The struggle for Philippine art - then and now
ARTICIPATION - Clarissa Chikiamco () - May 24, 2010 - 12:00am


Last week I discussed some criticisms I had of the current art scene that paralleled similar issues outlined in the book The Struggle for Philippine Art by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Guerrero, written over 30 years ago. Stopping off in discussing the quest for international recognition, I would like to continue by discussing funding, funding structures and the pursuit to improve the quality of art.

In The Struggle for Philippine Art, it was related how that hothouse for modernism, the Philippine Art Gallery, founded in 1950, struggled to make ends meet. Founder Lyd Arguilla had even been “driven to tears because there was no money to pay for the lights.”

It could be said that the situation is similar today for independent art spaces that are brazen sites for artistic experimentation. Occupying a critical position that withholds from being swallowed by the commercial gallery apparatus and the supposed behemoths of institutions, independent art spaces, also called artist-run or alternative, provide a crucial threshold for contemporary art, a more accessible environment ripe for the speculative. There have been a few of these spaces throughout the years — those that have folded in the past decade include Big Sky Mind, Surrounded by Water and Future Prospects. The artists that have passed through their doors already form an important part of today’s “who’s who” in the art scene.

It seems inevitable, however, for independent art spaces to close. While funding for projects is difficult enough to scout for, these spaces need money for day-to-day expenses — the most difficult to find. Operational costs are the basic necessities which funding institutions nearly always shy away from, preferring instead to back output-type undertakings such as events or publications. Without stable funding, time tick-tocks on the expiration date of these spaces, which just like PAG 50 years ago, need money “to pay for the lights.”

One of the longest running of these spaces is Green Papaya Art Projects, founded in 2000 by Peewee Roldan and Donna Miranda. Their efforts in contributing to the Manila art scene were recognized in the invitation extended to and the participation of Green Papaya in the 2010 edition of “No Soul for Sale.” Billed by the New York Times as “the Olympics of nonprofit groups,” “No Soul for Sale” is self-described as “a festival of independents that brings together the most exciting not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artists’ collectives and underground enterprises from around the world.” Held in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London from May 14 to 16 for the Tate Modern’s 10th anniversary and curated by Cecilia Alemani, Massimiliano Gioni and the artist Maurizio Cattelan, each invited group had to be self-reliant in finding their own funding to participate in the convention.

After informing people and institutions for their need for financial assistance, Green Papaya received two major donations, one from the Ateneo Art Gallery and the other from art benefactor Olivia Yao, which covered the costs for the brochures and posters. Other donations and fundraising efforts were made and, while deeply appreciative of the support received, Green Papaya unfortunately did not make enough to cover the significant airfare, accommodation and set-up costs that are expected when participating in such an occasion. The request for funding to the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was denied, strangely because the event wasn’t in the “list of prestigious international events” identified by the visual arts committee. Post-event and after advancing personal funds to participate, Green Papaya plans to appeal.

Incidents like this show that the funding structure of the NCCA needs to be re-examined. The first questions offhand may be: What is this “list of prestigious international events” and how is inclusion in the list determined? Isn’t an event held at the Tate Modern prestigious enough? Yet, it only foreshadows more difficult things that need to be asked, such as how accessible are the funds for the arts to those who need them? Is the NCCA funding the art scene in the ways the scene needs support? If not, what concrete steps must be taken in order to bridge the expectations the art community has of the NCCA regarding what it actually does? The schism between the NCCA and the community seems to have gotten wider in recent years, the government having an increasingly notorious reputation as a consistently unreliable source of support for the arts. Support in tangible materials is obviously in short supply but it goes beyond that to demonstrate a demoralizing lack of appreciation and understanding of the government of its country’s art scene.

In countries which had been reliant on government funding that has been declining in recent years, art institutions, organizations and artists increasingly turn to private support, such as businesses, to fill the gap. Locally, however, these are wanting. The few businesses which do support the arts rarely do so progressively. Caught both by habit and name branding, corporate participation in the arts consists mostly of company-sponsored art competitions, some further marred by repetitive, folksy, nationalistic, value-oriented themes. Of course, by “art” competition, it is nearly always going to be painting or two-dimensionally based.

The Struggle for Philippine Art details the reason for initiating the Art Association of the Philippines competitions, first beginning in 1948, as being to improve the quality of art. In contemporary times, however, most of these art contests do not seem to really do much in this aspect. Its effect instead has been to inspire copycat painters rather than prestige, it has already become comic. How is this actually supporting or improving the quality of art, particularly long term?

There is money hovering for the arts it seems and there are also decent intentions as well. These funds and intentions need to be channeled in a way that meets the basic needs of the art scene and develops innovative and challenging programs through a spirit of philanthropy, which is quite distinct from sponsorship. The latter case is and would certainly still be welcome but again, it is a matter of having it in a proper conduit. It should then also be professionally branded enough so that corporations are appropriately recognized and would thus be encouraged to continue more progressive kinds of exchanges.

One example for private support may be in the form of bequests, given to museums here to upgrade their facilities or to play a more active role in collecting art rather than awaiting donations. Another example would be extensive travel grants and residencies for local artists and curators to exhibit abroad and to have foreign counterparts visit as well. Even something such as funding overhead expenses for independent art spaces, as mentioned earlier, would be a radical idea. There are many ways that others have surely already dreamt of. These can be discussed in more detail another time.

I ended the first part of this article by saying “The international recognition of a country’s artists can really sometimes be (only) as substantial as the budget it provides for it.” To this, as the title of the Ayala Museum exhibition of Purita Kalaw-Ledesma’s collection underscores, I would add vision as well. Grounded in concrete resources and a healthy sense of reality, an art scene can — and will — only progress as far as our vision can take us.

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Green Papaya is still looking for funds to cover the expenses incurred in their participation in the “No Soul for Sale,” festival of independents. Contact for further information to help. Their space is located at 41B T. Gener Street corner Kamuning Road, Quezon City; website at The author may be reached at Her art writings are at

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