Baguio is known for being a cultural hub, with its rich culture and heritage. It is not a surprise then that many artists choose this city to live in while making their artistic pursuits. Now that Baguio is hailed as a Creative City, what is the plan for local artists and their contribution to the city’s development? How is this going to be achieved if the relationship with the artists is not that transparent?
What makes a Creative City?
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) is a project launched by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization back in 2004. The network’s goal is to foster cooperation among cities that acknowledges creativity as a strategy to better improve the economic, social, cultural and environmental facets of a city. The UNESCO Creative Cities are significant partners of UNESCO for the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network recognizes seven creative fields, namely: Crafts and Folk Arts, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature, and Music.
Recognition of Baguio as a Creative City
It was in October 31, 2017 when Baguio City was recognized as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts by the UCCN. Baguio is among the 15 cities in the world to be recognized in this creative field and is the first city in the Philippines to be part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
According to the application form submitted by Baguio City, components of the application were crafted as early as 2015 and that various stakeholders were again consulted in the process of preparing the application during April and May 2017.
20 representatives and leaders of the academe from the University of the Philippines Baguio and the University of Baguio), local government unit, Department of Tourism, creative industry leaders/artisans, artists and professionals/practitioners met at UP Baguio on May 12, 2017 wherein they did a stock-taking of creative industry/sector of Baguio City and identified areas of action for the next four years.
The City Government of Baguio applied to UCCN under the Crafts and Folk Arts Category, stating that the Cordillera culture and identity are important for the sustainable tourism in Baguio City. The woodcarving handicrafts, silvercrafts, basket-weaving, and the art of tattooing were listed as Baguio’s crafts and folk arts.
The application, obtained from the City’s Budget Office, also stated that, “The city government and its partner organizations seeks to maximize the potentials of the creative sectors by giving more support in the areas of training/capacity building, incentivizing innovation/creativity, and providing market linkages through promotion/marketing locally and internationally. The city’s creative spaces shall be mapped, supported and enhanced.”
The city and its stakeholders’ reason for submitting an application is to “enliven the crafts and folk arts sectors to be more innovative and inclusive to engage the less privileged artists and artisans and to put the city into the global map of creative cities.”
Paolo Mercado, a founding member of the Creative Development Council of the Philippines, said to media that UNESCO acknowledges the part of traditional Cordillera craftsmen in Baguio’s sustainable and inclusive growth.
Not off to a good start
Just a month after its recognition as a Creative City, Baguio City encountered its first bump on the road with the controversy stirred up by the “Tinatik art tree” art installation at the Rotunda, Upper Session Road. The art installation was created by Baguio-based artist Maela Liwanag Jose and was made of three giant nylon tents with luminous paints depicting Cordillera symbols telling the story of creation. It resembles that of a tent or an umbrella and lights up at night using ultraviolet black lights. According to her, it was “supposed to be a moving art form, not a typical Christmas tree.”
Ms. Maela said that at the last week of September they encountered Councilor Elmer Datuin who wanted to do something creative like a Christmas art form for the city to be installed at the Rotunda. She said to Datuin that she will submit a project proposal. The proposed art installation, accompanied by a scale model, was then approved by the city government. They then proceeded to do the creative project for two months.
The Christmas tree, which got a lot of reactions from both Baguio locals and netizens, was partially burned before Christmas and netizens were quick to go on social media to offer sympathies to Baguio artist Jose. Social media was full of comments saying that Jose did not deserve the indignities she suffered. The art installation was taken down by the city government and was replaced by a traditional Christmas tree.
“We decided to remove it since it is already damaged by fire. We will replace it with a smaller traditional Christmas tree,” said Councilor Elmer Datuin, Committee on Tourism Chairman.
“Maela wanted to replace the burned installation but we did not allow it anymore due to the time and the cost constraints,” he added.
In terms of the payment of the materials, Datuin said, “Di pa paid yung labor cost ni Maela but City Buildings and Architecture Office (CBAO) assured she will be reimbursed despite the removal of the art installation.”
Art in a flawed system
When asked about her experience in collaborating with the city government, what Maela told is not promising for the future of Baguio as a Creative City.
Back in April, Maela said she and those who helped her for the installation haven’t yet received any payment from the city government both for the labor fees and for the materials used.
She did not receive any mobilization fund or down payment when she was still working on the art installation, having to shell out money from her own pocket hoping to be paid later by the city government. She said that the estimated cost that was written in the proposal is between P300,000 and P400,000.
“They said when the proposal was approved that we should deal with CBAO for the execution of the project,” said Maela.
Months after the completion of the project, not a single peso was paid.
“It appears that the city was ill-prepared to handle this kind of a project,” said her partner Sonny.
Maela also said that this is not the first time the city government didn’t pay artists and knows some of them who faced similar problems.
“I know someone that did a project for them back in 2011 and he is not yet paid until now. And he’s dead already,” added Maela.
Maela said that fake news propagated by those at the city government that she donated the Tinatik art form contributed to the delay of the payment.
The Christmas tree was actually fixed and the burnt areas remade just a day after the incident, according to her. But the city government, without consulting Maela, decided not to install it again at Session Road.
Maela also has frustrations with the Creative City Council for being silent on the issue and not being supportive of them.
A brief look into the process
Assistant City General Services Officer (CGSO) Ma. Guadalupe C. Della said that there is a bidding process undertaken by the city government in order to choose who is/are going to make the decorations. Della also said that Baguio artists have to participate if they want to do the art installations.
She cited Republic Act No. 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act, as the procedure followed by the city government.
When asked if what will be the case the next Christmas on the art installations, Asst. CGSO Della said that there would be no changes and that they will still follow the bidding process.
Relationship with the artists
Mercado also said that Baguio has a fragile relationship with the art community.
During a meeting at the University of the Philippines Baguio, artist and film director Kidlat Tahimik talked about the relationship between the city government and the local artists. He said that the government rarely reaches out to artists on heritage or cultural matters. He also said that he dislikes it when “things begin to have value only because these are big moneymakers.”
Partners Maela and Sonny are also worried on how things will progress between the city government and the Baguio artists. Sonny said that the city government views artists as weird people and this hinders them from having a good working relationship.
According to Maela, she even heard CBAO commenting that they don’t really care about Baguio being a Creative City. She said that everyone is with the mindset of “What’s in it for me?” or when approaching these kind of art projects.
“The government should be supporting the artists and not thinking about the profits that they can make from them.”
Maela and Sonny also mentioned in the interview that they know of a group of people investigating if Baguio City is worthy of the title “Creative City.”
Buddy Cabrera, a Baguio artist who specializes in painting, said that the government’s focus is more on politics and event while the artist is focused on the art itself and the creative process. This causes misunderstandings between the two factions. He also said that there are scheduled Creative City Council meetings and that it is open to all Baguio artists.
The city’s next move
An appropriate medium-term (four years) action plan is included in the application submitted to UNESCO. It includes a development of Creative Centers which shall be funded and managed by the city government in collaboration with concerned government agencies. The city also plans to develop a Baguio City Creative Circuit (BCCC) that will physically link existing buildings and institutions as venues for showcasing Baguio City’s creative spirit. These buildings and institutions are the Baguio Convention Center, Sunshine Park, Baguio Museum, Maharlika Livelihood Center, Burnham Park and the University of the Philippines Baguio.
Councilor Datuin said that in lieu of Baguio now being a Creative City, they are looking forward on improving the partnership between the city government and the private sector, referring to the Baguio artists. He also said that they are inviting as many Baguio art groups as they can and if possible, form a single group or organization for better coordination.
Datuin said that they prefer working with the private sector and are reaching out to heads of art organizations for partnership in future government-led activities.
When asked about these future activities, Datuin said that they are planning on an International Creative Arts Festival on November this year.
“We are inviting not just national artists, but we are also trying to invite international artists from other Creative Cities,” he said.
This may be the institutionalization of a Baguio City Creative Arts Festival also mentioned in the action plan.
According to him, an ordinance is currently being drafted for the institutionalization of a Creative City Council. He explained that the current council created by the Department of Tourism and UP Baguio, two who have campaigned for the UCCN, is still an informal one. This council includes National Artist Benedicto Cabrera (BenCab) for painting, Laida Lim for textile, and Kidlat Tahimik for performing arts.
Department of Tourism (DOT) Regional Director Venus Tan shared the same sentiments of strengthening the relationship with the artists.
“We need to engage both sectors in order for both to have a win-win situation. The local government knows the importance of creativity and we plan on getting the best of both worlds,” said Tan.
When asked about the partnership with artists in the past, she said, “The relationship has always been good.”
Tan also mentioned an event in Poland called the “Annual Creative City Conference” which will be attended by mayors of Creative Cities.
It was not a good start for Baguio as a Creative City. This poses the question of whether the city is ready to be a Creative City. Sonny said that they hope the partnership of the artists with the city government will improve and that less problems will occur with next projects. – Jemimah Cresencia