Monday, December 18, 2017
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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

National Museum permanently opens for free

It’s the equivalent of opening the doors of a great banquet hall where a feast of the most delectable dishes prepared by our country’s top chefs awaits visitors. And the masses have been invited to partake of the banquet for free, for the rest of their lives.

This analogy illustrates the wondrous equivalent of the recent decision of the National Museum to permanently open its gates for free. In lieu of a banquet to fill the stomach, its halls offer a splendid feast that dazzles the eyes, stirs the mind, and uplifts the spirit.

Ordinary Filipinos can now see the genius and talent of the best and brightest of our race. The masterpieces of Filipino artists—who have gained international acclaim and whose artworks are highly coveted by collectors—are now available to be viewed and enjoyed by the rich and poor alike.

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As it should be, less privileged Filipinos can now enjoy great art for free, allowing them to indulge in this pursuit that has long been the sole domain of the rich. Poor families no longer have to use their savings or scrimp on necessities in order to bring every member to see the works of the masters in the collection of the Republic. They only need to show up at the gates of the museum.

And the masses are coming in droves, judging by the long lines that snake outside the doors of the museum even under the scorching heat of the sun.

The hordes of ordinary people coming to visit the museum challenge a long-held misconception about the poor. The long lines should convince us that the poor patronize low-brow entertainment not by choice but by default. It is the only free or cheap entertainment available to them. So-called “sophisticated and high art” are kept outside their reach because of entrance fees that they cannot afford. Make high-quality art accessible to the poor, and they will come in droves. This is a precious lesson that the government should learn and keep in mind.

The museum officials who were responsible for this daring move deserve high praise. They transcended a shortsighted goal to focus on revenue and favor a farsighted vision to raise a thinking nation. And they are spot-on in their vision. Our National Museum is the repository of the soul of our nation. Our people should have free access to this institution, the contents of which make us reflect on what has made us evolve as a nation, and what keeps us anchored as a nation.

Our National Museum contains artworks and artifacts that engender in our people a sense of patriotism and national pride. Many of the showcased artworks provide a portrait of our history and our way of life. The more contemporary artworks are products of the imagination that show the depth, expanse and creativity of the minds of our artistic visionaries. The featured artifacts document pivotal periods in our history, or show our cultural traditions that have woven us together as a nation.

The bold move of the museum officials to permanently allow free entrance to all its branches nationwide must be reciprocated with an initiative by our schools to make museum trips mandatory requirements for students. The positive impact of a museum experience is beyond the capacity of any test to measure. But convincing observations have shown that exposure to museums generates a positive influence on a person’s imagination, outlook, tolerance, creativity and overall attitude.

Other welcome developments are the increasing initiatives to put up private art museums that showcase fascinating private art collections. There are the long-established private museums like Ayala, Lopez and Yuchengco, but the more recent ones include Pinto Art Museum and BenCab Museum.

Pinto Museum in Antipolo City is drawing a huge number of visitors daily because the whole experience it imparts delights even those who initially profess no inclination for the arts. Pinto exhibits a big number of excellent contemporary art from the 1980s to the present. The artworks are housed in a cluster of picture-perfect, Greek- and Mexican-inspired villas, surrounded by a charming greenery of trees and gardens that naturally undulate with the rolling terrain. It also has bistro cafés.

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On the other hand, BenCab Museum in Baguio City has added an art destination to the many reasons that make tourists flock to the summer capital. In addition to the highly acclaimed works of National Artist Benedicto Cabrera, and complemented by the artworks of many other artists, it presents an outstanding collection of ethnic artifacts from the Cordillera region.

I have also put up the Balay Segundo Museum in the small farming town of Ramon, Isabela, in northern Luzon. It features more than 100 contemporary artworks that I have collected for the past 15 years. There’s also a collection of antique coins from the Spanish and American periods, plus biblical-era coins, including the kind of silver coin given to Judas Iscariot when he betrayed Jesus, his “30 pieces of silver.” It also showcases an antique Philippine map collection, the earliest of which dates back to the year 1560, and a big 1852 map showing “Bajo de Masinloc” (Scarborough Shoal) as Philippine territory.

Balay Segundo Museum does not generate enough income to sustain its operations, so I grimace a little whenever I dig into my pocket for its monthly support. But for the satisfaction one feels when one sees the schoolchildren visiting an art museum for the first time, their smiles, their sense of wonder and amazement, there is no monetary equivalent.

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