Dr Alwin Bully, founding head of Dominica’s Cultural Division, has paid tribute to the career of Chief Cultural Officer Raymond Lawrence who retires today, his 60th birthday, after 23 years at the helm. “He has made a sterling contribution to the preservation and promotion of Dominican culture over many, many years. And he has done it with so few resources. If he has a fault it is that he has been able to do so much with no money – therefore he continues to get no money.”
Lawrence had been a “blessing to Dominican arts and culture,” said Bully, adding that “his personal skills are magnificent – he is a person who has a great rapport with rural communities” and at the same time is an efficient administrator.
Such qualities were also mentioned by historian Dr Lennox Honychurch, who said that Lawrence had “shown personal commitment over several decades ensuring the preservation of folk traditions and in his care over the administration of cultural activities.” It was Lawrence’s personal connections in communities all over the island that had made this possible, said Honychurch.
Lawrence joined Bully and Senior Cultural Officer Pearl Christian at the Cultural Division in 1982 and officially became Chief Cultural Officer in 1993 after three years in charge. On his retirement, Lawrence told Dominica News Online, “I have retired from the department but not from culture,” he said. “I’d still like to be involved in arts and culture and there are projects that I’d like to work on but nothing has yet been formalized. I don’t intend to stop”.
He said that the achievements during his years in Dominica’s top cultural job have centred on the introduction of festivals – such as the Emancipation Festival every August and the National School Arts Festival. He is also proud of the opening of the Old Mill Museum after the building was destroyed by Hurricane David in 1979; the Cultural Division’s publication of books on costume, dance, the Creole language, and heritage photographs; and most recently, in 2012, the introduction of the Dominica Institute for the Arts, which offers courses in the artistic disciplines.
Over the years, Dominica’s cultural heritage had become healthier, he believed: “Cultural appreciation has increased by leaps and bounds – and many young people are involved,” There had been, he said, a concerted effort at the Cultural Division to offset negative external influences. “Many years ago we embarked on training of young people and now we have many young people participating in cultural activities. There are so many more opportunities now.”
He believes that music and dance are particularly strong now and would like to see a strengthening in such elements as bamboo flutes and the oral traditions such as conte. He would also like to see the Creole language being taught in schools.
Lawrence, who grew up in a musical family, was educated at the Convent Preparatory School, the Dominica Grammar School and St Mary’s Academy. He joined Dominica Broadcasting Service straight from school in 1972. He moved to Radio Antilles International for four years (1978-1982) before returning home to start his career in culture.
Dance, he says, has been one of his great loves and the Waitukubuli Dance Theatre Company that he founded 43 years ago this month is still going strong. Apart from dance, Lawrence says that he has always written (poetry and short stories), dabbled in painting and enjoyed drama.
The Ministry of Culture is currently going through the selection process to appoint a new Chief Cultural Officer. But, as Bully asked, “Who can fit his shoes?”