The NCCA’s support for cultural workers and artists in the time of COVID

By: Jobers R. Bersales - Columnist/CDN Digital | April 30,2020 - 07:00 AM


Also hit hard in the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) resulting from the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic are cultural workers and artists, many of them independent or self-sustaining. In the field of private museums where I come from, for example, the closure has displaced quite a number. 

Those working in local government museums are faring relatively better because annual budgets are in place for their salaries. A number of private museums, on the other hand, rely largely on ticket sales and are now suffering tremendously, something that will probably last until September or even December this year.

Conscious of the drastic impact of the new normal as the Philippine government fights this global pandemic, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) initially raised 5 million pesos to provide its own version of a social amelioration fund in late February. As head of the National Committee on Museums in the NCCA, I worked with my 10 fellow officers in the committee — each representing one of nine regional museum associations and two national cultural agencies — to immediately locate museum-based cultural workers and artists that had lost their jobs. They were to receive 5,000 pesos each to help them tide over.

Sensing the paltry amount would not be enough, the NCCA Board of Commissioners decided on April 19 to pass a resolution providing for the amount of 63.8 million pesos, realigned from the 2020 NCCA budget, to assist more cultural workers and artists. After receiving the Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) from the Department of Budget and Management last week, all 19 different sectors comprising the national committees of the NCCA were then each given a little over 3 million pesos to be distributed as soon as possible. 

These 19 sectors represent the vast field of culture and the arts in the country, namely: Architecture; archives; art galleries; cinema; communication; cultural education; dramatic arts; language and translation; historical research; libraries and information services; literary arts; monuments and sites; museums; music; and visual arts.  Also included are Indigenous peoples and Muslim Filipinos from the Northern, Central and Southern Philippines, each of which comprise one national committee

It is estimated that some 12,000-plus artists and cultural workers will benefit from this much larger fund.

Today, my own committee, the NCOM, will meet online following a frenzied determination as to how many more need 5,000 pesos excluding those that already received the same from other government sources or from the NCCA. 

Alternatively, each of the 19 committees are also allowed to decide, if they have fewer beneficiaries left to support, to give grants or subsidies to create online creative works, subject to the usual NCCA grants eligibility requirements.

I know 5,000 pesos will never be enough to tide one over, especially now that the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has excluded museums from the list of facilities and institutions that can open once the ECQ is lifted. One can only hope that, given the obvious fact that museums might take longer to open than the rest, other private donors will be able to also help our workers in whatever way they can. 

Make no mistake, cultural workers and artists are not frontliners in this fight against COVID-19. But culture and the arts must be supported too; for these represent the sectors that deal with the soul of any nation: Documenting, keeping, curating, narrating, conserving, protecting, promoting, performing and, ultimately, celebrating and upholding our nation’s patrimony, whether in the midst of adversity or in times of relative peace. And for this, let me thank the NCCA for ensuring that these sectors too will survive this pandemic./dbs

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