The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) though poorest among regions in the Philippines is among the richest in terms of culture and arts in the whole Southeast Asian Region. The Muslim population alone boasts with it thirteen (13) tribes- each has their own kind of music, arts, dance, rituals and literature.
Intricate wood work. This hand-carved design is called the "Okir\" by the Marano Tribe in the Province of Lanao del Sur.
When I was in college, I worked with the Sining Kambayoka Ensemble (SKE) in Mindanao State University, Marawi. It is our advocacy to preserve and promote culture through the arts and performances. The group is funded by the University, and that is how it thrived until today. During those years, I have met several people who has the passion to work for cultural advocacy, but later on, stopped and looked for another job. Their reason: there’s no money in cultural work, it cannot sustain them and their needs and what have you.
Very sad but true. I have experienced it myself. I have seen how and why it is difficult to stick with arts as your passion.
Which is why it impressed me so much, that Anacostia was able to find a way to preserve its colorful history, encourage artists and empower them economically at the same time.
On October 25, we went to the Historic Anacostia for a meeting with one of the people from the 11th Street Bridgeproject. Irfana, the Development and Community Outreach Officer of the said project met us and brought us to the Anacostia Center for the Arts. From outside the building, you can already see wonderful art pieces and installations. Upon entering the premises, you can see how the arrangement of furnitures are so different from your usual office spaces. It has a youthful vibe-colorful, interactive and unconventional. It has so much energy with it. This reminded me also of We Work Bread Factory- the venue of DC Local Economy last October 17.
Irfana telling us about the 11th Street Bridgeproject.
From the design alone and the things that you see inside, you can already feel the creativity of the people at work. There were also shops and galleries that showcased art pieces or products from local entrepreneurs and artists. There was a restaurant. Meeting areas of different sizes.
Then I realized, it is very possible to connect arts to economic empowerment- it is by providing them a creative space. A space where they can gather and continue to express their ideas and advocacies through their master pieces. A space where they people can see what they do, interact with them, share stories, develop ideas and turn them into something lucrative. more importantly, a space where they can indulge in business and make money.
I learned from Irfana that those spaces are products of intensive community engagement. They have talked to several people from all walks of life and asked for thier ideas. They entertained every question, dealt with every objection and strengthened every contribution. She said, that the success of it comes from the fact that it has been owned by the community because they were part of the whole process- from ideation to implementation.
Giving the community such space has been very important. It allowed the people to come out and contribute. Before, they were just in their homes or maybe outside, but they do not have confidence. They remained to be reluctant artists, advocates and entrepreneurs, until the Anacostia Arts Center Opened their doors. It gave them the platform to foray their passion, knowing that they actually are not alone.
I want to give the people of ARMM such creative space. As to how, I am not yet sure. But I know the right time will come when I will be able to gather the right amount of ideas and weave them together into one great plan.
The ARMM is a colorful region. A creative space will give local artists the chance to preserve their cultural heritage and at the same time make a living out of it.
When I go back to the Philippines after my fellowship here in the US, I can tell everyone that arts and economy can go the same way.