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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Looking Back-Yet Moving Forward

 

ma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpgThe last leg of my artistic and literary journey for 2013 has come to an end and I am now standing in the doorway of 2014, waiting expectantly to enter the different rooms and see what is in store for me. Hopefully, it will be a year of continued growth based on the seeds that were planted and nurtured throughout the year.

I entered 2013 with some skepticism since I was trying to get back on course after a few health issues that derailed some of my plans the prior year, yet I was able to achieve a few of the set goals, but not close to what I had envisioned.

My main effort of concentration in 2013 was working on promoting my book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” and I put a lot of effort and time–long, late hours–finding creative ways to reach out to the Dominican public and share the story of Ma William-a shopkeeper in the village of St. Joseph, or, of any village in the island and possibly the Caribbean. I had to find innovative ways to do so on Facebook and online generally, while at the same time working a full-time job. But nonetheless, I gave it my all and throughout the year I participated in a number of events by Dominican organizations, where I displayed my work. At the same time, I have been working on two new projects and also trying to keep this blog current and trying to remain sane while all other things circled around me.

I stepped down as a member of the Dominican Poetic Circle (DPC) after unwarranted attacks of my work and my ability, made by a member of the group on the DPC Facebook site. That gave me the incentive to push on alone to achieve goals that I had set for myself. I became more focused on my own pages on Facebook; Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and Mesye Kwik! Kwak! as well as my personal page, and went on promoting my work much more than I had done previously and gained personal satisfaction from so doing. However, none of that would have been possible without the support of a number of individuals, most of whom I met on Facebook and DPC, but have never met personally, who rallied behind me and supported me through it all.  Les Li, Jenny James, Joszann St. John, Eunice Nisbett, Delia Cuffy-Weekes, Kalinago Woryi, Paula John, Gloreen Vigilant, Rhona Lawrence and Marva Paul Loblack, among others.

I also had the opportunity to assist and work with some other Dominican authors throughout the year. I was extremely pleased and gratified that I could assist in their projects and honored for the trust and confidence they placed in me by seeking my help and advice: Catherine Pierre, Joszann St. John and Gweneth Jules-Moorhouse, most notably.

As a self-published author, it has not been an easy task to get the work in the hands of the public, but it is a challenge that I have embraced and appreciated and I do not spare any available opportunity to promote my work. If I don’t then who will…Well, some will, I should say, like Jenny James, an individual I have met only on Facebook, who has wholeheartedly given me her  support by promoting all aspects of my work. I thank Jenny for her unselfish act and I cannot be more humbled by it all. The literary journey that began over 40 years ago at the St. Mary’s Academy, has given me the opportunity to reach many individuals both in Dominica and overseas, and I have gained a lot of satisfaction and personal growth along that journey.

At the beginning of 2013, I decided to devote more time than I previously had to my paintings and that, too, turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. I have been amazed by the feedback that I have received about my paintings and I have been left to wonder if my painting is beginning to overshadow my writing. It has been refreshing the manner in which many have gravitated to my paintings and this was very apparent when I was working on my latest piece which I entitled The Village. There were daily comments made on my Facebook page by those who were rather impressed with the piece. And all this after I had gone into hiding for over 25 years…well to my daughter’s angst, I must say. But all is well now.

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2013 also saw a new perspective in terms of my photography. I devoted much more time in order to push myself and do more; create more and showcase my capabilities behind the camera. I recently joined the Newark Camera Club based in Springfield, NJ and the rewards have been instantaneous. I have the opportunity to see other photographers at work and get insights and ideas from them.

I have not been more energized than I have been these past three months and I am enjoying it all. God-given talents are not to be left stored away, I learnt, so I am more invigorated than ever before.

I organized an exhibition of all my works as part of Dominica’s Independence celebrations on the 3rd of November at the Knights of Columbus in my hometown, Union, NJ. To say the least, I was disappointed with the response from those whom I had invited, but I cannot in any way discount the appreciation I had for those who attended; some coming from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Besides, I was proud to display my work and feel a sense of accomplishment regardless of the turnout. I saw this as a foundation to build on and an opportunity to feel the response of those who attended and share a little bit of me with them.

But, besides the few hiccups that I experienced during the year, there were a few bright spots added to those of my artistic journey. There were some family accomplishments that helped lift my spirit. My son, Jamal, graduated from Temple University with a Civil Engineering degree and soon after that was able to get employment; my daughter, Mandisa, returned to the University of Pennsylvania to do a Master’s Degree in Education, and me, I worked on getting myself healthy again, while having to deal with one of the low points of the year…my wife being laid off from her job. Although this has given us the opportunity to share a lot of time together, it was not the way we had envisioned things. It however, allowed her the time to critique my work as I produced my pieces. The situation is out of our control so we will work together to make it better.

But, as I stand in the doorway of 2014, I am very optimistic of what lies ahead. I don’t know what to expect, but I am determined to build on what I laid down in 2013. Getting the time to build on it will be at times difficult, I know, but the results will be what I focus on. I have not been fortunate to attend The Dominica Literary Festival…will this be the year? I am still not sure. I also want to take all aspects of my work to another level and with the support of my family, both here and in Dominica, and all the Jennys out there, I will be able, I pray, to do so. I will continue to participate in activities where I can meet fellow Dominicans, and God willing, financing available, I look forThe Garden - Copyward to being able to get another project completed and published this year. It will be a tough mountain to climb, but each journey begins with a single step…I have made that step.

I am very excited about what I will find in the various rooms as I walk through, but whatever, I am ready. I also look forward to continuing to work with other authors and writers with whom I have partnered during the past year and I hope that together we can turn the tide about the literary development in Dominica and by Dominicans. I will continue to use the social networks to my fullest advantage and expose to, not only my Facebook friends, but anyone who cares, my work as an artist and the creations produced from such abilities. Hopefully, that can translate into some financial rewards, also. Don’t want to be a starving artist, you know.

So, let me say a sincere Thank You to all who have been on that journey with me during 2013. It was indeed a pleasure and a wonderful journey. I invite you to come along with me again this year as I journey through the various rooms, chapters,the hills, mountains, plains, on the seas and rivers, as 2014 rolls along.

God’s richest blessings to all.