Penman No. 59: A Boon for UP Artists

IMG_2770Penman for Monday, August 12, 2013

LAST WEDNESDAY, I had the privilege of being part of a special ceremony at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, this time for the UP Arts Productivity System or APS awards. Initiated under former UP President Emerlinda R. Roman in 2009, the APS provides substantial monetary incentives to artists within the UP System for work produced within a three-year period (or five, the first time you apply). Twenty-eight UP artists were honored, including 17 from the first batch in 2009. (A similar system had been earlier put in place for UP scientists.)

A committee of peers—themselves highly accomplished artists, including National Artists—receives and evaluates applications from Diliman and UP’s many other campuses. Points are assigned to specific works, such as books, productions, exhibitions, and major lectures; further points accrue from notable awards and distinctions, especially forms of international recognition. Within this committee, spirited discussions inevitably arise over the merits of an artist’s work. Since the award is given for new and continuing work, it isn’t a lifetime achievement award, and no matter how highly regarded an artist may be, only his or her sustained productivity will be recognized by the APS.

Not surprisingly, many questions and concerns come up in the APS. The proper and fair valuation of artistic work is one of the most difficult tasks anyone can assume, even and especially within an academic setting, which may not necessarily reflect what the market thinks say, of a painting or a commissioned biography. Academia is the bastion of theory, and an award-giving situation like this challenges and exercises every humanities professor’s notions of what is good and valuable.

The idea that art itself is of real value is, in the first place, something one can’t assume to be a general belief in our country, and even in our university. Painters have it easier in terms of establishing their worth, because people have gotten used to the spectacle of, say, a Van Gogh selling for many millions of dollars, even if they may not understand why. They can look at a painting or sculpture in their living room or in an office lobby and at least appreciate its decorative value (although modernist art will probably leave them deeply perplexed, especially when told that the piece was worth a lot of money).

The utility and practical value of a poem is far more ephemeral. Artistry in the form of a service—say, directing a play or curating an exhibit—is even harder to apprehend for many. This is why it takes another artist—or a scholar and academic—to seek out and to recognize these obscure but important triumphs of mind, spirit, and sensibility over matter.

There are awards enough in the Philippines for artistic endeavor, capped by the National Artist Award, which the Supreme Court found the good sense to rescue from pit of political patronage. Elsewhere there are the FAMAS, the Palancas, the Thirteen Artists, and any number of music-industry awards. What distinguishes the UPAPS is its recognition of artists who also teach, or teachers who also manage to produce good art despite the well-known rigors of teaching and that other great devourer of time and energy, administration.

This is particularly important in an institution like UP, which—not unlike many other Philippine universities today, for understandable reasons—seems to have reoriented itself toward more support for science, technology, and engineering. (One thing most people don’t realize is that, based on enrolment figures alone, UP Diliman is really basically an engineering school; those of us in a small minority in the humanities and the law just happen to be noisier than the typical engineer.)

I was told that the UP science complex—an impressive array of colleges and institutes geared toward establishing UP as a force to be reckoned with in regional S&T—has so far received some P3.5 billion in various forms of support and investments, chiefly from the government. Under President Alfredo E. Pascual, UP has asked Malacañang for a small fraction of that for what we might call cultural infrastructure—studios, laboratories, theaters, exhibition spaces, and equipment that our students and their teachers need to produce significant new work; so far I’ve yet to hear of a firm commitment for even this sliver of support given to S&T. (For the record, we shouldn’t be competing with S&T, but alongside S&T for our share of the national budget.)

Never mind, for now, our standing recommendation for the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Culture to oversee national cultural policy and arts promotion. Never mind that we hardly ever hear about arts and culture in the SONA, very likely because our high officials still see culture as entertainment, as an intermission number without any material contributions to make to the national good.

Last week, where someone could do something about the lot of the Filipino artist, they did, and on behalf of the UPAPS awardees, I’d like to thank President Pascual and his administration for this initiative, and can only hope that it is picked up by other visionary academic leaders elsewhere.

Herewith, the list of UPAPS awardees—including, immodestly, yours truly (who had to publish five books in three years to make the grade!):

MUSIC and DANCE: Maria Christine M. Muyco, La Verne C. de la Peña, Jonas Baes, Josefino J. Toledo; ARCHITECTURE: Gerard Rey A. Lico, Danilo A. Silvestre; FILM: Grace J. Alfonso, Sari Raissa L. Dalena; FINE ARTS: Patrick D. Flores, Jason B. Banal, Leonilo O. Doloricon, Ruben Fortunato M. De Jesus, Ma. Eileen L. Ramirez, Reuben R. Cañete; LITERARY WORKS: Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., Ricardo M. de Ungria, Eugene Y. Evasco, Jose Neil Carmelo C. Garcia, Roland B. Tolentino, Rosario T. Yu, Layeta P. Bucoy, Victor Emmanuel Carmelo D. Nadera Jr.; RADIO, TELEVISION and RELATED MEDIA: Fernando A. Austria, Jr., Danilo A. Arao; SCHOLARLY WORK: Priscelina P. Legasto; and THEATRE: Josefina F. Estrella, Dexter M. Santos, Alexander C. Cortez.

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