The Manila Times

PH as Rip Van Winkle: How we woke up to a national life starved of art, culture and creativity OBSERVER


REMEMBER the story of Rip Van Winkle, as told by American author Washington Irving and first published in 1819. The story follows a DutchAmerican villager in colonial America named Rip Van Winkle who meets mysterious Dutchmen, imbibes their liquor and falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains.

He awakes 20 years later to a very changed world, having missed the American Revolution.

In a way we Filipinos also fell into a very deep sleep like Rip Van Winkle during the excitement and confusions of EDSA 1986.

When we woke up from the fever of people power and President Cory Aquino’s strange presidency, we saw the nation much changed, its prospects shriveled by poor executive management.

Government was sliced and diced by Cory in her mad obsession to rid the country of everything that would remind our people of Marcos.

Whole government departments were abolished, including energy, human settlements and public information, and the interim Batasang Pambansa, by her revolutionary government.

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant project of FM (Ferdinand Marcos Sr.) was abandoned even though it was already nearly complete and paid for. Cory had no inkling she would by this act plunge the country into a long night of darkness.

All local government officials were summarily dismissed from office and replaced by her selfchosen officers in charge.

On the cultural front, it was even more incomprehensible. Cory virtually issued a decree for the demotion of the art and culture to nothing.

From the time when the nation looked expectantly in the coming year to the Manila Film Festival, the annual competition for the best song composition, the pop music festival, arts exhibitions and other contests in other fields, the people now saw a landscape shriveled and decapitated like a field after a storm.

Cory also began a tradition of our national leaders being completely devoid of feeling for arts and culture. She did not attend concerts at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, perhaps because her late husband took pleasure in trashing it.

What a contrast this was to the time when Mrs. Imelda Marcos was the first lady. She made art and culture, and its dynamic development her special object of interest and patronage. She founded numerous projects like the conversion of Makiling into a haven for the arts. She gathered around her and her projects talented and promising youth, and saw to it that they could study or be sent abroad.

In time, through Mrs. Marcos’ leadership, our cultural and national life developed a reputation and image of dynamism and fecundity.

In a flash, this life vanished from our lives after 1986. Like Rip Van Winkle, we awakened to a different nation in which the New Society and its cultural innovations were no more.

And now we face the challenge of jump-starting our creative economy after decades of neglect. Our government officials and leaders do not care much about art and culture, and they do not know how or where to begin the process of building or rebuilding.

While our government is still groping in the dark for the vision and the policy ideas that will enable it to build and develop our creative economy, many countries are now moving toward a more advanced stage of creative development.

Credit for the policy vision that sparked global interest in the creative economy as a development option properly belongs to Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia (1991-1996). It was he and his Labor government who first articulated the vision and saw the possibilities.

In October 1994, then-PM Keating released a federal policy document called “Creative Nation: Commonwealth Cultural Policy.”

Creative Nation was the first time an Australian federal government formally developed a cultural policy. Additional funding of $250 million was promised to cultural institutions.

The report emphasized culture’s importance to national identity, and defined culture more broadly than earlier conceptions by including film, radio, libraries, and more. It also stressed the economic potential of cultural activity and arts, by stating that:

“This cultural policy is also an economic policy. Culture creates wealth. Broadly defined, our cultural industries generate A$13 billion a year. Culture employs. Around 336,000 Australians are employed in culture-related industries. Culture adds value, it makes an essential contribution to innovation, marketing and design. It is a badge of our industry. The level of our creativity substantially determines our ability to adapt to new economic imperatives. It is a valuable export in itself and an essential accompaniment to the export of other commodities. It attracts tourists and students. It is essential to our economic success.”

Policy document changed Australia

During the 20th anniversary of Creative Nation in October 2014, Rebecca Hawkings of the Department of Modern History at Macquarie University wrote a paper on the profound impact of Creative Nation on Australia. She described it as a document that changed Australia and Australians. Her words are a fitting memorial to a most impressive document. Here are some of the substantive passages from her report:

“Today marks 20 years since the publication of Creative Nation. An ambitious and expansive project by Paul Keating’s Labor government, it was the first Commonwealth cultural policy document in Australia’s history. Its initial impact was significant, with Keating committing AU$252 million of additional spending over four years to the arts and cultural industries in Australia.

“But Creative Nation’s legacy in Australian life since 1994 has been nothing short of profound.

“Creative Nation changed the way Australians saw themselves, and their place in the world. It defined ‘culture,’ broadening out the concept beyond the confines of the high art elite. Most notably, the policy document reframed the cultural industries in economic terms. It changed the very language used to talk about Australia, its culture, its artistic expressions.

“Creative Nation emerged at a time of broader re-imaginings of what it meant to be Australian.

“Six years prior to its publication, the 1988 Bicentenary prompted discussions in public and political life about the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the narrative of Australia’s history. The dismantling of the White Australia policy in the mid-1970s and the emergence of multiculturalism had similarly shifted perceptions of Australian identity.

“Creative Nation reflected those shifts. The opening preamble to the document described Australian culture as ‘now an exotic hybrid,’ and Creative Nation made repeated reference to the importance of Indigenous and migrant cultures in creating a national cultural identity ....

“The Keating policy document sought to fund cultural projects that represented ‘the nation’s diversity.’ Though subsequent federal governments would continue this mission to varying degrees, the legacy of Creative Nation was one of a changing narrative of Australian identity, one which sought to include non-white Australians in the national project.

“Creative Nation defined ‘culture’ as ‘that which gives us a sense of ourselves.’ This broad sweep encompassed not only the traditional high arts institutions (Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, and state and national symphony orchestras, to name a few), but also television and film, regional community festivals, radio, school programs, libraries and information technology.

“In a single policy document, Creative Nation placed new modes of cultural engagement alongside older forms of cultural expression, rendering them equally legitimate and equally constituting ‘arts’ in Australia...

“From Creative Nation onwards, art was for everyone, and cultural engagement was a national concern.

Culture and economics

“Most remarkably, Creative Nation was an economic policy.

“It justified its existence on financial terms — the AU$13 billion generated by the arts sector and the 336,000 jobs created by the cultural industries were the primary rationalizations for the document’s funding initiatives. Increases in arts spending were directed to projects and institutions from whom a return on the investment could be expected. Culture, noted Creative Nation, was ‘essential to our economic success.’

“The cultural industries were reframed in Creative Nation as a commercial project. No longer merely ‘arts for art’s sake,’ Keating shifted the political debate on funding the cultural industries to focus on ideas of cost-benefit analysis and financial outcomes...

“Creative Nation created a discourse which stipulated that culture could — and should — be exported to the global market, and the role of government was to protect and promote the work of Australian artists in this economic marketplace ....

“As Australia’s first Commonwealth cultural policy document, Creative Nation forever changed the way that Australians saw themselves. “Culture was now an economic concern, the arts were for all Australians, and the nation could no longer so rigidly define its national identity through its British colonial past.”

A template for other countries

It is a testament to the power of Keating’s policy vision that Creative Nation since then became for other nations a template in mapping and developing their own creative economies.

In 1997, inspired chiefly by Australia’s bold precedent, Tony Blair, in his first government established in the United Kingdom its Department for Culture Media and Sport. The term “creative industries” gained wider exposure when UK policymakers set up the Creative Industries Task Force and published the creative industries mapping documents in 1998 and 2001.

On the basis of its initial findings, the UK government stated that the creative industries were bringing in 8 percent of national income and employing 5 percent of the workforce. Since 1997, these industries have grown by up to 20 percent a year.

The Blair government re-positioned the British economy as an economy driven by creativity and innovation in a globally competitive world.

“Creative industries” are described by the UK as “those requiring creativity, skill and talent, with potential for the creation of rights to intellectual property.”

In March 2000, the EU heads of state and government meeting in Lisbon agreed on an ambitious goal to make the EU “by 2010 the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.” They called for a study and strategy for a creative Europe to achieve Lisbon goals.

Elsewhere, other countries were also astir, eager to jumpstart the development of their own creative economies.

In the Asia-Pacific region, it was soon found that the creative industries were integral to the development of mature economies and the development of fast-growing economies.

PH far behind

Based on the record, the Philippines has not been proactive or attentive while the world was churning in activities to raise up the world’s creative economies. Philippine administrations during the past three decades barely noticed what was going on in this highly competitive front.

We have hope that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has enough of Imelda in him to ardently desire to lead in building Creative Philippines.

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