina Rolle who is from Trafalgar.

Another development that has recently taken place, is the collaboration between the Domnichen Poetic Circle—a Facebook group of poets started by Dominican artist Ronald “Baba” Deschamps—and Dominica News Online. Every Friday, DNO will publish a poem by a member of the DPC. This collaboration started after one of the DPC members submitted a copy of one of her poems to DNO and it was published, paving the way for what is a good means of exposing the work of unpublished and even published writers both within and outside of Dominica.

I believe we are rapidly creating our very own niche within the Caribbean circles and hopefully as technology opens new avenues, we will get the room to develop further and our local writers will have the opportunity of having more of their works published. There are many established writers in the Caribbean and if we hope to be counted among them, we have to step up our game, so to speak.

With that said, I am aware of the numerous hurdles that many of the local writers are faced with in getting their work published, promoted and sold: the lack of a publishing house; the size of the local market; proficient editors and proofreaders, to name a few. These are some of the aspects of the publishing industry that will limit how well our writers can compete on a local, regional and international market with already established writers, many who have agents and publishing houses at their call.

Those of us who live in the United States, Canada or Europe have an advantage in that we are in a larger market and we have more resources available to us. We are not faced with issues such as the currency exchange, cost of mailing and there is a wide range of personnel that we can choose from to do some of the ground work for us, though some of us by-pass or ignore some of these resources for one reason or another.

Nowadays, many writers are not prepared to wait as long as was done in the past for a Publishing House to give an answer on a submitted manuscript and therefore, many are having their work published even if the work may not be to the standard that makes the book stand out. As I once mentioned, I had tried to get my latest book published by a Caribbean publisher, but after the initial response and a promise to contact later, I am still waiting 3 years later, which actually is not long based on publishing conditions.

I was recently asked by a budding author for some guidelines re self-publishing since she was interested in knowing what was involved. I don’t believe that I can claim to be an authority or expert on self-publishing, but after 18 years and three self-published works I believe I can share my experiences and give some advice. After what turned out to be a 3-part series on my Facebook page, I was surprised by the amount of work that is really involved in the process, and so too was the person who had sought my advice.

Many new or inexperienced authors are unaware of the ups and downs of self-publishing and that is the reason why sometimes what is supposed to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience turns out to be a harrowing experience. It is not just a matter of climbing atop Morne Diablotin to announce the publication of your book. What matters is the quality, content, and appearance so that you will be able to compete within the literary sphere. We can make the decision to self-publish or not, but it is extremely important that if we choose to go that route, we have a plan to execute that process.

I don’t know how practical it will be someday to see a publishing house in Dominica or a company geared towards publishing books and providing all the resources needed including conversion to e-books and having books available on line. I know that we have Pont Casse Press under the direction of Dr. Irving Andre and Gabriel Christian and most of their work is published under that trademark. It would be nice to see the company evolve into one that would help in the publication of works of local writers, both in Dominica and overseas.

Self-published authors need to be aware that once a proof has been signed-off the author is culpable. One has to make certain that whatever enhances the book’s quality such as the plot, cover blurb, a foreword or introduction are error free.  No one is going to blame the publisher. All blame will fall on you. We all get excited about seeing our book in print, but we must not compromise, when it comes to producing a good book.

I pray that our budding writers will get some inspiration from those among us who have stepped up to the crease (if I may use a cricket term here) and that they too can one day fall in line behind Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, Joszann St. John, Catherine Pierre, Henry Johnson and Elsa Rolle who have had the belief and confidence that they can lend their voices or hands in the continued growth of Dominica’s Literature; watering it with their thoughts, emotions and long-lasting devotion to the art form.

Continuing the Journey

During the past twelve months I have been promoting my latest book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends”—a story of a shopkeeper and her gang of “trusted” friends set in my home village of St. Joseph on the island of Dominica.

As a “Jack of all”— writer, publisher, promoter, artist, editor, salesman—whatever role was needed, I found myself playing it. I had to find ways to bring the story of this woman and her friends to the bookshelves, Nooks, Kindles and libraries of readers wherever Ma William was available.

It has been a challenge doing all this, while at the same time working a full-time job and taking care of some health issues. However, I’d be telling a lie if I said that the journey has not been worth it. Yes, there were many rough times, but also some very rewarding ones. The support and approval of my work outweighed or outnumbered the objections.

I have had the opportunity to work with a wonderful person, Eunice Nisbett of Savvy BestSellers, who offered tremendous support and with whose assistance I was able to embark on my first Virtual Book Tour from May 13th – 18th. We were also able to create and launch this blog site. Eunice has been instrumental in getting my work promoted on caribdirect.com affording me the exposure needed to promote my book regionally. We have been continually working on finding new avenues and better ways to promote my work; and lay the groundwork for new projects.

I have also had the opportunity to participate in a few events and meet with other writers/authors: the Yonkers Book Festival, the Yonkers Riverfest, and the Collingswood Book Festival; as well as at the DARDA Independence Day Celebrations and the Know Your Culture Independence Gala. The experience has been well worth it. I joined the Dominica Poetic Circle – a Facebook group, and have used the opportunity to network and continue the promotion, not only of ‘Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” but also of my other books, my photography and paintings, and to share my work with other members of the group. I also created and designed my own book-trailer which has been posted to YouTube.

There have been a few disappointments along the way—a sense of what I think is the lack of support for local authors and maybe I can generalize here—for local artists. My belief is that too often our work is treated as second class. I don’t know if it is the fault of the artists or our general attitude that something by someone else is always better. However, the support that is forthcoming from those who appreciate what we do, blunts the effects of the rejection and negativity. In essence, the passion for your craft is the driving force behind it all.

A friend recently forwarded me a link. The article that was attached to that link dealt with Playin’ Mas by blogger “Akers” and one of the chapters in “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends” was a source of what was referenced for her article. Behind The Mask: Playin’ Mas. I felt good that my work was used by someone to talk about something that all of us in Dominica, and some other countries in the Caribbean, are familiar with—Playin’ Mas. Ma William has been about life, as I saw it then and as the people of St. Joseph lived it then.

Christmas is a few days away and I can see the activity going on in Ma William’s shop. I can hear Ma William and Ma Simbert discussing what they would be doing for Christmas. Paul, bringing some yams for Ma William to sell for him in the shop; Bamboo, trying to get a few little odd jobs to have some money in his pocket; Pappy, doing his best to stay as the “big boy” in the group and, not the least among them, Mr. Jones having to tell everyone if he had received “greenbacks” from his children in the US. They would all be talking of what they would do after midnight mass. As “nennen,” Ma William would be getting her little packages ready to give to the many god-children who would be stopping by during the season. Yes, that was it back then!

So as I wind down 2012, it’s time to look ahead to new projects. Yes, I’ll continue promoting “Ma William and her Circle of Friends,” “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and “The Island Man Sings His Song,” but there is more that I’d like to share. What is it? We’ll see, if the Almighty grants me the opportunity. Some readers have asked about a sequel to Ma William…very interesting I find and an unexpected request, I may add. Others have asked me when I plan to publish the next book. I won’t commit to anything yet, but hopefully that won’t be too long from now.

In the interim let me say thanks for the support and encouragement of so many of you out there. I sincerely appreciate it. Special thanks to caribdirect.com and thedominican.net for continuing to feature my writing. To those of you who have not yet bought your copy, here’s your opportunity to get one as a gift for someone or for yourself, this Christmas. I assure you it will be a wonderful gift that you, or that special someone, will cherish for a very long time.

All the best and a Blessed and Merry Christmas to You and Your Families.

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