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Baguio is aptly called a Unesco Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts. Frequent Baguio visitors would agree that the city has always teemed with creativity — there’s a palpable love for the arts and the indigenous culture of the Cordilleras.

Bululs or carved wooden sculptures said to be the stylized representations of the protectors of Ifugao rice crops are ubiquitous; if memory serves me right,  there were even some lined up by the entrance to the city along Marcos Highway when I visited Baguio a year ago.

Creative Economy Council founding president Paolo Mercado and BACCI chairperson Adelaida Lim-Perez.

People proudly adorn themselves with the colorful woven textile of the Cordilleras, either as a complete garment or as an accessory in the form of bags, headpieces or jewelry. Also, the city has always been home to many talents including two National Artists — BenCab and Kidlat Tahimik.

It’s hard not to see why it only took six months for the northern city to earn that designation. Baguio’s narrative is a compelling example but proponents are not resting on its laurels.

Earning that designation is just the start, as but sustaining it is a long and arduous task that requires commitment and proactivity.

The proponents who worked hard for the Unesco designation have began setting the wheels in motion since achieving the status on 31 October 2017. What better way for them to do it than by reviving a Creative Festival in the form of the very first EntaCool Creative Festival that happened from 10 to 18 November?

One would see the confluence of like-minded stakeholders when the festival was held. Public agencies and private individuals and groups collaborated to make the week-long festival a success.

It was spearheaded by Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) COO Marie Venus Tan, Philippine National Commission for UNESCO secretary general Lila Ramos Shahani, Department of Tourism – Cordillera Administrative Region (DoT-CAR) OIC Jovita Ganongan, Baguio Arts and Creative Collective Inc. chairperson. Adelaida Lim- Perez and UP Baguio Chancellor Raymundo Rovillos.

Philippine National Commission for Unesco secretary general Lila Ramos Shahani.

There were creative crawls, workshops and the launch of an OTOP or one-town, one-product hub in Upper Session Road in Baguio City.

Among the highlights was the inauguration of the Bell House at Camp John Hay where the “Baguio:  Our City, Our Home” exhibit is being held. It features photos of Baguio from a specific era from the collections of BenCab, AV Cating Family, R. Furuya, Michael G. Price and E.R. Alcantara. These are placed side by side or on top of the present photos of the same iconic Baguio landmarks taken by known lensmen such as Tommy Hafalla, Ompong Tan and Wig Tysmans. It is on view until 6 January 2019.

The festival opened with much aplomb with the launch of the “Kulay ng Siglo” exhibit at the former Diplomat Hotel, which is now known as the Dominican Hill and Nature Park. The former hotel, which was the stuff of legends for allegedly being haunted by otherworldly creatures or elements, was transformed into one glorious, creative hub that featured installations and paintings by Baguio artists led by Kidlat Tahimik. It was curated by fellow Baguio Arts Guild founder Willy Magtibay.

What was commendable about this staging was the underlying commitment of the proponents to sustain the Unesco designation.

They hope that it will not suffer the same fate as the Baguio Arts Festival during the late 1980s. Thus, the stakeholders, which include the LGU, the aforementioned agencies,  BACCI and private individuals, are finding ways to sustain the festival and the designation as a whole.

TPB COO Tan said that among these is adaptive reuse, which they did with the old Diplomat Hotel. It had been abandoned in the late 1980s after its operator/manager Tony Agpaoa’s demise until the city government took ownership of the lot in 2005. Tan, who had been previously the Regional Director of DoT-CAR, knows very well these concerns and thus thinks that adaptive reuse of heritage sites such as the Dominican Hill is a tool to keep the momentum.

Paolo Mercado, Creative Economy Council of the Philippines founding president, shared the story of Bandung,  the capital of Indonesia’s West Java. Similarly, the relatively cool Bandung used to be the large manufacturer for apparel brands, or what he bluntly called, sweatshops for big brand names, until the stakeholders decided to have their voices heard.  In 2015, Bandung was designated as the Unesco Creative City for Design.

Former Daily Tribune writer and columnist Deni Afinidad-Bernardo has successfully penned the style and beauty book Mukhang Artista.

Amid all these, admittedly not all are aware of the impact of such a designation or any arts and culture inscription for that matter unless one is made aware of its potential financial impact to the economy and the creative individual himself.

To put it in perspective, Mercado pointed out that Hollywood and Silicon Valley in California are perfect examples of “creative clusters” that are thriving and contributing to the States’ economy.  The products made by these giants are consumed globally and are valued by the billions in dollars.

Similarly, PH National Commission for UNESCO Hon. Sec Gen. Lila Ramos-Shahani shared how a Unesco inscription helped Vigan’s local economy. She shared that prior to Vigan’s inscription as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999, IIocos Sur’s capital was a second-class municipality with an annual revenue of P27 million and an unemployment rate of 45 percent. At present, employment rate is down at 8 percent and the city’s annual revenue increased 12 times since 1995.

All are in agreement, however, that the fulcrum that could hold the festival, and in effect the designation, together is its institutionalization. Baguio City Councilor Ma. Mylen Victoria Yaranon shared that they are working on coming up with an ordinance that would create the Baguio Creative Council. She said it is currently on its second reading.

Hearing all these insights and plans, one cannot but help be optimistic especially with the confluence of factors that could make Baguio even cooler and more attractive as it already is.

***

Congratulations are in order for two skilled individuals that I am fortunate to know.

I just used to see Chuck Smith and Deni Rose Afinidad-Bernardo saunter in and out of The Varsitarian’s office, which was formerly located at UST’s Main Building, back during my university days. Chuck, a year younger, was a Features and News writer. We did not have much time to talk to each other as I was hanging around at the Varsi office waiting for Deni to finish her work. (I was never a Varsi staff, I reluctantly regret to admit, because I never had the guts to take their grueling exams.)

Chuck and I just got to talk more when I got in as a writer for the Tribune. We used to bump into each other at coverages while he was still writing for Philstar.com. He’s now a publicist for TBA Studios.

These two have just celebrated a milestone.

PHOTO shows Chuck Smith (second from right) receiving a Palanca award for his essays “The Origin Story.”

Chuck was given the Palanca nod for his essay, “The Origin Story,” first published in Esquire Magazine. While I joked with him that I would make “kulit” on the night he was bestowed the prestigious Palanca last October, his answer was typical Chuck who did not make a big deal out of it. I, however, got to ask via chat what he felt after getting the nod for writing something very personal.

“It feels great. The Palanca is a good validation for someone trying to find his place in the writing community or for an aspiring writer trying to make sense of his own work. I take it as an encouragement to conitnue writing, a sign that I am maybe, hopefully, doing something right with my writing,” he replied. He added that he feels more conscious of what he writes.

“More than that, I just feel more obligated to write more and create something of value to someone,” he ended.

I must say that he is definitely on the “writeful” path.

Similarly,  Deni is humbled by another feather in her cap. While Chuck wrote in English for the Varsitarian, she had such flair in Filipino.  But she is equally adept at writing in English which she applied to much delight as writer for Manila Standard until she joined the Daily Tribune.

She had been with the Tribune until two years ago when she got the Lifestyle and Entertainment post at Philstar.com.

Ever busy with her career, she finds ways to balance her home life by taking care of daughter Sofia and their upcoming bundle of joy as well as being wife to Nicolo, who also used to be the editor-in-chief of Varsi.

She and Nico are perfectly matched as she joins her husband in the publishing community with her book, Mukhang Artista, a compilation of her interviews of celebrities who shared their makeup tips which she got to interview over the years. Nicolo is also an author of two books, PhiLawSophia and Short Alpha Males.

Way to go Chuck and Deni!

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