Journey of the Center

Published in Metro Society magazine, April 2009

As the CCP celebrates its 40th anniversary, it’s interesting to trace how the vision for the Cultural Center has evolved. The CCP was created as “a trust for the benefit of the Filipino people, for the purpose of preserving and promoting Philippine culture in all its varied aspects” (EO No. 30). It has hosted notable local troupes such as Repertory Philippines, and international artists such as opera star Placido Domingo and sitarist Ravi Shankar. The CCP Library and Archives is a special repository of music, arts and the performing arts – one of the first of its kind in Asia. During its early years, the CCP Museum also had a permanent collection of musical instruments, paintings, pottery, and the other artifacts. To acknowledge artists and their work, the National Artist Awards were formed in 1972. The first National Artist Award was conferred posthumously to Fernando Amorsolo, and succeeding awards have been given to artists within the fields of architecture, broadcast arts, dance, fashion design, film, literature, music, theater, and visual arts. To accompany this, the International Artists Awards were created to honor foreign artists. Those awarded include pianist Van Cliburn and prima ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn.

Despite these accomplishments, the CCP had to overcome accusations of elitism and superfluousness even before its inauguration in 1969. Admittedly, the Center initially catered to the privileged and promoted ‘high culture’ and arts such as opera, ballet and classical music. It still does and will continue to do so. The CCP does not apologize for accommodating the upper classes or keeping its high standards of excellence. However, it acknowledges that popular arts and artists do not equal low standards. In the book “Cultural Center of the Philippines: Crystal Years” (1984), Visitacion De la Torre wrote that the Cultural Center “maintains a democratic, open, ecumenical stance… to attain fuller, richer results.” At no time has this been truer than today.

Nestor Jardin, the CCP’s current President, is proud of what it has become and is enthusiastic about its 40th anniversary. “We opened the celebration with the Pasinaya Open House Festival last February 1. It was attended by about 29,000 people. We had 100 performances for one whole day all over the complex.” The celebration was organized so that during the year there would be ‘peg months’: specifically, February, April, July and September. The month of February highlighted Filipino artists and original Filipino works. There was the Gabi ng Musikang Filipino last Feb 13 and the 40th anniversary gala production that featured masterpieces of Philippine music and dance last Feb 27. The 40th anniversary Visual Arts exhibit has already opened, and there are many more events lined up. The CCP’s achievements in the past 40 years will be the focus of this year-long celebration.

One major accomplishment is its discovery and support of Filipino artists, both established and emerging. Another is how it has helped build up an original body of works from Filipino artists, via commissioned work programs and grants. The CCP has also democratized arts and culture in the Philippines. Jardin stated that, “the CCP has that stigma of being for the elite, probably because the high profile events during the time of Mrs. Marcos were big social events. But through our outreach programs, arts councils and nationwide training programs, we have given opportunities for artists, artistic groups and cultural workers to take part in the development of the country.”

An example is the Sining sa Eskwela program. There are about 16 regional schools for the arts across the country, modeled after the Philippine High School for the Arts which the CCP supervises. Students in these schools can specialize or enter into art programs for college. The Sining sa Eskwela program helps these schools by providing training for teachers and helping them develop teaching materials. In addition, the CCP encourages the youth to appreciate fresh and innovative works of arts. There’s the WiFi Body Festival that showcases young, emerging choreographers; the Virgin Labfest, which features young directors, actors and playwrights and Cinemalaya, which supports new filmmakers. The CCP has also actively supported their resident companies such as the Madrigal Singers and Bayanihan Dancers in tours and competitions abroad. The CCP’s vision in the 1980s was to open itself up to more popular forms of entertainment to prove that it supported all aspects of Philippine art. Also, there was a desire to export more Filipino artists and arts abroad. Now, almost 30 years later, the CCP has succeeded on both counts.

However, the CCP’s vision has evolved to take into account not just cultural, but economic issues. De la Torre wrote, “The CCP is not expected to earn like a bank or any financing institution because its investment is in culture and the arts which are hardly quantifiable.” True, the CCP is not expected to earn like a bank, but part of Jardin’s personal vision is to see the CCP become self-sufficient: “We hope to develop the CCP into an artistic, cultural, tourism and commercial complex that will earn enough funds to operate independently of government support, and fund each program nationally and internationally more actively.”

In this day and age, it appears that almost everything, such as the effect of the arts on the economy, can be quantified. “Few people know that the creative industry contributes 11.1 % to the GDP, and that contribution is with minimal government support. In countries like China, Australia, and England, where the government has recognized the creative industry alongside mining, agriculture, and health as a major sector of the economy, there are programs that support it. I think with more such programs, the contribution to the national economy will increase.” Jardin said.

Aside from this, the CCP intends to emphasize the arts as being relevant to the everyday lives of Filipinos. Jardin explained that, “The common perception of the arts is that it is peripheral to our lives, and is mostly for aesthetics and beauty. Many people do not realize that the arts can play a transformative role in society.” First, local arts help to establish a national cultural identity. Second, the arts can help in improving our economy via the creative industry, which employs artists, designers, writers, cultural workers and the like. Lastly, Jardin noted that “the experiential nature of art, whether looking at a painting, listening to a concert, or watching a play, can have a deeper impact in instilling positive values”. Exposure to the arts and culture can complement and even enhance lessons taught within the formal education system.

Jardin was quick to add that he was not criticizing the ‘art for art’s sake’ stream. But to him, “an artist cannot detach himself from his surroundings. An artist, as a person, must interact with his environment. Given the gift of talent, it is his responsibility to react to his community – its concerns and issues – and reflect these in his works so that the community can benefit. In so doing, he will produce works that say something.” This view goes beyond Mrs. Marcos’ ideology of ‘art as beauty’ that the CCP was partly a result of, and the prevailing postmodern slant of many artists today.

As De La Torre commented, “the Center is a human institution manned by people, by artists who have their own imperfections, even idiosyncrasies.” As such, it is not perfect – nor is it static. In order to survive, the CCP had to undergo a re-visioning, achieving a delicate balance between the ‘art for art’s sake’ and ‘art as an instrument for social betterment’ streams of thought, and keeping their commitment to excellence without alienating the multitude. Will it be able to maintain this elegant, and at times, precarious position even as it tries to reach its goal of financial autonomy and promote the transformative power of arts and culture? One can only hope that the CCP proves to be a prima ballerina assoluta in this regard.

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