Decentralizing culture

By: Radel Paredes August 06,2016 - 08:43 PM

Now that we are trying to decentralize economic and political power in this the country by shifting to a federal form of government, it is about time that we should also think of how we can also lessen Manila’s clout on the state cultural institutions so those in the regions will get their fair share of their programs and services.

Government support for cultural and art programs are channeled through institutions like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Museum. These organizations are provided annual budgets intended for various programs and services for the safekeeping of artistic and cultural heritage, promotion of arts and culture as well support of artists and cultural workers.

They provide endowments and grants to applicant artists or cultural workers or even organizations that meet their qualifications. They sponsor exhibits, performances, concerts, and other art and culture related activities or projects. These institutions also produce publications, films and other learning materials as part of their mandate to promote Philippine arts and culture.

Both the NCCA and the CCP also are now award-giving bodies. Every year, the NCCA, for example, bestows the prestigious National Artist Awards to deserving artists in the fields of the visual arts, dance, literature, theater, cinema, etc. The CCP, on the other hand, also selects top contemporary artists in their 13 Artists Awards.

So far, these national institutions are based in Manila. The NCCA maintains its office in Intramuros while the CCP has its huge iconic building along Roxas boulevard. Until now, they failed to establish branches in the regions. The NCCA has a network of regional committees but they all report to the main office in Intramuros where most of policy making and other important decisions are being made. The National Museum remains in its old neoclassical building in Manila.

Both the CCP and the National Museum claim that they are mainly tasked with display and safekeeping of important art and cultural treasures and also in the showcasing and promotion of Philippine art. Being mainly repositories of cultural artifacts and masterpieces of art as well as venue for exhibits and performances, they are thus tied to their location. Indeed, a “Center” without peripheries.

Selection of heads and staff in these institutions has largely remained a process that excluded stakeholders in the regions. So, the changing of guards has been limited to those who are privileged to circulate within or be close to the inner circle. This makes the process prone to politicking and the clique factor, where friendship and personal ties rule over meritocracy. The same factor influences selection of people who are given grants or awards.

The less you know people in the organization, the farther you are from the Center, the lesser your chance to avail of such privileges.

It might be interesting, for instance, to note how many of those National Artists actually come from the regions, particular from the far South.

Likewise, very few from the so-called 13 Artists actually come from outside Manila or Luzon. Most come from just one university in Manila.

Awards at this level, of course, help to create the impression that the artist has become a master of sorts and his work considered part of the country’s growing collection of masterpieces. As such, the mere curatorial function of these institutions give them power to create the canons or classics of Philippine art. And this is where equality of opportunity becomes important.

Of course, those running these institutions can always say that they have done their best to inform people in both conventional and the social media of the opportunities. They also try hard to make publications and distribute them to as many people as possible.

But one time, I attended an exhibit of an artist in one of the university-based museums. The show was sponsored by the NCCA, which funded the cost of the exhibit and the full-color catalog, which is practically a book. I was excited to get a copy since it’s not always that those of us in the provinces get a chance to see an exhibition of a famous artist, much less get a book about him. Unfortunately, those distributing the book seems to be controlling who gets a copy. They always said that they ran out of copies when you asked but later you saw them giving one to some well-dressed VIP, perhaps a collector or a friend of the curator.

So, I wonder, how many of these publications about art made by these state institutions based in Manila actually reach the artists and art enthusiasts in the regions. How many of them end up in the shelves of school libraries in the provinces, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao?

Those from the NCCA and CCP can always say they have tried their best, but for those of us in the South, there is nothing like having our own CCP building, NCCA office, or even a branch of the National Museum here in our own cities.

Politicians can start the long debate about federalism, but the demand for the South’s share of state museums, galleries, theaters, and access to grants and endowments has long been overdue. Many of these organizations in Manila use the words “national” or “Philippine” in their name, implying such a nationwide reach. It’s about time that anything national should first be regional or local.

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TAGS: art, Arts, Cultural Center of the Philippines, decentralize economic, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, National Museum

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