PGTW: Art ambassadors attacked

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 November 2013, Thursday

Art ambassadors attacked

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) drew flak from netizens when it recently revealed their “ambassadors” for different artistic fields.

For the Philippine Arts Festival (PFA), or for the category “art”, the NCCA named television host Boy Abunda, with actor Dingdong Dantes as “youth ambassador”; for dance, lawmaker Lucy Torres-Gomez; for music, pop singer Sarah Geronimo; for architecture and the allied arts, beauty queen Shamcey Supsup; for heritage, singer/songwriter Ogie Alcasid; for culture, actor Piolo Pascual; for dayaw, beauty queen Venus Raj; and for taoid, Jericho Rosales.

Dayaw in Tagalog means “bird song” or “victory song”; in Masbateño it means “ to show off, parade, display.” It is also the title of an annual event of the NCCA that showcases indigenous Filipino cultures.

Taoid means “heritage” in Ilocano and is the theme of the NCCA’s celebration of heritage this year.

According to the PFA’s Facebook Page, the ambassadors were appointed “considering their achievements and passion for the arts” and “as such they are expected to advocate and stir everyone’s interest in our culture and the arts scene with many fun-filled, exciting, and educational activities particularly in the coming month-long Philippine Arts Festival in February 2014.”

Most comments posted the PFA’s Facebook Page were concerned with the qualifications of the NCCA ambassadors, who were perceived to have been chosen on the basis of their celebrity status rather than for their educational background or gravitas in various categories.

Representative of the negative comments is that of Matthew C: “Hindi ko sinasabing walang karapatan ang mga taong ito upang maging kinatawan ng sining at kultura pero naniniwala ako ng mas may karapat-dapat pa na maging kinatawan kesa sa kanila.”

Most commenters agreed with the appointment of Alcasid, but preferred him in the music category, being a multi-awarded musician of decades’ standing, and of Supsup, who is a licensed architect and board topnotcher, but lacks experience in that field.

Some commenters urged others to look upon the NCCA’s decision as a form of branding. According to Nicholo J, “This was a cunning marketing move. They need to expand the market, so they will try to leverage on the fan base of the ambassadors. Anything to spread the word, generate buzz and raise interest. I think this is a good tactic.”

Others took the path of Zen. Said Neriz G: “Chillax, peeps. They are just ambassadors. They are not National Artists.”

This debate forces us to examine the questions, “What is art?” and “Who are artists?” For that matter, also “What is an ambassador?”

The terms “art” and “artist” carry such subjectivity that their meanings are open to all sorts of interpretations.  An ambassador, in its loosest sense, is a representative. While it is desirable that such a representative be an expert of that which they representing, such expertise is not necessary; all the job asks is that they represent their organization.

There is sense, too, in recruiting celebrities to spread the awareness of art and culture among the masses that the NCCA is seeking to benefit with their programs.

But the appointment of these ambassadors comes under a cloud cast by the NCCA chairman himself, Professor Felipe M. de Leon Jr. In his article entitled “Cultural Identity and Development”, posted on the NCCA website in 2011, he decries the sort of commercialized mass culture created by most of these ambassadors, saying its appeal is to “the lowest common denominator or basic instincts” and advocates the individual’s creation of art.

“Without meaningful participation in artistic creativity, the Filipino masses will simply gravitate towards cheap entertainment and gross physical pleasures, as one can clearly see in the mindless and tasteless noontime television shows in our midst.” (Willy Revillame’s shows with the scantily-clad dancers come to mind.)

This has led some commenters to remark that the NCCA’s lineup of ambassadors could be the cast of one of those noontime shows Prof. De Leon mentions.

It would have been less contentious if artists of standing were named ambassadors, but if the purpose is to promote the creation of arts and culture to the showbiz-addled majority, then this move of the NCCA’s just might work.

An aside: the admins of the PFA website must be commended for their unfailing cheerfulness, no matter the snideness of many of the comments, saying they appreciated all the posts and “Keep them coming!” Now that’s how to do corporate social media properly.

* * * * *

The 4th Philippine International Literary Festival (LitFest), dubbed “Text in the City” and  backed by the National Book Development Board and several universities, kicks off on November 11 at the University of Santo Tomas.

The event runs from 8am to 8pm and features a professional conference (with a P1,000 fee, open to the public) at the UST Faculty of Civil Law Auditorium, and a student summit (free, by invitation only) at the Tanghalang Teresita Quirino, Benavides Building.

Both conferences will have lectures, panel discussions, paper presentations, conversations with artists, and other activities.

On November 14, the event transfers to the UP-Diliman CAL Faculty Center, from 9am to 5pm. It is free and open to the public. ***

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