Towards a real arts and culture agenda

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

by Katrina Stuart Santiago

▶︎ While it is still said that cultural work is “for arts’ sake” and that the public’s appreciation of arts and culture is payment *enough* for the amount of creative blood sweat tears that artistic work requires, the truth is far from being romantic.

The crisis of culture in this country is about as real as the crisis of any other sector. Our workers are underpaid, and a majority are contractual employees. There is no healthcare, and no benefits. We are at the mercy of big business that earns millions in cultural productions, but which insists on hiring contractual workers and pays peanuts.

Arts pages in mainstream media outlets feed big business by always working with the premise of “celebrating” the arts, even as ultimately that celebration does not feed our workers, and in fact stunts their creativity altogether bound as it becomes to what the “market” dictates. Criticism is dismissed as mere hate, or bashing, or negativity; never as part of the enterprise of creativity and artmaking itself, never as a most productive enterprise that seeks to shed light on the multifarious crises we face.

The President’s decisions with regards arts and culture have done nothing to make us feel that change is in fact coming. While those who have a direct line to him might promise representation, in reality there is no substitute for sustained sectoral consultations that will mean building an agenda for arts and culture that is not only grounded in the sector’s needs, but also in a vision for its autonomy and productivity, across forms and genres, beyond patronage and politicking.

Here, an effort at gathering voices that are disenfranchised by the current state of affairs, in the hope of actually getting the President to see that no proposal for arts and culture, no agenda he will be given at this point, stands for the diversity of these voices and practices. Along with cultural workers’ “wish lists” and suggestions are three critical essays on the crises of culture, criticism, and policy, ones which would otherwise not see the light of day in mainstream publishing (a critical crisis in itself), but which are important in understanding the depth, breadth, and scope of the needs of this sector.

This is not so much consensus, as it is the beginning of a discussion about arts and culture in this time of promised change. * * *

GEORGE DE JESUS, theater practitioner

I would like to see more art venues established particularly for the performing arts. It would be great to have a more sustainable program on the arts and culture bereft of bureaucratic red tape that would encourage new works to be created not only in Manila but across the country. Possibly, a program that can look at and establish the arts community especially theater as a real industry.

‘Di ako naniniwala sa more government funding e. With our utang-na-loob culture, it tends to make the arts a tool for whatever political agenda. Incentives, more than funding, to allow artists to pursue their work without resorting to rakets.

Lastly, a program for culture that will allow people to see the value of the arts beyond mere entertainment.

JK ANICOCHE, director / performance-maker

Acknowledging the recent boom and success of “commercial theater” we need more support for development of emerging artists and their works, and easier access to government funding for independent, emerging, community-based, and / or not-for-profit performance-making. Support must be extended not just to “established” companies and artists but to the independent, emerging, not-for-profit community performance-making.

Hasten the process and cut all the long bureaucratic paperwork for artists asking for funding and support from your institutions. The LGU-Cultural Institution-NGO web of accreditation is killing the spirit of a lot of artists especially young emerging companies and community-based practitioners who don’t have the resources before they can even access government resources. A lot of artists have disengaged.

Is there a way for government cultural institutions to create a new accreditation process for artists that are emerging, independent, community-based, etc.?


My request is simple: that the President broaden his circle and have a real consultation with cultural workers.

TUXQS RUTAQUIO, theater worker

Sana mas may opportunities for regional cultural groups to perform in Manila, because the productions we see are very Manila-centric.

One hopes for artists to be given ample compensation and benefits, so we can build sustainable and stable careers, with funding for new creative works as well as benefits like medical assistance, etc.

To create a system in which people can actually watch shows in our national cultural centers for free, especially since it’s taxpayers’ money that pays for these productions. Ang ganda lang na makakapasok ang madla sa Cultural Center of the Philippines at makakapanood ng shows nang hindi nila pinoproblema ang presyo ng ticket.

MEILA ROMERO-PAYAWAL, teacher / performer / mother

Collaborations with government institutions (schools, hospitals, health centers, barangay halls, local departments, congress, senate, at iba pa) dahil hindi pa sobrang naa-access ang kapasidad ng sining para sa pagpapalakas ng mga isinusulong ng bawat institution — tulad halimbawa ng K to12, breastfeeding, isyu sa basura, at iba pa.

Collaboration dapat, para hindi dinidiktahan ng isa ang isa. Also: dagdag nafunding for works-in-progress or development ng mga proyekto, not just finished products.

RICKY FRANCISCO, museum worker

Culture has always been one of the least prioritized needs of the country. How can it vie for peace and security, health, education, agriculture and the many aspects of economy? Without these, the physical well-being of Filipinos is threatened. Hunger, sickness, physical harm will befall the citizenry if these are not prioritized.

But what if corruption, disorder, apathy—the root causes of the problems stated­—are rooted in a culture that is out of balance? What if the root causes of hunger are maladies of the spirit which can only be corrected by a conscience strengthened by a value system rooted in a healthy culture? Then culture becomes equally important in solving the more immediately felt problems of the physical.

With this new administration, I hope there will be appropriate representation among the gate keepers of culture; programs that are responsive to the needs of practitioners; ease of access to funding and transparency in disbursements; merit-based grants to further the development of the manifold expressions of culture; and programs that enable more people to access what has been the traditional domain of the few. I hope that integration between the school systems, local culture and private initiatives will be encouraged and successful programs are rewarded.

DONG ABAY, rock musician 1. Let there be enrichment funds for Filipino artists so that they can continue their art. 2. Let there be a 24/7 radio station that only plays Filipino music from indigenous to contemporary, from obscure to popular. 3. Let there be a Pinoy Rock Museum. 4. Let there be a Music library in all towns, municipalities and cities across the country. 5. Let art education and appreciation in all levels be a thrust of the educational system. 6. Let arts and culture be a top priority of the government.

DELPHINE BUENCAMINO, theater actress

I’d like to see theater integrated into public and private school education so that we instill the appreciation for it and use it both as means to teach and celebrate culture; and also as an end in itself, creating generations of theater makers and a theater going-public. I’d also like to see more grants and support for theater productions, given the cultural relevance of the work. Also: residency programs for experimental work.

JOELLE JACINTO, dancer / teacher

Actually, even if I keep thinking about it, the most basic need is steady funding available where you don’t have to justify your project by involving the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD). [This is a requirement that was instituted by the Aquino government -- KSS].

Dapat naman talaga maging masipag ang artists mag-apply for grants, pero huwag naman na it has to be connected to social welfare. Ito lang ba ang art na may karapatan? Instead of a sincere collaboration, artists are just made to compromise and look for a workaround.

VITO HERNANDEZ, archaeologist

As with the economy where the President himself called for a summit to discuss the economic agenda, I believe that a summit to discuss the cultural agenda personally with the President is in order. Of course, let it be said, that this not happening is a measure of how little significance is given to the cultural aspect of nation and its development. Too that culture is not only viewed by its artistic productions, music, architecture, performing arts, business, etc. but also by its impacts on society and nation.

At this point however, I applaud the stricter – never mind the seeming thoughtlessness – that environmental compliance standards are thrown the way of mining (and other energy) corporations. It is in this light that I see it necessary to review the nature of “environmental compliance” to government and international standards, where such aspects as the impacts of infrastructural development to cultural, historical and archaeological resources are not taken for granted. This is not to legitimize “monument hugging” and “relic romances” but to acknowledge that our materiality defines our culture so that we might preserve and conserve what needs to be preserved and conserved, but more importantly, equitably manage what we already have for nation.

ELMER GATCHALIAN, writer ‘Wag sanang gamitin ang sektor ng sining at kultura bilang instrumento ng propaganda. At ‘wag sanang ipamigay basta-basta ang mga posisyon sa mga sektor na ito sa mga taong wala namang kredibilidad.

Sana i-subsidize ng pamahalaan ang pagpoprodyus ng children’s television dahil ngayon mas kinakailangan ng mga magulang ang kaagapay sa pagpapalaki ng kanilang mga anak. Sana rin, maging tunay na People’s Television ang PTV4. Gamitin sana itong instrumento para sa pagkukuwento ng mga karanasan ng mga kababayan natin, sa pagpapalawak ng kanilang kaalaman tungkol sa science and technology, at sa pagpapa-popularize ng Philippine literature at drama.

At sana rin, igawad na ang National Artist Award kay Nora Aunor (at ‘wag sana sa kung sino-sino lang na hindi karapat-dapat).

MIDEO CRUZ, artist Who dictates the local aesthetic standards: the patron / investors, the gallerists / dealers? Not even curators or critics?

The artist as visionary is a dying principle because artists can’t get enough support to fund their substantial projects. What is proliferating are works with no strong social significance and dialectical motivation. Let us remember that art is not only made for decor. One of my objectives in moving out of the metropolis is to stay away from the aesthetic influence of the market. Commerce is killing productivity and creativity. Without any production grants, artists who do not follow local commercial trends will always have a difficult time sustaining their craft. What I want to see is government support specifically for artists with creative non-commercial projects and initiatives, especially for those artists who are far from the city centers.

Almost every president has had a cultural agenda kuno, a summit even. But nothing comes out of it. I think art councils are required in municipalities, but that isn’t implemented. The NCCA does not give production grants for the visual arts for individual proponents anymore. Now you need to be a SEC-registered non-government organization. ***

Katrina Stuart Santiago is an independent writer and critic. She is radikalchick online, and her commentary and opinion are up at