• Stand against a department of culture

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    It could be the lack of a real functional communications team, or maybe just the general disinterest in what happens to the cultural sector, but none of President Duterte’s moves so far has been about doing right by culture.

    While we might think the downward spiral started with the self-proclamation of Freddie Aguilar as head of the non-existent department of culture, which according to him meant being offered the position of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) head instead, I tend to see the downward spiral to have begun with the appointment of Liza Diño into the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

    All that I have said about that appointment stands: the mandate and functions of that office are clear, the requirements for an appointee, too. Diño has none of those credentials, and by agreeing to this appointment pretty much pisses on the law that created this office to begin with.

    The President and arts & culture
    And this is what one realizes about the people who are now speaking about arts and culture, because they are about to be appointed, are angling for an appointment, or are dreaming of an appointment from President Duterte: they are all playing him.

    Because after that Diño appointment, it became clear that all you need to be is close to the President, or have people close to him speak for you, and you’d get the cultural post you want – never mind experience and expertise. It, therefore, falls on these people who are being handpicked for posts to admit their limitations, and ideally recommend people who do deserve these positions because it will be for the good of the whole sector.

    Alas, we are also proving that those people are few and far between.

    And when you have a President who cares little for arts and culture, has in fact never spoken about it, and whose biggest cultural project at this point is a plan to hold the Miss Universe pageant in the country, it’s really no surprise that these cultural positions have become nothing but prizes he gives away.

    At least during PNoy’s time the celebrities who we know campaigned for him were not given appointive positions, and instead, were given mere endorsement or advocacy work with government. This is not to say he cared any more than President Duterte for arts and culture, but at least when PNoy didn’t care, he left the cultural sector well enough alone.

    Who wants a department of culture?
    Nothing is worse, though, than the belief that what we need is a department of culture.

    We first heard it from Aguilar – it was his special request to the President. And then Senator Loren Legarda has since revived her 2014 proposal to have a department of culture. And then I’ve heard it said in relation to the highly exclusive, by-invitation-only arts and culture summit, which only has organized artists represented, and which is being run by people who have the President’s ear, or are in his good graces.

    The arts and culture summit is creating an arts and culture agenda for the President, which as of this writing, is supposed to happen tomorrow,September 5. The fact that it is being done by a group based solely on the fact that they have a direct line to the President, is a contradiction in itself: artistic and creative work stands squarely against the status quo and knows to question the powers-that-be. It is necessarily and inherently critical of the way things are, because it has a vision of how things could be.

    That these organizations that purportedly represent culture and the arts are even working on this agenda, never mind that a majority of cultural workers and artists are not organized and will just continue to be disenfranchised by this exercise, is an embarrassment in itself.

    That they are even throwing their support behind the creation of a department of culture just reeks of a lack of a sense of history, but also a lack of vision.

    The threat of a department of culture
    Because we all know what happened the last time one government office took control of arts and culture: it became nothing but government propaganda, the kind that would sell the true, good and beautiful, if only to cover up the oppressive regime and the repression of artistry and creativity, and ensure the silencing of so many who were critical.

    Arts-and-culture is supposed to remind us of our history as a people. What happens when those who purportedly represent the arts and culture sector are the first to forget history? Well, they think that a department of culture is what we need, when in fact it is probably the single, biggest threat to arts and culture at this point.

    It’s also an utter waste of money – money that is already hard to come by for our artists and cultural workers. For example, in the Legarda bill, the NCCA is left to function as mere fund-granting institution, while the proposed department wants to spend money on work that the NCCA and other cultural institutions are already doing. This proposal barely makes sense because it means demanding that government spend extra cash on a department, the work of which is already being done, anyway, by existing institutions.

    All that this proposal actually offers – and this is true for all department of culture proposals – is to have one politico, one cabinet secretary, deciding on everything that happens in culture and the arts. It is really about letting the government bureaucracy take over our cultural institutions, making it easier to use arts and culture as mere propaganda and/or a tourism arm of government.

    It is ultimately agreeing to having politicos’ hands in the arts and culture pot – from funding, to donations, to international collaborative projects and grants.

    As it is, calling for the creation of a department of culture, and presenting an arts and culture agenda that does not truly represent the sectors, just seem like distractions from the real important tasks at hand: democratized funding, better institutions, continued autonomy and the creation of unions. These are the real changes that the arts and cultural sectors need.

    Too bad we don’t have a line to the President.

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