“Break a leg!” for taking on what could be the best arts management post in the country.
I wish you the most fulfilling time as you immerse in the hundreds of arts-related activities during your tenure. You will have the great fortune of experiencing and learning from hundreds of “live” shows in the performing arts, exhibits, festivals, publications, screenings, workshops, meetings, and conferences, and be exposed to a wealth of cultural treasures.
The 11 years I spent on the job made me believe that no other arts position in the country matches the scope and scale of this engagement, which allows you to be front and center of the ideation, creation and showcasing of Filipino multidisciplinary artistic talent and content—onsite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex, and offsite in various regional centers and on online platforms.
You can look forward to being up close and personal with many artists and audiences as you become a witness to how artistic experiences have the potential to enhance and elucidate our sometimes drab and mediocre lives. Being a midwife to bringing forth the transformative power of the arts will become the best part of your job as artistic director.
Freedom of expression
Bear in mind that creating a safe atmosphere for artistic imagination is essential to making compelling creations, and for these creations to freely circulate among the communities of audiences, that can only happen in an environment unencumbered by fear and censure–a space that recognizes and upholds freedom of expression.
The 1987 Constitution enshrines freedom of expression as the ability of an individual or group of individuals to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas and emotions about different issues free from government censorship. Republic Act No. 7356 creating the National Commission on Culture and the Arts reiterates that “culture is a manifestation of the freedom of belief and of expression and is a human right to be accorded due respect and allowed to flourish.”
Many artists and cultural workers fought hard for this democratic space to be restored. The leadership that reoriented the CCP in 1986 bannered “democratization, decentralization and Filipinization” to move away from being an extension of patronage politics, state propaganda, and the cultural elitism of the previous regime.
Original Filipino work
More than 30 years forward, the CCP has become the platform for original Filipino work created by artists from all over the country. It has evolved a cultural strategy that is inclusive and promotes the diversity of cultures and ideas. It has brought to the fore voices that were once suppressed because they were deemed critical of the ruling order.
It has advanced excellence not only in artistic talent and production but also in the realm of aesthetics and thought. This is how artistic and cultural works contribute to the imaginarium of the nation and in the process achieve currency as a tool for identity-making and nation-building. This is how the Center has become an institution for arts, culture, and the practice of democracy.
In spite of all these breakthroughs, the space for artistic freedom at the CCP remains fragile and contested. There have been moves to curtail artistic freedom emanating from both internal and external forces. The artistic director, together with the team of associates and programmers supported by the artistic community, cannot yield this space of artistic freedom to political exigency.
Artistic freedom is practiced, animated, and bolstered in rehearsal halls, studios, workshops and even in makeshift community spaces, but never in the closed rooms and discussions of state bureaucrats. The responsibility of protecting and defending the constitutional right to freedom of expression of the artist and cultural worker continues to be paramount and central to your job as a civil servant. It is the historical imperative of your office and the teams under you to protect and defend this democratic space if needed.
May you embrace and be embraced by this freedom. Be the leader by being vigilant and ready to uphold Artistic Freedom at any cost.
Former CCP Artistic Director, 2011-2022
You will find this letter waiting for you propped up on the 12-volume CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art—a living document of the achievement of artists, groups and communities throughout history.