IT seems Senator Grace Poe might be getting ahead of herself – or cramming bills and acts? – so that she might have more to claim as achievements during her three-year stay in the Senate.
That is, if “An Act Providing For An ‘Artists Welfare Protection And Information Act’, And Providing Funds For The Purpose” is truly one that she has authored. Posted on Facebook on May 8, and now doing the rounds of a small network of writers I respect and trust, I am appalled at how seemingly ill-advised Senator Poe was with regard to the needs of the arts and culture sector.
And given the Commission on Audit (COA) now raising the question of Consultancy Fees for the Senate, one wonders who got taxpayers’ money as consultant(s) to this badly-conceptualized and ungrounded proposal that does nothing but strengthen the systems of patronage and politicking that are already in place in the various arenas of arts and culture.
I can’t wait to hear who these consultants are! It’s all so very exciting.
But it is also very sad to find that any artist, any cultural worker, who was consulted by Senator Poe on this Artist Welfare Protection Act actually thinks this the best thing for artists and cultural workers.
The goal of course is noble, including but not limited to developing a “means of providing welfare and legal information to artists” as it applies to “all accredited artists, as defined herein, employed and working within the country and those outside of the country.”
But of course the definition of terms is critical here, given the difficulty in defining “artist” and the contentious – if not offensive – adjective that is “accredited.”
This Act defines the artist as a “person who creates or gives creative expression to, or recreates works of art, who considers his artistic creation to be an essential part of his life, who contributes in this way to the development of art and culture and who is or asks to be recognized as an artist, whether or not he is bound by any relations of employment or association. This includes Indigenous Artists and Cultural Performers.”
Note that the definition of artist is premised on how one defines oneself, including how one defines one’s contributions to arts and culture, regardless of whether one is employed or not, a part of an organization or not. That would mean anyone and everyone who says “I am artist.” In this definition, all you need to do is to be recognized as artist, or to ask that you be recognized as such.
It’s all too funny, when one imagines that the artist is one who would assert that he is such, and who would ask that he be recognized as such. It’s also hilarious that all one needs to do is declare one as artist, and therefore one is! I can’t wait to see the un-critical, egotistical, motley crew this Artist Welfare Protection Act will gather given this definition.
Though I do love the notion that artists “recreate works of art” as it opens up the welfare system to plagiarists and forgers, who are certainly artists, too!
Oh but there’s more! The cultural performer is defined as “an artist who practice <sic> culturally-accepted art forms in their communities, such as composo, zarzuela, and other forms of art not defined herein.”
Pray tell what are the “culturally accepted art forms?” Because beauty pageants are performances that exist in every barangay, as are singing and street dance contests, Flores de Mayos and prusisyons – all artistic, all bound to the creativities in our localities. Certainly these artists deserve welfare, too?
The reason to question notions of accreditation is actually already in this Act’s definition of accreditation which means “the assessment, of an artist or guild based on the Accreditation Requirements as provided herein, for purposes of availing the provisions and benefits provided in this Act.” The accredited artist meanwhile is “an artist who is a Filipino, at least 18 years of age, in compliance with the requirements for Accreditation provided in Section 7, or those members of existing arts guilds duly registered and accredited as provided for by law.”
The assessment of an artist. That phrase is not one to throw around unthinkingly – or uncreatively – especially in a cultural landscape like the Philippines, where patronage politics and institutional hegemony spell the marginalization of artistry and creativity.
And yet, more than the questionable list of what an artist needs to have achieved in order to be accredited (authored 5 poems or 2 short stories for Literary Arts, participated in 5 productions for Dance, Music, Theater, and Film, built 5 structures for Architecture, mounted five exhibits for Visual and Design Arts, managed 5 productions for Arts Managers), what this Artist Welfare Protection Act falls back on is the existence of Local Art Councils, Art Guilds, and the local Tourism Office.
Oh yes, in the end and ultimately, it is these existing institutions that will dictate who is artist and who isn’t, who deserves welfare and who doesn’t, never mind that these institutions are havens of patronage and politicking. In the end this Artist Protection Welfare Act will do nothing but protect the interests of those who are already in power, while at the same time providing the government a list of “artists” whom they can claim are “government’s artists” because they owe their welfare and benefits to the State.
Who will have the power to accredit artists, and by which standards, is a more complex process than what is proposed here. But also Senator Poe was badly-advised about what the arts and culture sectors truly need, and the system that would actually protect the rights and welfare of those who move within these sectors.
Let’s start by discussing real artists’ unions, those that will professionalize these industries, and which will make artists powerful enough to actually fight for their rights to benefits and welfare, secure employment and just freelance work.
To fall back on artist guilds and organizations and councils is the worst part of this Act that purports to protect artists. No, wait, the worst part of it is how it defines artists. No wait, the worst part of it are the requirements for accreditation (5 poems and 2 short stories! Haha!).
Actually, all of it is laughable. Senator Poe could do so much better. Maybe if she weren’t in such a hurry.