Retired chief cultural officer Ray Lawrence
Retired chief cultural officer Ray Lawrence

The man who has been at the helm of promoting Dominica's culture has bid his post adieu.

His name, face, and voice have become synonymous with Dominica's cultural celebrations for decades.

The legendary Raymond Lawrence has said farewell to his role as Chief Cultural Officer for what he says is the final time.

Lawrence had served as Chief Culture Officer for a total of 28 years but worked in the service for 36. He retired in 2014 having enjoyed that stint of 24 years. However, after a mere three years, he was recalled to the post once more and led the Cultural Division from 2017 to 2021. And, he says, this time his departure is final.

In an exclusive interview with The SUN Newspaper, Lawrence, who opted to play his cards close to his chest, says he has a lot going on to keep him busy "I have various projects working on at the moment which I would like to see completed. I have to see how things unfold and what God has next in store for me. God is in control and the next chapter of my life is in His hands as has been my life up to this present moment."

The former Chief Cultural Officer expressed immense gratitude for having worked in the heartbeat of Dominica's cultural heritage. Having been in the field of culture for so many years, he has picked on its evolution over time "I think culture has grown in leaps and bounds throughout the years in Dominica. Our festivals have become grander and have become bigger showcases of our culture, such as independence including World Creole Music Festival, DOMFESTA, and Emancipation."

As Lawrence reminisced on his time at the Cultural Division he highlighted some of the more notable achievements of the institution such as The Dominica Institute for the Arts (DIFA), the National Schools Arts Festival, Dominica Writers Festival, the Ole Mas Festival, and the list goes on.

The level of appreciation for Dominica's creole culture – be it food, dance, music, wear, or language - has increased significantly over the years, much to Lawrence's delight. One of his dreams though is to see the national wear – the Wob Dwiyet, Juipe, and men's national wear – be donned more regularly throughout the year and not just during the Creole season.

"Greater Kalinago identity and greater promotion and preservation of our Kalinago Heritage' is another impressive development," Lawrence highlighted, "research and documentation have increased, the publication of books, and also the production of music and video documentaries on our culture and heritage."

He applauded the numerous training programmes to strengthen traditional and contemporary expressions around the country and commended the teaching of the Creole language in schools. Lawrence is advocating for the broader teaching of Creole in all educational institutions and to hear people speaking more Creole.

"As we move forward we must move forward with both the contemporary culture and the traditional. The contemporary will always evolve and the traditional must always be safeguarded and encouraged… these are the roots of our culture so we must try not to lose them" Lawrence said.

Ideally, the veteran cultural enthusiast would like to see more investment of funds into the culture in Dominica "both by the government and the private sector," Lawrence said "our budget is still much too low for culture. We need to invest a lot more in proper facilities for cultural development, including theatre spaces like Arawak, like the stage at the Old Mill, like Ma Tutu's Park in Grand Bay…" he said.

The financial injection is also needed for the promotion and marketing of artistes here and overseas, developing a wider array of arts to include dance, theatre, craft, writing and literature, museums, and heritage sites. Lawrence cautioned against being shortsighted in supporting Dominica's cultural movement "Sometimes we limit our focus to just one art form. We need greater investment in training and capacity building in the arts so that there are always new artistes and talents emerging on our cultural landscape."

The former Chief Cultural Officer has extended congratulations and best wishes to Earlson Matthew who is now Acting Chief Cultural Officer.