How did various art organizations cope with the pandemic, and what are their plans to counter its effects?
These were probably the core questions that the La Nuit des Idees (Nights of Ideas) explored for its 2022 edition. The discussion centered on the theme “(Re)building Together: Smart Ideas, Smart Projects Born During the Pandemic.”
“After two years, we are called upon to rebuild together. The cultural sector is one of the worst-hit. Cultural venues, movie houses, museums, and galleries were closed to the public. Artists had to be creative to make a livelihood and continue to communicate in some way. But we were able to survive and adapt to the new normal,” said French Ambassador Michele Boccoz.
Distinguished speakers from the arts and culture sector discussed how the various creative and artistic industries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and how we all can rebuild the cultural industry and emerge from the global crisis. There were also discussions on how we can assist institutions in adjusting to the new normal, as well as how we can support artists and attract audiences.
This event was organized by the Embassy of France to the Philippines, in partnership with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ayala Museum, Art Fair Philippines, National Book Development Board, Regal Entertainment, Inc., and A Liter of Light, among others.
Here are my take-aways from the Night of Ideas:
Cultural Center of the Philippines
Like other industries, live events and performing arts were equally hit. Before COVID, CCP was averaging 800 shows in our different venues, providing works to more than 3000 artists and creatives.
“In 2019, we are already hitting the 900,000 mark in visitors and viewership. We were working on reaching a million visits. But the pandemic happened,” said CCP artistic director Chris Millado.
Luckily, the CCP hurdled through the challenges using smart technology. It was really amazing if you look at it since live performance and digital technology/online streaming are on different spectrums. But CCP managed to marry the two entities to produce artistic content.
“Before, live streaming was just a way to expand our viewership to the regions. But it played a central role in the way we distributed performing arts productions during the pandemic,” shared Millado.
He added: “Video archive and live streaming – this save our lives. We immediately made a quick pivot to digital platforms. Many years ago, we started digitizing and archiving our productions and performances. We have hidden in one basement corners thousands of video titles. We didn’t know how to distribute them, but they were there for archival purposes. When the pandemic hit, we found a treasure trove of digital content that we used in live streaming. This gave birth to CCP Channel.”
The CCP also braved the new normal and brought live theater to the digital platform through the Virgin Labfest.
“We took the challenge to translate the liveness and excitement of theater to online streaming. After hurdling how to use ring lights and maximize zoom frames, our actors, our director, and playwrights were able to tell stories in innovative ways. This was the first theater festival in the Philipines that went online successfully.”
Other successful projects included: the Cinemalaya which anchored its programming and put the spotlight on short feature films; the EPA Digital (the project had been fast-tracked during the pandemic because of the need to provide educational content for the academe); the CCP Digital Capsule, which has become a repository of the digital arts created during the pandemic, among others.
In 2019, Ayala Museum was closed for renovations as a way to increase the public engagement with arts and culture.
“Located in the midst of a mall, it was clear that our competitions were shopping, entertainment, fashion, and food. We set to be more accessible on-site, online and off-site, to be more engaging and fascinating in new ways,” shared Ayala Museum senior director Mariles Gustilo.
As everyone knows, pandemic happened and our best-laid plans had gone awry. Ayala Museum decided to simply work steadily and picked up the renovation works. They also provided “moments of learning and respite” through digital technologies.
“With no end in sight of the COVID-19 pandemic and not sure when we can access our building, we are unwavering in working to enhance museum experience with new narratives, exhibitions, and programming inspired by our collections and enhanced by digital technology.”
Brave New World
Ricky Francisco shared how they started an online exhibition as early as May, when they anticipated that the lockdown would be prolonged.
“Artists needed financial support. They needed to earn. With 14 galleries, we organized an online exhibition with 400 artworks from the Philippines, France, and other countries. We were able to sell artworks so that artists and galleries would be able to survive the pandemic,” said Francisco.
Along with the website, they were able to produce a book, titled Brave New World, which immortalized the pandemic through the artists’ eyes. Over 400 artworks featured artists’ responses to the grim reality. There were artworks that characterize the frontliners, and show their reactions to the new set-up with face masks, face shields, and PPEs. Some works focused on our confinement inside our homes, how some rely on government aid, and how people cope and adjust to new normal. Of course, there are works created with Pinoy humor.
One article in the book talked about a group of doctors who were also art collectors have auctioned off and brought artworks to raise money to procure PPEs for our frontliners. Artist Jose Tence Ruiz created an imaginary scenario of how an old artist deals with the pandemic; while Pete Lacaba wrote a poem that can be sung to the tune of Imagine.
The book shows how, despite the confinement, artists are still reaching out and helping our society.
Art Fair Philippines
When it was launched in 2013 at The Link, approximately 6,000 people attended. And the number has been growing since. Right before pandemic, co-founder Dindin Araneta shared that they were able to sustain it through sponsorship and ticket sales.
Just like the others, Art Fair Philippines migrated to the digital platform.
In 2021, the art fair used its website as a platform for the participating galleries. Each gallery made a short video about their exhibition, artists, and programs, and provided information so that collectors could contact them immediately. The talks, films, photo tours, and open studio programs were made available over zoom or through pre-recorded video sessions.
“One thing we did on-site was the residency program that provided artists with an opportunity to continue their art practice beyond the confines of their studios and homes and immerse themselves in a new community,” shared Araneta.
In partnership with Don Papa Rum, the selected artists-in-residence traveled to the program sites when the restrictions eased up. The sites included: Linangan Art Residency in Alfonso, Cavite, Merging Islands in San Juan, La Union, Orange Projects in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Butanding Barrio in Purerto Princesa, Palawan, and Manila Observatory in Quezon City.
In 2022, Art Fair did a hybrid. “Despite the pandemic, we are lucky that our sponsors still decided to work with us again.”
National Book Development Board
“Before Covid, the Philippine publishing industry is already in trouble. [During the pandemic], publishing houses had to shut down and authors were out of work,” said NBDB executive director Charisse Tugade.
She shared that the ratio of foreign books entering the Philippine market versus the number of Filipino books being exported is 24 to 1.
Being the steward of the book industry, NBDB seeks to address this huge disparity because “we deserve our stories in our own language, and the world deserves our stories.” They decided an institutional change is needed and review the existing programs on readership and publishing.
“If you look at the problem in the Philippines, there is a very low functional literacy in many regions. [This means] we lack critical thinking. Our test scores are going down. There is a need to revamp readership programs. How can we revamp if we are not reading in the language that we understand?” said Tugade.
The NBDB worked on the creator and publisher programs to make sure the creators are creating, and the publishers continue to publish and find business opportunities. They also work on policy and procurement (with DepEd as the biggest client).
One of their biggest projects during the pandemic was the Book Nook.
“Most people don’t go to the library. It is a very colonized space. So, we find spaces that most Filipino can easily visit. We built book nooks in markets, DepEd libraries, tourist areas, and buses. We set it up in indigenous and remote areas, where culture is intact. We equipped the leaders with knowledge on setting up and managing a library and doing storytelling,” said Tugade.
During the pandemic, they were able to mobilize 50 sites. This year, another 50 sites. For next year, their target is 100 sites.
“There is so much we need to do. We hope we can write and read in our own languages. Before, we were not producing enough. But last year, something happened. Everyone started creating. From 8314 published works in 2016, it rose to 9497 in 2021, the largest number of published works.”
Reality MM Studios
Before the pandemic, the Philippine film industry was doing well. For his film outfit, Dondon Monteverde shared that they have been producing works that are shown locally but have made marks on the international stage like Honor Thy Father, Buy Bust, Seklusyon, and Kuwaresma, among others.
“Film was one of the hardest-hit industries. We experienced lots of hardships. The cinema was basically dead, everything was closed. We had to find ways to get our contents out,” shared Monteverde who revealed that they would be shooting the Philippine version of Call My Agent for HBO Max this year.
During pandemic, they launched upstream.ph, an online transactional video-on-demand that offers a wide range of local and international content for the global Filipino audience. This was in partnership with Reality MM Studio, Regal Entertainment, and Globe Studios.
Any content they can think of, they put on the platform – from entries of major festivals such as the Metro Manila Film Festival and QC Cinema, to sporting events, musical festivals, Korean wave, and Hollywood films.
“But we also created original content. We want to give work to those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. We also hope to showcase local content,” concluded Monteverde.
• • •
There is really something resilient about artists. Even in the darkest of times, they are still able to produce works and thrive. They are able to keep their voices and use their arts to bring light and clarity to chaos. I hope they remain the bastion of truth.
Salute to all artists and art institutions who made it through this trying time.