10 September 2009

CCP and Imelda at 40!

September 11 is the late President Marcos' 92nd birth anniversary. On September 8, 1969, or three days before Marcos' 52nd birthday, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) was inaugurated with then Gov. Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy as guests of honor representing then US President Nixon. So this week, the CCP is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The CCP will celebrate the occasion by honoring Imelda Marcos (President’s Marcos’s spouse) who built and founded the CCP in 1966, with an invitational gala event dubbed “Seven Arts, One Imelda”, the seven arts interpreted through signature pieces created during the period of Imelda’s patronage, with performances by artists and CCP’s resident companies like Ballet Philippines, PPO, etc., most of them Imelda's scholars and beneficiaries.

Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, a known activist and victim of Martial Law oppression was indignant and I quote what he said in Inquirer today: “It would provide a false impression of ignoring the dark days of martial law. If we highlight (Imelda’s) patronage of the arts, you will rehabilitate (the Marcoses’) image even with no admission from them of what they did”

And Abakada Guro Representative Jonathan dela Cruz said (and I quote from Inquirer): “There should be no politics there. (The critics) should recognize also, despite all the vilification of the first lady, that she was a real, honest-to-goodness advocate of the arts. She has helped so many, like Cecile Licad and Lea Salonga and everybody else. Why should she be deprived, all because she is a Marcos?”

I texted some friends in the art community and some of them were indignant and were looking for a venue to vent their protest. Facebook seems to be the venue of choice. An artist texted back “IMO, art is above everything, right? So let’s keep politics out. Then why not give credit where credit is due”

Then maybe we should look back so we can look beyond and see what Imelda and CCP stand for us now beyond its tainted political history. Was CCP able to function as a venue for the arts? Or was the venue more suited only for the performing arts? With CCP’s high cost of maintenance, it became imperative for its directors to minimize its use to save on maintenance cost. And since CCP's role as coordinating center for the arts became a duplication under the NCCA which opened the opportunities wider for other artists and art groups to avail of grants and support, the CCP leaders have to flex managerial muscle to keep the CCP afloat when they lost the financial support on these programs!

The Makiling’s Center for Performing Arts in Laguna (another Imelda project) seemed to be the best venue suited for artistic productions and performances/exhibitions, but again, its location limited its productive use. This venue is now used as an educational art center for CCP’s art scholars. The CCP, Makiling and other Imelda's structures are living proofs that structures and visions must be tempered with realistic and doable spaces and objectives to make it sustainable. CCP’s cultural leaders should be the one to be feted and their financial and managerial logistics be presented as case studies in art management.

As for the structure being a masterpiece designed by no less than a National Artist, I would like to share a trivia that happened in the 70s. A college newspaper came out denouncing the CCP by making a satire of its design. Somebody submitted an illustration of the CCP structure that resembles a toilet bowl. That hilarious analogy but dangerous statement of an Imelda project made the editorial team hie off to the mountain for a month to escape the heat during the martial law years!

Was Imelda a real, honest-to-goodness advocate of the arts? It was once said that our former first lady Imelda would pursue her vision for beauty, truth and goodness irregardless of budgetary constraints, economic priorities, and project sustainability. When CCP was unveiled, the poor communities near its location were covered with concrete fence in denial of rising poverty amidst such opulence. Imelda must support the arts in her own terms and vision, aided by cultural advocates during her time who gave Imelda their full support. It would be painful to revisit them now and make these people equally responsible for their lavish and unreasonable justification of their advocacies! But this is one of the painful lessons of CCP and Imelda!

The Marcos family should credit the filipino hospitality and forgiving nature to have allowed them back to the country and resume their extravagant lives. But to push the parameters further, rewrite history and bury the people’s memory is to dangerously spite the people's charitable spirit. And for cultural leaders to stand again as accessory to this blatant spectacle will uncover the dusty history of shame and regret.

Is art above everything else? Yes, my friend Ramon, it is. Art is also beyond the mainstream, the commercial and commercialized structures we have elevated it now. It is now time to go back, not down, but back to the pathways where creativity links to our inner selves and shared and be part of the community beyond our art's prohibitive prices, the contrived executions bordering on formulas, and the need to create and express beyond the need to be called artist and dependence on unreasonable largesse.

Maybe, it would be best for us if we look back again and understand also that ‘politics’ actually mean good governance. If the word connotates something negative that identifies with ‘bad governance’, then we need not look further into history and understand our participation in it so we can again go back the pathways, when community leaders truly selflessly serve and serve well . . .