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Uplifting the arts in challenging times

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THE CURTAINS are not rising while the quarantine lasts. — MICHELLE ANNE P. SOLIMAN

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

Cinemas, theaters, concert halls, and museums have all closed their doors since Luzon was placed on enhanced community quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic two weeks ago. Show openings, gigs, workshops, regional art festivals and conferences have either been postponed or canceled.

Since the government directive has restricted public movement to essential activities such as buying food, medicine, and bank transactions, it has also led to an indefinite loss of livelihood and income for people working in most industries, including the arts and culture sector.

THE INITIATIVE
A team of artists — made up of JK Anicoche, Laura Cabochan, Jopie Sanchez, and members of Komunidad, Sipat Lawin, and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines — realized the urgency of helping art freelancers, performers, artistic coaches and educators, and cultural workers. The team launched the #CreativeAidPH initiative, in collaboration with Nayong Filipino Foundation Inc. (NFPI).

“[The initiative] rose from the urgency of the situation, but at the same time foreseeing possible ways on sustainability,” Mr. Anicoche told BusinessWorld in a Facebook Messenger video call.

“Summer is coming. And summertime is the time when nakakabawi ang mga artists (when artists can make up for things) because it’s the workshop season, and events season. Then suddenly, the March to April [events] biglang nawala (suddenly vanished),” Mr. Anicoche said. “When we talk about arts, it’s not just about performers. It’s also about the technicians, teachers, [and] scholars behind it.”

The initiative’s first step was to gather data through a “Survey for Cultural Workers” online to map out losses and specific needs of cultural workers and creatives. The survey, which ran from March 17 and closed on March 23, gathered 499 responses.

#CreativeAidPH team member Laura Cabochan noted that respondents reported a loss of income and loss of livelihood. She cited that the former refers to cancelation of payments for canceled projects, while the latter refers to downtime from work or projects.

One respondent (respondents’ names and profiles have been withheld as data analysis is ongoing) noted that the quarantine affected their show dates. “I have technically finished my work but I don’t think I will get paid in full because the work will not be staged.” The respondent added that teaching and attending classes, and accepting gigs have stopped in the meantime.

Another respondent wrote that as a freelance artist, their income depends on art-related events.

“The situation that the country is dealing with right now [hampers] my activities to earn money. I can only think of opening digital commission artworks as an alternative way to earn possible income in the meantime, but to be honest it is really not enough to compensate for my usual earnings from events,” the freelance artist wrote.

Some artists have found an alternative through accepting commission works or hosting live performances and workshops online while in their homes.

Respondents have also noted that they are seeking health benefits and financial support from the government in order to support themselves and their families.

PLAN OF ACTION
The team noted that the gathered data will help them provide information for partner institutions in crafting specific programs.

“Once we have a complete report, we intend to submit it to the Arts and Culture Committee of the League of Corporate Foundations. Aside from that, we hope to send it to other arts organizations,” Ms. Cabochan wrote in subsequent correspondence via Facebook Messenger.

She added that in the works is the creation of a Facebook page that will serve as a venue for creatives to communicate and share relevant information and resources.

While the team behind #CreativeAidPH and the NFPI are currently analyzing the data, the National Committee on Cinema of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has submitted a position paper for a disaster fund mechanism to aid the arts and culture industry. Endorsed by Subcommission on the Arts Head Roland B. Tolentino, the position paper is currently with the NCCA Board of Commissioners for feedback.

Ramon Alberto Garilao, secretary of the National Committee on Cinema, told BusinessWorld via Facebook Messenger that the committee “has been discussing ways to help alleviate the plight of our artists and cultural workers” since the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine.

“Our job is to identify the needs of our sectors and create proposals/recommendations to help address their concerns. Today, as we all combat the COVID-19 pandemic, we see the urgent need of the cultural and creative industry for assistance (in all forms: financial, platforms to continue creating art, promotions, publicity, etc.),” Mr. Garilao wrote.

The position paper presented local and international data, including appeals posted on social media by Mr. Anicoche and the Artists Welfare Project, Inc. (AWPI) to support and illustrate the urgency.

The letter’s recommendations of priorities include: a realignment of budget and creation of subsidy programs for those affected by the crisis; extending deadlines of grantees; spearhead initiatives to uplift the cultural and creative sector; and establishing a trust fund to ensure financial security.

“I believe this sporadic action from all involved parties (individuals, groups, etc.) is a good indication that our artists and cultural workers are becoming an active part of government policy-making,” Mr. Garilao wrote.

As of March 29, Mr. Tolentino wrote in an e-mail to BusinessWorld that “there is [as] yet [no] feedback received from the NCCA Board [of Commissioners].”





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