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The arts and the CCP president

Today the board of trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines formally elects its new president in the person of actor-director Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, who is quite visible as father or grandfather of heroines and villains in afternoon and evening TV dramas.

But before Lizaso can even take over the CCP, social media has been abuzz with endless speculations that boil down to the question: What has he done to deserve the position?

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Members of the cultural cognoscenti are more or less like Filipino voters. They are clannish and they take pride in belonging to exclusive artistic circles with their own unshakable idea of what a CCP president should be. But they can also be flexible, and, depending on their cultural agenda, can “neutralize” their political color when a new president of the Republic is sworn in.

One has seen eight CCP presidents, has written about them, and, on account of one’s closeness to some of them, has been many an editor’s choice to write their obituaries.

For example, a former “Blue Lady” joined the circle of the country’s first woman president and in time became the third president of the temple of the arts. Aside from being the ex-wife of a finance man, she was into promoting ballet, which was represented by three ballet companies in the country during her time. For a while, one answered all her official correspondence, but with one’s strong instinct against people one could not live with, one finally walked out of her office without even a by your leave. But when she died, one set
everything aside and wrote a glowing tribute about her accomplishments as CCP president.

Through the various political eras, the CCP president has had different profiles.

For the record, the first CCP president, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, is a prominent businessman whose term started in 1969 and ended in 1976. He continues to be devoted to photography and the other visual arts.

The second to hold the post, Lucrecia Kasilag, who became National Artist for Music, was a composer and music educator and probably the most accessible CCP president to the arts community. She once told one that her appointment to the CCP was “sweet revenge” for when, in the distant past, she made things difficult for a certain voice student of the Philippine Women’s University who became first lady.

As for the rest of the presidential appointees, two were finance people (Francisco del Rosario Jr. and Baltazar Endriga) during the term of Fidel V. Ramos; another was an arts patron (Armita Rufino) during Joseph Estrada’s. A former character dancer of Ballet Philippines (Nestor Jardin) and a former ambassador (Isabel Caro Wilson) held the post during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term. The pianist and then head of the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory (Raul Sunico) came in during the term of Benigno Aquino III.

What’s in store for actor-director Lizaso? Whatever his management style, he will face a 300-plus workforce used to the personal approach of previous CCP presidents.

He is expected to make sense when he addresses the Filipino artists and the Filipino audience. Long used to the language of theater, he has to know (and quickly) the psyche of the ballet dancer, the inner motivation of the opera singer, the quirks of orchestra members, as well as the thousand and one other cultural concerns outside the CCP turf.

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He will have to deal with ballet teachers, music teachers and their assorted “prodigies,” and most of all the volatile, if dwindling, audience for the performing arts.

Lizaso as CCP president is expected not merely to connect with audiences outside Metro Manila. Most of all, he is expected to connect with the heart and soul of the Filipino artist who is always regarded as the last priority in any administration’s agenda for nation-building.

Because, after all, with or without the CCP, the Filipino artist will endure and will continue to make a difference on the global stage. As the great Maria Callas once said: “You are born an artist or you are not. And you stay an artist, dear, even if your voice doesn’t have the impact of the fireworks. The artist is always there.”

Pablo A. Tariman worked at the CCP as editor of Arts Monthly for six years and has covered CCP performances for various publications since 1975.

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TAGS: actor-director Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, Cultural Center of the Philippines, new president
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