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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Keeping the Dominican Culture and Heritage Alive

 

The 2013 New Jersey Madam Wob Dwiyet is behind us and after all the work and preparation involved and things to be taken care of, the anxieties and nervousness; the exhausted organizers and participants can now take a break…well a little, because the winner will travel to Dominica and the others will participate in a few Dominican functions being held as part of Dominica’s 35th Independence celebrations. Soon the motion will be set in place to have another function in 2014 and the cycle will continue…

I want, through this medium, to applaud all those who have been at the forefront of keeping Dominica’s culture alive in the Diaspora (I hate to use this word because of its negative connotation back in Dominica but that is what we are—the people of the Diaspora.)  During the staging of the events like the one just held in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, the Madam Wob Dwiyet USA -2013, it was remarkable to see so many Dominicans and non-Dominicans alike come out to witness, participate, and support their village or town girl; cheer the young ladies; cheer their Dominican friends on; and have a good time.

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All those who believe that our cultural heritage is not important, think again. All those who think that politics and culture go hand in hand, think again—politicians come and go but our culture and heritage stay with us. For all those who think that the young people do not appreciate their culture, think again. For those who think that our culture is dead, well maybe it has been resurrected in North America.

It was indeed a spectacular display by young Dominican ladies, some who were born in the US of Dominican parentage. It was refreshing the way they performed and the pride and dedication they displayed. They all were winners, in my book, although only three of them could place, but in the end our island’s culture and heritage was the biggest winner. It was indeed appropriate that the government representative who was present at the function this year, is a villager from the cultural capital of Dominica, (Gwan Bay) Grand Bay, Mrs. Justina Charles, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports and wife of the late Prime Minister, Pierre Charles, who himself was involved in the cultural activities in Gwan Bay. I am sure she was very proud of what she saw and elated to see such talent among the young people of the Diaspora (that word again!)

The young ladies are examples to the younger ones who hope to participate in the event in the future and it was refreshing to see the Ti-Matadors perform on stage…oh weren’t they sweet? They could have had their own show if they were allowed to and they were very well received by the audience.  They carried themselves very well and didn’t want to be outdone by the older ladies….Good job by Vadshire Dupuis and Daisy Grant Timothy who got them ready for the show.Girls

A look at the bios of the Wob contestants tell us, that besides being so talented, they are all very educated and on a path to doing great things for themselves. Among them:- a school teacher/girls’ high school basketball coach and doing a Master’s degree in education; a BET Young Stars nominee and TV actress, a legal assistant; a law student; one studying to be a physical therapist;  and one who works as a quality coordinator with a major US airline. Good role models for our young girls in the US and in Dominica too, I dare say. So I wish them all the best as they journey forth. They have their future ahead and hopefully they will reap great success in all they do. They deserve it and I am sure their families are very proud of them.

One of the contestants in the show was my own daughter, Mandisa, however, she did not place. I would not be talking the truth if I say that I wasn’t rooting for her to win or at least place as a runner-up, but I was just a parent and not a judge. All I can say is I felt very proud of what she was doing on stage and the way she did it. I doubt she would have done this a few years ago and to see her do what she did, I was extremely proud. I had to restrain myself at some points since I was photographing the event and I am also a member of the DEONJ-the show organizers. Didn’t want to influence the judges, you know!

I never saw my late  grandmother, Ma Salanie, (Salanie Louis) from the village of Salisbury, dance, but I am told she was one of the persons who loved dancing and loved the culture of Dominica and I know she must have been proud of her great grand-daughter doing her thing on stage. I can hear her… “Dansay zenfan mwin! Dansay!”

SONY DSCHowever, all this would not have been possible without the dedication of some of the persons who have sacrificed a lot to keep our culture alive in a foreign country and to do it so well. I know that a lot of what they do may not be known of in Dominica, but those of us up here see it portrayed quite a lot at various events. The very uplifting thing about it, is that they are all doing it voluntarily and not looking for any payment for what they are doing.

I refer here to Angela Sylvester and the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey who stage the Wob Dwiyet Show annually; Sabeniah George-Mingo who started the Know Your Culture group in NJ; Justina Henderson-(Madam Wob Dwiyet USA-2009 and Madam Wob Dwiyet-North America-2012,) of Nous Wive Dance Troupe in New York and a former member of the Grand Bay Group “ Tradibelle;” Rosalind Severin-McClean of Rosa Dancin’ Belé in New York; the Boston Cultural Group among whose membership is the daughter of Dominica’s “Lady of Song”-Ophelia, Terri-Anne  Olivaccé-Marie, carrying on her mom’s tradition and love for the music and culture (and who says we are not our parents children?) Mrs. Lorna Phillips and DARDA who host their annual cultural gala and give all of those who attend an opportunity to display their national wear and parade gleefully for all to see, dancing and waving, proud to wear their wob and chemise. There are a few sprinklings of other groups throughout the US and Canada but I am not too well acquainted with them.

Angela, Sabeniah, Justina, Lorna, Rosalind and the groups and the individuals who support them, have forged to the forefront and created a new form of respect and love for our island’s culture and they should be applauded for all their efforts, time and energy in putting nation before self in many respects. They “have brought the mountain to Mohammed,” so to speak, so that we can reflect and participate in things Dominican during the Independence celebrations, even when we are not home.Boston

No longer are we strangers and in awe at what we can do when we visit Dominica or participate in these events or feel out of place, because we now have a new respect and appreciation for what we have; for what we cherish close to our hearts because it is ours and no one else’s. Darcor!

Before I end, I want to acknowledge the contribution to Dominica’s cultural development by Mr. Raymond Lawrence who will retire as the Chief Cultural Officer next year. I was privileged to have worked in the same building, as a Youth Officer, with stalwarts of the Cultural Division before moving to the US – Alwin, Ray and Pearle – and I saw firsthand how much they loved what they did. Raymond, like the others–and their staffs, has done quite a lot during his time as a dance leader, creator and choreographer and as cultural officer and I want through this medium to say, “Well Done Raymond! Blessings during your retirement…and I know you’ve retired as a public servant but you will surely continue to serve the public in your own unique way.  Congrats bro!!!