President Duterte’s installation of Nick Lizaso as head of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is painfully ironic, if not dangerously so.
On the one hand, it is clear that this President doesn’t care much about culture, so one wonders why he would appoint any of his men to these cultural leadership positions. On the other, one can see this as a statement in itself about what Duterte thinks about culture: anyone can lead it, never mind that he is incredible, never mind that he is unproductive, never mind that he speaks about art like it’s the 1940s, and likens the work he must now do to building a Church.
“This mission is almost Pentecostal for it is all about Apostolate for Art and Culture. I enjoin every Filipino citizen to help me in this Apostolate – spreading the good news of art to all the corners of this archipelago. For it is art that will save us as a nation, as a people, as one humanity.”
That comes from Lizaso. Apparently out to build a religious cult while he’s heading the CCP.
And because he’s building a cult, he sees “a thousand points of light all over the Philippines,” because his vision for CCP is actually “multi-vision.” I kid you not, these are his words.
According to him, CCP is elitist because it is in imperial Manila, and as such the goal is to bring CCP everywhere in the country, so it might reach all Filipinos.
“I see it as a living enabler: enabling the world’s art to reach our people in the remotest of our regions and at the same time enabling the birth of raw, unrecognized artists from the unreached parts of the country. Wherever the artist may be — singer, dancer, painter, sculptor, filmmaker, actor, or writer — CCP will be there.”
Lizaso is using the word “enabler” all wrong. He means the CCP will ensure that global cultural productions will be made accessible across the country – which begs the question: how will CCP do that? How much money does the institution even have, and how often does it even produce those foreign shows?
In fact, when you talk about global cultural products that land in Manila at this point, not much of that is happening at the CPP. It’s happening in places like the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), the Vargas Museum; it’s happening in the art fairs. It’s happening through privately-funded theater companies flying in whole productions for Manila stagings; it’s happening via privately-produced concerts of international artists.
And how will the CCP – or any cultural institution for that matter – “enable the birth of raw, unrecognized artists from unreached parts of the country?”
The notion that CCP might “enable” the birth of any artist at all is not only inaccurate, it is also blind to the fact that artists – like all people – are birthed in and created by their specific local contexts. To lay claim to “enabling the birth” of any artist at all refuses the fact of this process, and reeks of the patronage politics that already ails and impales arts and cultural institutions at this point.
Lizaso is not pushing for change: he is pushing for the worst version of the status quo, based on the delusions of grandeur that we see in all cult-leaders. “I urge all of us here in CCP to light the pentecostal fire in select individuals who share our vision of art as our people’s salvation.”
Apparently, this cult leader is launching the search for the anointed ones who share his vision of salvation.
Good heavens, have mercy on us.
Lizaso calls his vision for CCP “transformative.” In fact, it promises nothing but the stagnation and deterioration of arts and culture – and he’s going to use public funds to do it, too.
A critical problem is that Lizaso likes to use big words he doesn’t understand. In the process, he not only contradicts himself over and over, he also reveals his lack of vision and grounding in what the CCP does, and what else is happening in arts and culture in the country.
Case in point: he questions the “fiefdom” and “elitism” of CCP, yet he forgets that speaking of it now as pentecostal and himself as apostolate reeks of exactly the same kind of hierarchy – only worse. We know how cults work: no one can question the supreme leader as he is sole source of truth. Brother Lizaso will be no different, as anyone who reads this mission statement can tell.
He says that the “quality global performances accessible to the elite <…> endangers the preservation of traditional and indigenous forms of art and culture.” Yet in the next breath he asserts these two to be so geographically divided, it’s unclear how one affects the other. There is also this: if the issue is the lack of attention and funding given to regional art forms and cultural productions, does it not behoove us to strengthen what is happening elsewhere, re-focusing energies outside of Manila, instead of bringing what is in Manila there?
To imagine that what is in Manila must be brought elsewhere is to privilege the already privileged, ensuring in the process more profits for productions in the center, instead of funneling those funds to elsewhere.
Statements like these reveal that Lizaso has no sense at all about what the artistic and cultural sectors need at this point – and he is not one to put much thought into it either. His utter cluelessness (if not incompetence) is in this fact: he is using as framework religiosity and Catholicism, a Pentecost and apostolate, for a sector that has fought consistently and conscientiously against impositions such as these, where it is religious conservatism that is at the heart of our many creative un-freedoms, where it is what has become most useful for our oppression as a people and as cultural workers.
With this vision for CCP, Lizaso reveals himself to be the worst choice for that position – and we haven’t even gone through his five “measures” for transforming the cultural center. The next column will do that, but for now, suffice it to say that all indications point to this fact: President Duterte’s thoughtless installation of Lizaso as CCP head enables nothing but the waste of public funds on conservatism that the President himself has consistently stood against.
How’s that for irony.