A stroke of hope at the Asian Cultural Council Gala
John A. Magsaysay (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2013 - 12:00am

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts — such is the duty of the artist.” The words of 19th-century German composer Robert Alexander Schumann have never rung truer than these times, when amid the gloom and despair brought about by a series of calamities that plague the nation, the country’s cultural scene triumphs with the vivid-colored brightness of hope.

In a gathering free from the frivolous flourishes usually associated with art events, the Metropolitan Museum Manila played host to the Asian Cultural Council’s Anniversary Gala, a milestone that was successful nonetheless in commemorating five decades of the foundation’s generous contributions, particularly to contemporary Philippine arts. Founded in 1963 by John D. Rockefeller III, the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) had served as a vital infrastructure connecting the cultural traditions and modern artistic movements of Asia with the US. By providing grants for qualified artists in their pursuit of expanding their creative skill and knowledge through artistic collaborations, academic assistance, or project support in the United States and throughout Asia, the non-profit has produced a staggering network of globally renowned artists and partnerships with the most celebrated cultural institutions around the world.

“Over the last 50 years, ACC has made nearly 6,000 grants to individual artists and cultural institutions working in 18 artistic disciplines and in 25 different countries. We are privileged to work with our exceptional grantees who represent the great depth and breadth of our program,” shares ACC’s executive director Miho Walsh.

In partnership with the Asian Cultural Council Philippines Foundation (ACCPF) incepted in 2000, since its founding ACC has supported 130 individual artists and 12 artistic institutions in the Philippines. “All grantees are expected to come back to the home country in order to be able to contribute to the development of the artistry in their respective countries,” explains ACCPF director Teresa Rances. One such shining example is Dr. Patrick Flores, whose 2009 museology grant inspired the stunning Philippine Contemporary Exhibition shown at the Met, and suitably offered the pre-dinner entertainment for the gala. Among the rich and varied assortment of Flores’s selections for the exhibition are the most-valued modern and contemporary art pieces from 1915 to the present, some of which on display are from grantees themselves, such as National Artist Jose Joya, filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, and visual artists Wawi Navarroza and Don Salubayba. The walk through the exhibition was made more enchanting with the live performances of fellow ACCPF grantees Maria Teresa Jamias, Edralin Cabrera, Myra Beltran, Antonio Maigue, and Ballet Philippines in their rather witty portrayal of the cycles of love.

The Met’s Philippine Gold Collection at the basement played host to a different kind of entertainment, this time, with the heavenly hymns of the Philippine Madrigal Singers. There, amid the lush presentation of pre-colonial finery and colonial religious relics, the choir, also celebrating its golden year, extolls Philippine pride and the legacy of artistic excellence. “You have a strong indigenous tradition and a large colonial history on top of it, so it’s a very diverse and rich tradition and I think it’s gaining traction internationally and regionally,” observes ACC chairman Wendy O’Neill. Well-versed in Asian culture and history, O’Neill also serves as a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; as one of the fifth-generation Rockefeller philanthropists, she is currently leading the ACC to its 50th year. “We see more exchange within Asia, which is a new development that the grantees want, and I would want to see more Americans coming to Asia to discover more artistic inspiration,” O’Neill says of the ACC’s future aspirations.

Set in the subtle, white background of ACC production design grantee Loy Arcenas’ imaginings of the paper-cut pastillas wrappers — a tradition borrowed from the Bulacenos — the ACC Gala Dinner commenced with the timely theme of “Gift/Biyaya,” celebrating the valuable contributions of fellow benefactors Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco and Ayala Foundation through the gifts of art, dance, music, and a simplistic yet sumptuous banquet of Filipino regional fairs. “We’re celebrating the existence of the ACC which is so important in fostering Philippine art and culture in all forms —from visual arts, to theater and dance, as well as the unsung heroes of the art world. You don’t have to shout to the highest mountains what they do, but the effects are thunderous,” shares ACCPF board member and fashion designer Rajo Laurel. Joining him are other notable ACCPF members Ernest Escaler, Amb. Isabel Wilson, Maribel Ongpin, Louie Locsin, Jonjon Rufino, Malu Gamboa, Deanna Ongpin-Recto, Ching Cruz and Dr. Joven Cuanang, who has, through the years, organized art auctions, exhibitions, and fund-raising galas for the benefit of the ACCPF grantees.

Acclaimed stage and costume designer Gino Gonzales recounted the importance of the Asian Cultural Council grants in the lives of struggling artists and their quest to enrich their own respective crafts. In his closing words, he addressed the ACC board and benefactors, “With you around, there is no such thing as a ‘starving artist.’” Dance choreographer and Ballet Philippines’ Edna Vida-Froilan, on the other hand, delivered a poignant account of her six-month fellowship grant with the ACC. Tracing her plight from an artist running out of inspiration to a revitalized creative brimming with new ideas for the national ballet, Vida-Froilan pleads with the guests to “continue this miracle for other Filipino and Asian artists.” The Ballet Philippines supported her appeal for a rewarding connection between patronship and the arts with a wonderful display of dance to Joey Ayala’s thematic Magkaugnay.

“I feel very fortunate that I am able to do what I am doing, being involved in the arts. I believe that the best is yet to come for this country,” shared ACC trustee and ACCPF founding member Josie Natori, her gratitude and optimism echoed by the melodious crescendos of the Philippine Madrigal Singers’ rendition of Thankful. On this note of appreciation, ACC trustee and chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation David Rockefeller, Jr. who was joined on this trip by his wife Susan, unveiled the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s substantially munificent contribution for the relief efforts of Typhoon Yolanda. Awarding a total of $250,000, David Rockefeller was moved by the disaster relief efforts organized by ACCPF board member Ching Cruz and her husband Philip, when they welcomed the visiting couple in their homes, despite the clutter of relief packs and donation boxes.

“I think that arts and culture have never been more important because they don’t depend upon the understanding of language, or the understanding of history, but they speak to us directly across cultures. This is a time when there are tensions in the world, not only East and West, but East and East, as you well know, so I think that artists can be cultural ambassadors and be helpful in reducing tensions and increasing the pleasure of people even when things are difficult,” imparts David Rockefeller, Jr. on the relevance of supporting the arts in this day and age. And this, the ACC has successfully done, with their growing network of fellow benefactors, and an increasing list of beneficiaries making the world a bit more united through art and assistance.

“Everyone here tonight will be going home a little bit richer with these connections,” shares Elizabeth McCormack, ACC’s chairman emeritus, and one of the foremost voices of global philanthropy. These connections may not have anything to do with economic gain, commercial success, or financial prosperity, but these connections become the heart and soul of a country that is being tried and tested on its way to greatness — the valuable gift of identity and pride as it finds its place in the rest of the world.

* * *

For more information on the Asian Cultural Council, its programs, as well as for individual and organizational grant applications, visit the Asian Cultural Council Philippines Foundation website at www.asianculturalcouncil.org/acc/manila. You can also contact the ACCPF at (632) 757-3006, or e-mail address accphilippines@gmail.com.   



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