Margie Moran found out she got elected as CCP chairman while with friends on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — Jerusalem, to be precise. It’s an entirely new journey for the former beauty queen.
Margie Moran and her vision for a golden age of the CCP
ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2018 - 12:00am

CCP board chair Margie Moran explains, ‘The CCP is a grand old lady. It needs a facelift. Although we have new carpets and chairs, the stage has to have new flooring. The building still leaks. And I am supposed to be the doctor.’

There she was: Miss Universe 1973 staying at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City.

Then 19-year-old Maria Margarita Roxas Moran (Margie, for short) was holding court there as one of the perks of being crowned as the most beautiful woman in the world in the pageant held at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece. She had a suite of her own at the luxury hotel, which was like the center of a weird and wonderful universe — spotted were everyone from Jagger to Hitchcock, from Jacqueline Kennedy to, well, in a movie, James Bond. Margie remembers meeting a famous Spanish surrealist painter who stayed at St. Regis with his wife Gala and their pet possum every winter from 1966 to ‘73.

“Would you believe, one of my friends during that time was Salvador Dali?” shares Margie Moran. “Dali approached me in the lobby with his jewel-encrusted cane and his moustache. He introduced himself, and asked me out for dinner.” She regularly went out with Dali and his friends (to places such as Le Cote Basque), even getting to watch a young lounge singer before he became famous. Margie says, “Tony Bennett was just singing at the hotel bar during that time, and Dali told me he wanted to paint me — as a woman, all in white, coming out of a wall (laughs).”

Years later, Moran wanted to kick herself for turning Dali down because her teenage self got weirded out easily. She adds, “I was 19. What did I know?”   

What Margie knew then was how she loved (and still loves) the world of visual and performance art. “I watched a lot of plays and ballet shows during that time in New York, but as a kid I was already exposed to the opera (Turandot and La Traviata) and symphony orchestras because of my parents, Francis and Charo. We even watched Swan Lake by The Royal Ballet in London.” She started dancing the ballet when she was eight, afterwards joining Broadway presentations by Karilagan International and Repertory Philippines.

Margie Moran could have had a career in art early on, but life has a way of surreally shape-shifting. Of course, she will forever be remembered as a beauty queen, but the woman — who, believe it or not, wanted to be a banker like her father — has carved out a name in the field of advertising and tourism. “When I got married, I lived in Davao and was involved in promoting it as a tourist destination — at that time when it was still not safe. I helped develop Pearl Farm.” She is also notable for her social and civic works, especially for promoting peace and livelihood as part of the Mindanao Commission on Women Organization and as an ambassador-trustee of Habitat for Humanity Philippines.

“I was about to retire,” begins Margie, “but then when I was vacationing in London, I got a call from Maan Hontiveros and Tony Cojuangco, asking if I wanted to be president of Ballet Philippines. And I stayed with Ballet Philippines for nine years.”

Moran says, “The saddest part for me when I was the president of Ballet Philippines was saying goodbye to some of our dancers who had to go to other ballet companies abroad or got jobs in cruise ships. They became like my children.”

Then this happened: Moran was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as a member of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) board of trustees in January, and was elected as CCP chairman during the board meeting held in April, succeeding advertising maven Emily Abrera.

Moran found out she got elected as chairman while with friends on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — Jerusalem, to be precise. It’s an entirely new journey for the former beauty queen.

Infrastructure is at the top of the chairman’s priorities as CCP faces its golden anniversary. “The building itself needs to be rehabilitated. It will be 50 years old next year. The CCP is a grand old lady. It needs a facelift. Although we have new carpets and chairs, the stage has to have new flooring. The building still leaks. The pipes need to be changed. And I am supposed to be the doctor (laughs). I have my hands full.”

But it’s a beautiful theater, gushes Margie. “You can imagine how beautiful it was 50 years ago. (The Main Building designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin) was so ahead of its time. It was as beautiful as the Sydney Opera House. You know, for our country that is so rich in talent  — we have the software, but we sadly lack the hardware.”

The woman can talk to anyone all day about how the creative industry contributes to a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), how it can be utilized for cultural tourism (incidentally, Moran will be meeting with Department of Tourism [DOT] Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat for a possible partnership), and how the arts is not just about lofty ideals but is crucial for critical thinking. Her plans for the CCP involves more riveting shows, a wider engagement with the public, sustained social media presence, and more support for the artistic department and its programs.

During the ’73 Miss Universe pageant, the candidate from the Philippines was asked what is the first thing she would buy if she suddenly got a million dollars. (The answer: a house and lot.) So, what would the CCP chairman procure if she received a million-dollar donation?

“Gosh, I will definitely fast-track the construction of additional buildings for the cultural center,” answers Margie Moran. “We will have a new Black Box theater, bigger than the Tanghalang Huseng Batute. We will be launching an art center near Folk Arts Theater, which will have its own rehearsal spaces, music rooms, dance studios. There will be a 1,000-seater theater as well. Everything is already in the pipeline.”

Nothing surreal about it: the CCP universe truly is expanding.

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