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Talented yet broke

Kathleen A. Llemit



There are plenty of cautionary tales about famed artists gone broke in our country. There are far worst stories of some who struggle financially throughout their careers, a few ending up destitute and terminally ill.

In a country teeming with talent, why are our artists broke? It doesn’t seem right to hear of artists constantly embroiled in financial struggle especially if their potential seems limitless.

Hollywood is prime example of a community of thriving creative entrepreneurs. Many of their talents are well-compensated. Even after death, successful artists like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley continue to earn through royalties from their countless bestselling albums. Ditto for English acts such as The Beatles. By extension, many of their kin benefit.
The Philippines, on the other hand, does not present a pretty picture. Despite the talent, there are many artists who cannot thrive in their own soil.

Those who seek better lives choose ‘greener pastures’ in other countries like the United States and Europe. We have heard of successful Filipino animators or creatives involved in the production of Hollywood’s latest animated movies. Imagine if we had all those brilliant brains in our shores ─— we could have made a distinctly Filipino animation at par with Hollywood!

The others who stay make do with opportunities that come their way. These do not necessarily pay well, but they cope with this set-up because they chose to stay.
Apl de Ap knows this very well. The Amerasian boy from Sapang Bato, Angeles, struck it big when he had the opportunity to live in America and pursue his dream of becoming an artist.

Creating an industry

One of the founders and faces of the Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas sat down with select members of the press recently to share a passion project that he and his collaborators hope would serve as a catalyst for this systemic change.

“There are so many creative Filipinos, but with really no opportunity. I would like to help out and create that opportunity and awareness. It’s a trillion-dollar industry, and Filipinos are some of the most creative out there, but we’re still broke. We’re so talented, but we’re still broke. There is no industry for it in the Philippines,” began Apl de Ap.

When I prodded him about what he thinks is the biggest hurdle that prevents the creation and sustenance of a creative industry in the Philippines, he offered a reality that has long failed the notice of most of the ‘industry’s shakers and movers.’

“It’s having the right curriculum, entrepreneurship and the proper way to manage our monies because we always seem to be running out of money all the time. The hurdle is there is no business plan. You can be as creative as you want, but no one pays attention to your creativity,” he explained.

I recall a past conversation with an esteemed entertainment editor. On the two occasions that we were seated in one table, he commented about the non-existence of a showbiz industry. Surprised by his comment, I asked why he thought local showbiz is not considered an industry. Those two occasions proved to be thought-provoking as he basically lectured me about filmmaking and TV production. His observations led him to conclude that there is not an industry that we can call our own. Instead, he proposed that the proper term should be ‘content creator’.

I guess his assertion could be a case for the players involved to heed. Take a look at how Hollywood has been successful in sustaining its industry. At the core of their best practices is taking care of their artists ─ their biggest investment. There would be no Hollywood if there were no actors, directors, producers, et al.

Program for creatives

So where do we begin? According to Apl, it begins with the awareness of what’s lacking and needed to be done.

This is exactly why he collaborated with like-minded individuals and institutions whose primary goal is to cause a ripple effect.

His Apl de Ap Foundation, together with Thames International, the Department of Trade and Industry, Design Center of the Philippines, Philippine Trade Training Center and the British Council of the Philippines, have formed a partnership to create the Creative Innovators Programme.

“The programme will help the next generation of creative community leaders in the Philippines through one year of fellowship of creative hub managers. It includes mentorships, grants and network opportunities in the Philippines, Asean and the UK. Selected fellows, through their creative hubs, will also support hundreds of creative entrepreneurs all over the Philippines and abroad,” shared Nicholas Thomas, country director of the British Council of the Philippines.

“Why does this matter? Why is this important? Creative hubs in many different ways provide space, support and network for the creative and cultural sectors to flourish.

Examples include coworker spaces, makerspaces, design studios, fablabs and art collectives. These organizations enable and support professional development, product development, community engagement and much, much more,” added Thomas.

Simply put, the group aims to educate artists or creatives on how to maximize their potential through education. It all boils down to education ─ not just the technical aspects of their chosen field, but the practical aspects of it.

Technicalities are often easy to learn, but applied and practical solutions, most especially spending, investing and saving money for present and future use, are often taken less seriously. That is why we have many of these stories of artists who go broke.

Joel Santos, president of Thames International, shared an Ernst&Young study that states that the global creative industry is estimated at US$200 trillion. Data from the British Council revealed that the creative economy makes up 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product(GDP) and employs 29.5 billion people.

In the local context, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines has estimated that the creative economy makes up$12.5 billion or 7.34 percent of the country’s GDP from copyright-based industries such as design and visual arts, literature, music, theatre, film, the media, photography, software and advertising services.

The Philippines’ figure could improve if stakeholders would begin to act. And this collaboration is just one of those that are hoped to succeed.

The group has carefully considered how to make the most of their plan. They are going to choose 15 fellows who will undergo the program from August 2018 to October 2019.

Among the requirements for these fellows is a 10-year experience as a creative hub manager. The logic behind this is that this fellow will, in turn, teach all those who are part of his hub the knowledge and skills he has learned from the fellowship.

If this scheme proves successful, then artists/creatives will form not just a legitimate industry that safeguards the artists and stakeholders’ artistic and financial interests, but in time contribute to the development and sustainability of a creative economy in the Philippines.

“I’m a direct product of the creative industry so I would like to bring it back. I would like to help as many creative Filipinos as I can. There are so many creative people here, but so little opportunities. If the industry is doing so well, then people don’t have to leave the country to make a living,” related

Interested applicants may submit applications to [email protected] on or before July 8, 2018. More information can be accessed at