The problems of the sectors of arts and culture in this country are multifarious, and there is no doubt that any of us cultural workers who are at the bottom of the totem pole can only believe in the possibilities of change, and look forward to it, too. Many of us try and work towards that change, but if cultural work is your bread and butter – and you’re not one of the lucky ones who comes from privilege to begin with – then you have no choice but to compromise along the way, work with institutions and hope to change these, be critical of the ways in which our creative freedoms (usually all we have) are disrespected or abused.
But as I’ve said before: President Duterte appointing the un-credentialed and inexperienced, incompetent and incredible, into positions of cultural power do nothing for our psyches, even less for our morale, and absolutely nothing for the conditions of our labor.
Installing someone like Nick Lizaso into the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), for no reason other than that you know him personally, and denying completely the right of the sector to decide for itself who it might want as leader – that is not any kind of change, President Duterte.
Unless of course the change you meant to highlight was to show us that you don’t give a crap about culture. And in which case, why waste public funds on a Lizaso-run institution?
The problem with having installed Lizaso into the CCP is not about age, as it is about productivity and credentials. And while Lizaso falls back on institutional positions, what we need in the sector no matter how divided we are, is at the very least a sense of a body of work, a productivity, that no one across generations can snub. Because at the very least, we expect cultural leaders who have a body of work in and for culture. And I don’t mean motherhood statements about how music can heal, or how working in culture is like bathing your spirit – yes, those two gems are from Lizaso himself.
Suffice it to say that when Virgilio Almario became head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), I don’t think many cultural workers, especially from my generation, cared for his return to that post. But with the threat of a Freddie Aguilar leadership, I think we were all generally glad that despite all the press releases and noise to the contrary, the independence of the NCCA was respected.
A cultural worker friend asked: Si Rio Alma na naman, wala na bang iba? In fact, we are not lacking in cultural workers who might run the NCCA – or any cultural institution – better. But the bureaucratic structures are such that unless we engage with these institutions, and work within these from the inside, there is no way that those names and alliances will change. That one is because of patronage politics.
This is the status quo as far as cultural institutions are concerned. Certainly, there is a need for change. And yes, there are many ways to skin this cat.
What is clear though is that there is no change that will come with someone like Lizaso at the helm. This is not about maintaining the status quo: it’s about going back to the dark ages.
Lizaso was obviously gearing up for this installation as CCP head, and were he any more intelligent he would realize that having articles written by and about him in broadsheets in recent months would be an obvious indication of a PR stunt.
Of course, as far as PR stunts go, his has been a total failure: given that kind of space, what is revealed is an utter outdatedness about the needs, demands, productions of arts and culture, and an even larger failure at assessing its crises. Case in point: asked about Freddie Aguilar’s possible leadership of a cultural institution, Lizaso draws a daft parallel between Aguilar and … Bob Dylan: “My God, of course! Si Bob Dylan nga nanalo ng Nobel Prize eh.”
Never mind that winning the Nobel Prize is not cultural management work. Neither is it a cultural leadership position. And really: never mind that Aguilar is no Dylan.
His grand press release about his plans for CCP is no less daft. Lizaso says: “<We are> here to serve one cause, which is art. Art is color blind, or rather, it embraces all colors. Indeed, art should have no political color whatsoever. It doesn’t take any sides. If there is one thing art should be for, it is for Humanity with a capital H. For art in essence is about enriching the soul of the human being.”
This brings us back five decades in theoretical and actual artistic and cultural practice. This notion that there is even humanity with a capital H, the notion that art is even about political blindness, has been consistently debunked and has been at the heart of our artistic and cultural practices since the 1960s, and is in the work of many artists even before that. To assert now that we are going back to a time when art need not engage with the political, to have a cultural center that believes art to have no political color, is to encourage the delusion that there is art for art’s sake, for the soul, for the spirit, or whatever it is that Lizaso believes is being fed by artistic practice.
It is this kind of disengaged artistic practice that kills art, that is used by the State towards its own ends. It is this kind of cultural production – and leadership! – that is most useful for a State that needs all its help with propaganda, as it institutionalizes art that is removed from real conditions of nation, that is merely about the true, good, beautiful – if not utterly and absolutely conservative and good ol’ Pinoy Catholic.
Back to the dark ages
And when I say dark ages, I mean it.
No, this is not the status quo. This is so much worse. In the status quo, at least we are criticizing / working with / working against the old guards of the arts and culture establishment, from whom we can expect a certain level of discourse that – while redundant – still produces some interesting engagements.
Right now, given the cultural appointments of Duterte (and I include Mocha and Andanar given the communication office’s cultural import), especially Lizaso, we are just dealing with idiots.
Might as well admit that the culture of death and fear (not to mention taxes!) that this government lives off, is also about the death of culture altogether. ***
Published in The Manila Times, June 9 2017.