BAGUIO CITY, Philippines ? With many Filipinos working as contract workers abroad ? usually as maids and caregivers - little wonder that the Philippines has earned a negative rep as ?a nation of servants.?
But an emerging trend may yet overturn this image, and it lies in the field of arts and culture, or the creative industry, where talented Filipinos in the visual and performance arts have been excelling in global competitions.
?This is not surprising because of our rich multicultural heritage,? says Maria Lourdes Jacob, executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Jacob, a playwright-artist, spoke during the opening of the Second Tam-awan International Arts Festival in Baguio City last week. Co-sponsored by the non-government Chanum Foundation and the NCCA, the festival drew artists from around the country, and a few from abroad, to Tam-awan Village where they showcased traditional and contemporary artworks and performances.
Jacob says the country needs artists whose imagination, creativity and innovation can help it prosper. She cites the role of artists, such as Dr. Jose Rizal, whose novels and other writings helped usher in reform during the Spanish colonial rule.
She also cites contemporary filmmakers, like the late director Lino Brocka, who asserted that ?the artist is also a citizen? and thus produced films critical of strongman Ferdinand Marcos? martial law regime.
Given the role of artists in helping bring reform and with the country?s multicultural heritage, the NCCA has been challenged to probe the ?cultural dimension of corruption? and recommend ways to address this, Jacob says.
?Artists can help produce works, such as films or literature, which can examine mindsets and perspectives, provoke new ways of thinking, and help find new ways of doing things,? she says.
Playwrights and filmmakers, she says, can draw lessons on upright and noble thinking from contemporary heroes like the Cordillera?s Macli-ing Dulag.
A staunch critic of the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project in Kalinga and Mt. Province, Dulag, a Kalinga chieftain, had profound values and philosophies about humanity?s relation to its land and resources. He was murdered allegedly by government soldiers on April 24, 1980.
World class artists
?Besides music, many young Filipino visual artists are winning in Singapore, North America, Europe and the Middle East,? says Jacob.
As Filipino artists continue to shine in the global arena, the NCCA seeks to help create what Jacob calls ?an economy of culture.? This, she says, can help transform the Philippines? image from ?a nation of servants? to ?a nation of artists.?
Many Filipino artists on their own have been honing their skills and talents, drawing inspiration and support from their peers. But they must be supported so they can be given the opportunity to practice and further evolve and master their craft, Jacob says.
The NCCA supports both traditional and contemporary artists for the ?flowering of a creative industry,? which, she says, may yet help free the country from the poverty rut.
It has continued to look for traditional artists to practice and eventually pass on their art and craft, Jacob says. Thus, it has been supporting indigenous communities, which seek to continue teaching their local art and culture through ?schools of living tradition.?
Since traditional artists are also farmers or fishermen, the NCCA has embarked on an interest-free loan scheme to help them practice and simultaneously earn from their craft. This assistance is also offered to contemporary artists.
Part of the scheme is helping ensure a 70 to 30 percent profit-sharing arrangement in favor of artists.
The NCCA first implemented the scheme in Mindanao, and helped remove the hold of ?loan sharks? over the works of artists there, Jacob says.
It is also helping train both traditional and contemporary artists on art management and marketing.
Jacob has announced an art management workshop this October in which artists are encouraged to participate.
She says the NCCA has also been encouraging local government-linked art councils to help market the works of both indigenous and contemporary artists.
But as it seeks to promote an economy of arts and culture, the NCCA, she says, also wants to ensure that some traditional practices must be respected and not to be commercialized.
Artists and urban renewal
With their gifts of imagination and innovation, artists can be tapped in helping design urban centers and help save them from decay, Jacob says.
She cites Bohol, Tagum City in Davao del Norte and Bulacan, whose local governments have tapped local artists in their ?urban development and renewal.?
Sadly, not all local governments are keen in appreciating what artists can do in helping build, if not rehabilitate, urban centers, say local artists.
The lukewarm support that local governments extended to the Tam-awan festival itself, they say, shows the level of art appreciation among local officials.