FOR the most part, the Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exposition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) is privately-funded; though the government's cultural agency, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, gives a welcome donation that, to put it in perspective, comprises not even a quarter of the festival's cost.
Every edition of the bienalle event is hosted by a different Visayan city or region. It was founded by the Bacolod arts group, the Black Artists of Asia (BAA), in 1990, a brainchild of Norberto Roldan with his BAA colleagues, among them: Nunelucio Alvarado (who was already an established name in the national arts scene) and the two up-and-coming young turks of Bacolod's arts scene, Dennis Ascalon and Charlie Co (1990 was also the year Co won the CCP's prestigious 13th Artist Award).
But I digress.
In my mind's eye, I could see it clear as crystal: every artist there visibly felt proud and happy to be a part of one single community. They were no longer merely from Bacolod or Iloilo or Samar. They were Visayans.
Where else can one witness that?
I was taken out of my reverie when I heard Charlie Co giving his closing speech. Charlie Co is one of the prime movers not only of the festival but of the Bacolod arts-scene in general (or as I like to put it, 'the spirited-spirit' behind VIVA and Bacolod's Visual Arts movement). I turned my attention to him in time to hear one of the last things he said: "This is worth doing."
I thought to myself then: Charlie took what I felt, what I was tripping on in my mind and said it in a few words. This is worth doing.
You see, I have always maintained that the Philippines is an artificial political construct. We are not one race or ethnographic group. We are a country of hundreds of distinct tribes, randomly identified by colonizers as part of a country merely because of proximity to one another.
Thus, it is artistic and cultural endeavors such as these that are so crucial in the development of a national cultural identity. But then does government sees this as such? No. For them building a national consciousness is about roads and bridges and expressways and touring award-winning athletes and artists around the country to show that he or she belongs to "us" and so therefore if he or she belongs to "us" or "one of us" then there must be an "us."
Or even better, local governments will just build a basketball court in every town and barangay because after all isn't that the national sport? If so, then by some faulty logic, building basketball courts should be able to unite us.
I still find it amazing how our politicians and local governments don't realize what all other advanced countries and societies do: that investments in creating a sense of one culture, diversified or multi-ethnic though they may be, is the cornerstone of creating a national consciousness, a sense of being one country.
Luckily, there are many forward-thinking Filipino businessmen, cultural VIPs, and wealthy benefactors that take the burden and responsibility of what should rightly be that of the governments, whether national or local. How often have I heard their reason for investing in worthy art and cultural projects and it goes something like this: "Because if we wait for government we would be waiting an entire lifetime while our cultural heritage and artistic potential as a people go to waste."
In my work as a cultural organizer and arts manager, it is the private sector that is truly and almost single-handedly behind the development of the nation's culture.
But this is not about blaming government for something every Filipino sees as wrong but accepts as fact. For purely political reasons, they feel there are no votes to be had by supporting the arts and culture. But more so, what most of them truly hide behind in their negligence are these arguments. What real actual profit will it give my city or town? What kind of prestige or attention will I be able to bring my constituency if I support the arts?
Both arguments are flawed.
To the first argument, all I can say is if you noticed a rise in the people making the rounds of the malls and restos and bars in the city last week spending their money in the local establishments, more than 300 of those were most probably part of the festival.
To the second argument, I counter: among the high-profile artists, curators and buyers in Bacolod last week included curators or owners of four of the country's art galleries: Silvanna Diaz from Duemilla Gallery, Jun Villalon of Drawing Room, Dawn Atienza of Tinaw Gallery and Yeyey Cruz of Benilde's Museum of Contemporary Design. Also attending the 13th VIVA ExCon were a Korean curator and a Japanese curator, not to mention the numerous Malaysian, Korean and Indonesian artists.
These curators, buyers and artists would never have seen the work of the Visayan artists who were featured in this year's VIVA. I did not count but let me just say I saw quite a bit of red dots beside the art works in the various exhibits (the red dot indicates the work has been sold).
The 13th VIVA ExCon hosted by Bacolod was truly an amazing experience and that statement comes from one who has organized numerous national arts festivals.
As in most, if not all, of the places in the country, this major cultural undertaking was only made possible through the help and actual backing of the private sector, specifically from people like businessman Bong Lopue, artist Charlie Co, restaurateur-filmmaker-artist Manny Montelibano, prominent Negros culturati and curator Adjie Lizares, as well as the donations and contributions- small and big, cash or in kind- from responsible and visionary Bacolod businessmen, landowners and entrepreneurs who understand something that Peque Gallaga, the province's most renowned filmmaker, once said in a speech: "A community that nourishes its arts and culture, nourishes its soul."