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Rising above the pandemic

Roel Hoang Manipon

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Pasinaya is the first CCP event to be canceled this year. Photograph courtesy of CCP

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the emerging severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), became a pandemic, numerous countries imposed quarantines and lockdowns to mitigate its proliferation, including the Philippines, which started by mid-March in Metro Manila, then Luzon and many parts of the country.

The disease and the ensuing lockdowns adversely affected all sectors of society, especially the arts and culture sector.

“We are aware that the pandemic has taken a toll on the lives and livelihoods of artists and cultural workers who earn a living from their creative works or paying performances,” explained Margarita “Margie” Moran-Floirendo, chairperson of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Board of Trustees. “This is a global crisis and our performers and entertainers abroad are coming home and face unemployment. Some are stranded in the middle of the ocean in their cruise ships unable to dock.”

Local artists and cultural workers, the CCP community in particular, “has suffered from cancellations of its shows and activities due to COVID-19,” said CCP president Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso.

“We cannot continue with the programs as originally planned. Remember, we are supposed to continue celebrating our 50th anniversary. And this is indeed a challenging time on how to continue to cap the anniversary celebration of the Center, which is supposed to end in September of this year,” Chris Millado, CCP vice president and artistic director, added.

Negative impacts on the sector

Millado admitted that the sector was not prepared for the crisis. “It’s very reflective in the way, I guess, of how the whole nation and many other countries as well around the globe have been caught flat-footed in terms of dealing with a pandemic,” he said.

He shared that according to one of the studies conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the sectors that will be highly affected by the pandemic would be “the arts and culture sector, live entertainment, tourism, those which have been identified having one of their requirements huge public gatherings, face-to-face contact, physical contact.”

The future also looks bleak for the sectors. “And in terms of the recovery period, it is anticipated that the live arts and other leisure activities, cultural activities, rock concerts, even ceremonies that require gatherings of people will have a very slow recovery in terms of getting back and doing things the way it was before,” he said.

Live performances are very much affected by the pandemic.

Millado explained that the loss in the arts and culture sector is mostly due to the fact that “90 percent of our artists and cultural workers belong to what we call the freelance sector. So, in short, if they don’t get to work, then they will not receive any kind of salaries.”

At the CCP, he revealed that at least 800 events are canceled.

“Remember the CCP is not only the dance, the music, the concerts in our venues, it’s also the outreach activities that we do in the regions. It’s also the workshops that we do with teachers and students. It’s also a lot of festivals, at least four major festivals that we do in a year,” Millado said. “One production might have several shows. The Tanghalang Pilipino, for example, would have a production of a play, but would run for at least 24 shows. Festivals like Cinemalaya or Pasinaya, which was the first festival that we cancelled. It usually attracts 3,000 participating artists. So, you can imagine the number of shows that have been canceled throughout the year.”

He also shared that at least 3,000 artists, cultural workers and other kinds of workers have been affected by the crisis. “Most of the time, we employ artists, production staff, backstage crew, lighting designers and so on, people who belong to the creative industry in various capacities,” he said.

Moreover, due to cancellations of shows of events, the CCP has lost at least 800,000 audiences, or participants.

“As of last year, we’ve already hit the 800,000 mark in terms of the reach of CCP, not only in its venues, but in different activities all throughout the Philippines. And we were hoping that this year, 2020, with the ramping up of our anniversary events, we will hit our one million mark. So, we’re trying to see how we could catch up on those targets.”

The cancellations translate to a revenue loss of at least P90 million. CCP’s main sources of revenue are box office or ticket sales and venue rentals.

“In fact, venue rentals almost equal or even exceed what the box office usually gets in terms of revenue. So since all our venues are closed, we cannot lease out these performance venues,” Millado explained. “And since we build up the performing arts as a value chain, that means there are other people who surround the whole production in indirect ways. like those in catering, food, flowers, carpentry, costume, construction, suppliers of materials and so on, [are also affected].”

He further said: “There is still an undetermined value in terms of how the value chain has been affected. All performance and exhibit venues are closed. All rehearsal venues are closed, and businesses in the complex have been affected. As you know, right beside the CCP is the Harbor Square, and most of its traffic usually depends also on the shows that are going on at the CCP. And there’s a newly constructed restaurant complex right beside the Sofitel, which will also be affected.”

The Cultural Center of the Philippines has realigned its programs in response to the pandemic.
Photograph by Edwin Bejer

Another recent source of CCP’s revenue — the sale of our CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Arts — has also been affected.

“Then, of course, there are also the implications of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act. As a government-owned and -operated corporation, we are part of this, and part of this Act calls for a budget realignment among different agencies, budgets that might have to be realigned to be directly responsive to the covid-19 situation,” Millado revealed. “We have been asked to cut down as much as 45 percent of our budget across all operations and programs. And of course, there has been the continuous mention of the possible sale of government assets once the government might need it, and the CCP has been mentioned as one of the assets that might have to be considered. I think what the government or the President referred to was the CCP complex, or the 60-hectare complex where the building sits on.”

“The cultural community is hardly represented in the business and in the political sectors,” Moran-Floirendo admitted, implying that the arts and culture sector cannot expect assistance from other sectors.

Government cultural institutions, such as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, have to devise their own ways to survive and aid the country’s artists and cultural workers despite reduced budgets.

“This is the reality, but in a survival mode, there are opportunities,” she said.

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