IMAGINE the scene: Artworks of established and beginning artists showcased against the evocative backdrop of colonial fortifications overlooking a serene Pasig River.
Or craft hobbyists and art enthusiasts flocking to small artisan shops at the newly restored walls and vaulted chambers of Maestranza Park.
The Intramuros Administration (IA), the agency that manages the restoration and maintenance of the historic district, is opening the walled city to the country’s artists in a bid to revive and transform the fortified capital of Spanish Philippines into an “artists’ haven,” to eventually serve as a come-on for tourists visiting Metro Manila.
According to IA administrator Jose Capistrano Jr., the festival is part of the agency’s continuing program to preserve and restore the historic Walled City, which served as the seat of the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines for nearly 400 years.
Sanctuary for artists
He said the idea of developing Intramuros into a sanctuary for artists and artisans was also one way of helping boost and support the country’s arts and culture.
To jump-start the project, the IA opened on Friday a three-day visual arts festival dubbed “the First Intramuros Arts Festival” at the Maestranza Park facing the Pasig River, which was recently reconstructed with assistance from the Japanese government.
The park is at the portion of the walls called Maestranza, one of the bulwarks or defense works whose walls and chambers served as warehouses for goods carried on the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico, during the Spanish colonial period.
Heritage learning center
“One of our main goals here is to make Intramuros a 21st-century heritage learning center, a ‘museum of the street’,” said Capistrano. By staging events like the arts festival in Intramuros, Filipino artists will be inspired to help in informing the next generation of Intramuros’ rich history, he said.
Some 150 visual artists from across the country are participating in the festival that features art exhibits, painting workshops and seminars; a parade of “higantes,” the large papier-maché figures created by the artists of Angono, Rizal; and dance and choir performances from Intramuros-based schools. The higantes will eventually be exhibited at the park.
Capistrano said the event will also feature an “art tiangge,” where paintings of some of the country’s most prominent artists will be sold at very reasonable prices. Some of the artworks will be sold for as low as P20,000, he said.
The Maestranza Park has been opened for activities by amateur and professional artists. The IA said visitors to the festival can also have themselves sketched for free by various artists.
The festival is a joint project with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Intramuros Visual Artists of the Philippines, which has already been staging monthly art exhibitions at the Intramuros Visitors’ Center in Fort Santiago.
Participating schools include Letran College, Mapua Institute, Lyceum University, Manila High School and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
The IA earlier disclosed plans to transform Maestranza Park into an enclave of cafés, restaurants and shops, resembling Singapore’s Clarke Quay, a historic riverside wharf where old warehouses have been restored and converted into bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
The IA would like to see Intramuros eventually become a nighttime destination for local and foreign tourists.