The arts and the new dispensation
In the first few weeks of the new dispensation that rallies Filipinos behind the motto, “Change is coming,” there are very good signs that the arts community will finally get a share of the national attention it deserves.
Original Pilipino music singer and composer Aiza Seguerra has been tasked by President Duterte to find out how his administration can be of help to the arts.
Attending the exhibit titled “Artist’s Hand: From Stage to Canvas,” which was staged by artists who wish to help out ailing colleagues in their medical expenses, Vice President Leni Robredo said she knew that art is a unifying spirit and therefore should be supported.
But the VP also said that the government could only do so much and that its awareness of the arts would depend a lot on the inputs it receives from the artists themselves. In a nutshell, she admitted that she is at the moment facing a blank page. “So you have to tell us how we can be of help.”
The first thing the administration must know about the arts is that one popular artist—like Freddie Aguilar—cannot represent the whole cultural universe that encompasses cinema, dance, theater, literature and music, among others.
While his OPM smarts are a good credential, Aguilar will be a total stranger in a government body that is full of specialists in the arts.
A folk singer and guitarist like himself probably knows the OPM artists after decades of performing in Ermita side-street cafés and now in a Morato bar. But from his end, he may find opera and ballet totally alien, and his idea of the musical evolution of the Filipino may only come from “Bahay Kubo” to his own popular composition, “Anak.” Alas, from the way he intended to deal with the controversy involving the Rizal monument and the Torre de Manila (and that is to move the national hero’s monument to where the stone carabaos are), it is obvious that he can’t go beyond his beer-drinking audience.
Cultural workers should therefore gently remind the new President that the arts cannot be represented by someone rarely seen in cultural venues.
Meanwhile, the struggles of Filipino artists continue from one administration to the next.
Singing actor Isay Alvarez says staging original Filipino musicals involves finding not just the right materials but also the audience and institutions who can provide support. She has everything in her hands—good actors, good directors, good composers—but the larger battle is waged in the loneliness of her room, writing to people and institutions who are in a position to help.
Ballet Philippines president Margie Moran Floirendo makes do with modest contributions to help her dancers survive.
As this is being written, award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza is appealing to netizens to support his film “Ma’ Rosa” as it is being pulled out of some theaters for lack of patronage.
The government’s official arm tasked with helping the arts community is the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which has done a lot but can only allot so much for performing artists (anywhere from P12,000 to P40,000 per artist per year).
Every year, the Philippines produces dozens of prizewinners in the field of music. It is now producing more in the field of cinema and theater, while hundreds of visual arts practitioners survive on the sheer power of their talent.
It is the sad fate of the arts and artists that they are the last ones to get attention from a government which has its hands full with concerns ranging from feeding the hungry and attending to the homeless and the victims of injustice.
The message of Vice President Robredo in her first official attendance in an art exhibit is crystal-clear: She wants to learn from the artists themselves and she wants to do something for them.
If she continues to grace arts events from the Cultural Center of the Philippines to the countryside, she will realize that many in the lower bracket of society—those she fondly calls “nasa laylayan ng lipunan”—are in fact coming from the arts sector.
Classical musicians, if they don’t have fallback careers, survive by the skin of their teeth and on sheer passion for their chosen profession.
The recent well-received concert of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra with pianist Cecile Licad and violinist Diomedes Saraza Jr. at Carnegie Hall in New York is a classic example of how the power of music can unite Filipinos here and abroad.
The euphoric audience response cannot be quantified. It is a confirmation of the best that Filipinos can be on foreign shores. That highly acclaimed concert is proof that Filipino performing artists can stand proud and equal to their foreign counterparts.
Licad’s continuing musical triumphs in foreign lands are akin to the recent victory of actor Jaclyn Jose, who, for her performance in Mendoza’s “Ma’ Rosa,” won the Philippines’ first Cannes Best Actress trophy.
To be sure, the triumph of Licad and Jose overseas will not help increase our per capita income, or help solve hunger and unemployment, or put a stop to the horrendous drug addiction problem. But the honor they give to the country we hold dear is—to emphasize it again—unquantifiable.
Even if financial support will take some time materializing, the new administration will do well by attending more art exhibits, by lending presence to opening nights in music and dance, by watching premieres of worthwhile films, and by honoring world-class Filipinos while they are still in their prime.
When she was named National Artist for Dance, Alice Reyes said: “Even with no financial support in sight, artists thrive on moral support, and I think the President can very well do that. What the award triggered in me is that the more I wanted to give back. Nobody can live on choreographing in this country. But just reflecting on the dancers I have mentored and the choreographers I have inspired makes me want to give more after this award. Just seeing the young dancers do very well leaves me in tears. They are the reasons why artists like me are still alive.”
Pablo A. Tariman covers the arts from music to cinema and gets involved in music festivals every summer in the island-province of Catanduanes, where he was born.
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