The details are scant, but there is an agenda to be presented to you based on a National Development Meeting for the Arts Summit that happened on September 5.
Sadly, if those kinds of exclusive, by-invitation only meetings continue, then this agenda cannot even begin to represent the arts and culture sectors it promises to speak for.
As a private endeavor by Njel De Mesa, there’s no way to insist that he open up the summit to all cultural workers; he was financially limited to inviting arts and culture organizations and trusted that reps from these groups actually speak for a majority of us in the sectors.
That of course is not true. There is no one organization that can claim to represent a majority of writers or dancers, theater workers or visual artists, musicians or heritage workers, across generations, different media, and various areas of expertise. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the formality of organizations goes against precisely the freedoms that artistry, creativity, innovation are premised on and which these demand.
The exclusivity crisis
Since I got wind of this summit in mid-August, I’ve asked for a list of representatives for each sector. No list received until now. On August 23, De Mesa invited me to be part of the September 5 summit (no venue yet at that point). That was supposedly the day the agenda would be presented to you, so I asked: what would be the point of commenting on anything at all when there would be no time to even make changes?
On September 5, you were off to the ASEAN Summit. The arts development summit happened anyway. I never got another invitation.
I’ve asked for copies of the sectoral proposals that were presented. No reply from Njel, a positive reply from music rep Karl Ramirez, a question from cultural heritage rep Raymond Diamzon: “May I know if the documents <you have> from the sectors you’ve mentioned were voluntarily released to you by their curators?”
As of this writing, six days since a summit that purportedly represents arts and cultural workers, none of the proposals have been made public.
Time for inclusivity
Leo Martinez, who was invited to the Sept 5 event has since told me that this agenda is only to be presented to you in November.
This gives me hope. Because it means there is time. There is time to actually be more inclusive. To actually include a younger generation of cultural workers, across social classes, beyond organizations and affiliations, beyond friendships and connections. Because this is how this summit is being created: you need to know someone in order even be included.
You said in June, Mr. President, “I would address all Filipinos who want to do something for your country and never had the opportunity because walang nag-yayaya sa inyo. Ngayon niyo na gawin kasi ako na (ang presidente).”
The exclusivity of this exercise of building an agenda for arts and culture contradicts your promise of inclusivity.
Marami pong hindi nayayaya sa pagbuo ng agenda na ito. Mga artista ng teatro, mga mananayaw, mga manunulat, mga pintor, ilustrador, komikero, mga musikero at kompositor, mga heritage workers, mga direktor ng pelikula at entablado, production staff ng pelikula at teatro, mga manunulat, mga gumagawa ng zines at chapbooks, mga layout artists at book designers, mga museum at gallery workers, mga assistant at apprentice ng artist.
I am sure I have missed many others, and all of them – all of us – deserve to be heard.
Dear Mr. President, if the task is inclusivity towards actually bringing real change to arts and culture, then the first step that needs to be taken is to insist that this does not merely perpetuate the patronage politics that we all already suffer as cultural workers, where the cultural establishment – the bigger names, the organizations, the institutions – are the ones that speak for everyone.
The only way this arts and culture agenda will be truly representative is if it is opened up to all cultural workers, including and especially those who are oppressed and silenced by these bigger names and organizations.
These names and organizations have taken over this agenda from day one. It is time to expand our notion of who the artists and cultural workers are, beyond the confines of these few who have spoken so far.
And because the majority of cultural workers are in fact working to make ends meet, this needs to be a long-drawn out process, a series of meetings that are open to the public, announced on social media, disseminated across the country. This needs to be a respectable, credible process of building upon the gains of the cultural sectors, while being grounded in the injustices that cultural workers face, towards coming up with an agenda that will push for the real changes that we need.
The only way this will happen Mr. President, is if you step in and start funding this exercise. Wrest it out of private hands, and make it a government-funded – therefore publicly-funded – summit. Give us time to come together, despite our differences, beyond patronage and cliquishness.
Give all cultural workers the opportunity to engage, because as you said, you are the President who will be open to all of us.
In your inaugural speech, you said, Mr. President: “I was elected to the presidency to serve the entire country. I was not elected to serve the interests of any one person or any group or any one class. I serve every one and not only one.”
I wait for that to be true for the majority of cultural workers who have yet to be part of this process. ***
Published in The Manila Times, Sept 11 2016.