View From the Wing
THE GOVERNMENT AND THE ARTS
by Pablo A. Tariman
On the first few weeks of the New Dispensation rallying behind the motto, “Change is coming,” there are very good signs the arts community will finally get a share of the national attention it rightly deserves.
OPM singer and composer Aiza Seguerra has been tasked by the new president to find out how the new administration can be of help to the arts.
Attending her first arts exhibit called “Artist’s Hand: From Stage to Canvas” which was staged by artists who wish to help out ailing colleagues with their medical expenses, Vice-President Leni Robredo said she knew that the arts is a unifying spirit and that she was aware not a few artists were behind her during the last elections.
But she also admitted the government can only do so much and that its awareness of the arts will depend a lot on the inputs it gets from the artists themselves. In a nutshell, she admitted she is at the moment facing a blank page. “So you have to tell us how we can be of help.”
Singing actor Isay Alvarez said that staging original Pilipino musicals involved not just finding the right materials but also finding the audience and institutions who can 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 make 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 in some theaters for lack of patronage.
The official arm of the government tasked with helping the arts community is the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) which has done a lot but can only allot so much for the performing artists (anywhere from P12,000 to P40,000 per artists per year).
Which means that if you received P12,000 or P40,000 this year for one performance, you have to make do with that amount and find a way to survive with more performances which can no longer get NCCA support because it is mandated by COA to give only so much to performing artists a year.
Every year, this country is producing 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 – as it is — has its hands full with concerns ranging from feeding the hungry and attending to the homeless and victims of injustices.
(The last unlamented administration never had time to hold dialogues with artists, much less listen to their needs.
(In the last administration, it took ages to proclaim the latest batch of National Artists and took another eternity to honor them with proper official ceremonies in Malacanang (it actually happened just a few weeks before the term of the previous regime expired).
(To add insult to injury, the former leader dropped the most deserving artist of them all – film icon Nora Aunor. It didn’t occur to him that she got the highest number of votes from the selection committees of the NCCA and the CCP.)
If it is any consolation to the arts community, we do perceive quite clearly that this new administration knows how to listen.
The message of Vice President Robredo in her first 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 gracing arts events from the CCP to the countryside, she will realize that many in the lower bracket of society — she fondly calls “nasa laylayan ng lipunan” — are coming from the arts sector.
The classical musicians (if they don’t have fallback careers) survive by the skin of their teeth and for the sheer passion for their chosen profession.
The recent well received concert of the Philippine Philharmonic with pianist Cecile Licad and violinist Diomedes Saraza, Jr. at the 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 is unquantifiable. It is a confirmation of the best that the Filipinos can be in foreign shores.
That highly acclaimed concert is proof that the Filipino performing artists can stand proud and equal to their foreign counterparts.
On the other hand, independent film directors survive in the same manner they know best but the heavy cross they carry is not only lack of government support but lack of audience patronage in their own homeland.
The musical conquest of Cecile Licad in foreign lands is akin to the recent victory for actor Jaclyn Jose who triumphed in a Brillante Mendoza film by winning the country’s first Cannes Best Actress trophy.
We do hope the present dispensation will find it worthwhile re-acquainting with the arts community and realize every Filipino artist is worthy of national attention.
Rightly or wrongly, the triumph of Cecile Licad and Jaclyn Jose in foreign shores will not help increase our per capita income, it will not help solve hunger and unemployment and the horrendous drug addiction problem.
But the honor they gave to the country we hold dear is – to emphasize once again – unquantifiable.
It serves notice to the global stage that in this land of the poor and the hungry, Filipinos know how to be the best they can be – on their own terms and with very little government support.
We do hope the arts get better treatment from the new dispensation.
It is a sad commentary that in this country, national treasures get their dues only at the sunset of their lives where the only thing they are allowed is a modest monthly pension and a state funeral.
Even if financial support will take some time materializing, the new government will do well by attending more art exhibits, by lending presence to opening nights in music and dance, by watching premier nights of worthwhile films and by honoring world-class Filipinos while still in their prime.
As what National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes once 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.”