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September 09, 2010


Arts Awake interviews the new executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Malou Jacob.

Arts Awake: What are your plans for NCCA?

Malou Jacob: May I give you a background. As deputy executive director for almost two years, I introduced and am coordinating the NCCA: Artists for Crisis Program which brings together emerging Muslim, Lumad and Christian artists during times of manmade and natural catastrophes to give creative workshops (in poetry, music, dance, visual arts, and theater) for the victims—children, the youth and the women.

Last year, we conducted the first trainors training for 40 Christian artists followed by workshops in Zamboanga, Bicol, Cotabato and Iloilo. In June 2010, we will give a Trainors Training Workshop to 44 Moro artists to be followed by four workshops to be conducted by the trainees. Next year we will do the same for the Lumad artists.
By the middle of next year, NCCA will have 120 artist facilitators under this program. This is NCCA’s contribution towards better understanding among the Lumads, Muslims and Christians.

We have also initiated the Translation Program for the Novel. Selected novels by National Artist nominees will be translated into English for the jury, and winners of the NCCA Literary Prize will be translated into English for submission to the Man Asian Prize which we hope will be dominated by Filipino writers.

Specific to the International Affairs Office (IAO), I have turned it into a proactive office by going beyond answering the needs of Philippine posts and foreign embassies through classification of exchanges in three stages: 1. Exchange of books, DVDs and other materials, 2. Exchange of seasoned artists and critics, 3. Exchange of groups of artists and writers. I have focused our cultural diplomacy towards Asean Unity and Solidarity 2015, Asian countries: China, Japan, Korea, India; the Middle East and Latin America.
The NCCA Critics Circle of IAO has also started. This means that we are tapping critics to give lectures to foreign cultural/art groups and universities under the cultural agreements with the Asean + 3 (China, Korea, Japan and India), the Middle East and Latin America. We aim to promote our seasoned artists and to influence the curricula of foreign universities to include studies on Philippine cinema, Philippine literature and Philippine visual arts.

Penguin’s translation of Jose Rizal’s Noli, Jose Garcia Villa’s Doveglion and Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; DVDs of Brillante Mendoza’s Lola, Mike De Leon’s Kisapmata, Marilou Abaya’s Jose Rizal , and Mario O Hara’s Bakit Bughaw ang Langit will be distributed to selected foreign embassies in 2010 to 2011.
I am also promoting the Monodrama Festival because it brings out the best from the actor at the least production cost. Through the Fujairah Monodrama Festival, our muslim artists will also have the opportunity to interact with their Middle East counterpart and, hopefully, realize that there is no conflict between religion and art. Sharja of United Arab Emirates, the cultural capital of the Middle East should be a destination for our Muslim artists.

Since the Philippines is the Asean Cultural Capital for 2010 to 2011, I proposed in an interagency meeting called by Department of Foreign Affairs to focus on Butuan, site of the Balanghai and the Golden Tara (now in the Chicago Museum), which dates us back thousands of years before the coming of Spain.

Butuan, together with the Philippine Ramayana version, Marahadia Lawana of the Maranaos links us strongly with the Asean towards unity and solidarity by 2015.

Arts Awake: What are the changes you plan to implement during your term?

Malou Jacob: I advocate for a paradigm shift which we started in the conduct of the NCCA Planning session. NCCA should be 21st Century in its worldview and strategy. Think NCCA. Holistically. A management style that is inclusive and transparent from the thinking stage to implementation.

Arts Awake: Which of the current projects of the commission are you most passionate about?

Malou Jacob: The SLTs (school of living traditions). I love the concept of the SLTs—a master craftsman with 10 to 20 young village practitioners/students is a school. But we have to set the stage for our battle cry: Cultural Industry for the Filipino Artist! Why develop a cultural industry if not for the economic benefit of the artist? The Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan and the master artists should benefit the most from their art and not the usual marketing people or the money lenders. The NCCA has the responsibility to protect the Filipino artist. We have links now with a Grameen like bank organization that lends to the poorest of the poor at lowest interest, without collateral. We are going to eliminate the practice of “five-six.” We are setting up a marketing model that arts councils could follow. We are setting up an Intellectual Communal/Property Rights Office (IPR/TALAS) that will function as a clearing house for all of the complaints of the artists all over the country.

The Arts Festivals have been supported by NCCA for over 10 years. It is time to put together a list of the most gifted artists from the periphery whose talent should be honed. Master classes for them. This is preparatory to the setting up of community or university-based arts institutes in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon to be managed by seasoned artists and former members of the NCCA committees.

The regional Arts festivals should be propelled by the socio-economic conditions of the region so that the power of arts in the molding of a people is demonstrated especially to the powers that be to help them realize the role of the arts beyond entertainment. The support for the Mindanao Arts for Peace fest is a very good example.
The Philippine Cultural Education Plan must continue to culminate towards the training of teachers to assure the place of Philippine Arts and Culture in the school curriculum. This is a long process. Mistakes have been made but these are being corrected. The important thing is we are aiming to greatly influence the educational system. And we shall.

Arts Awake: What is your priority project?

Malou Jacob: The setting up of a think tank is imperative. We have tested the NCCA debates on cultural and artistic issues during our planning session 2010 to 2013 and the response was tremendous. The rank and file of NCCA is young, motivated, bright and hardworking. I plan to continue the debates within and outside NCCA.
Among the artists, a Debate Series on burning issues like the National Artist awards, role of NCCA in value formation especially since what brings the country to the pits are corruption, Kamag-anak Inc. and the culture of violence. The debate series could be covered by radio and television.

NCCA has to take up its role in the development of the Filipino people. Culture should not be perceived as second or third priority. It has to be recognized as the umbrella that defines the socio-economic and political direction of the country.

Arts Awake: What are the greatest challenges that you hope you would be able to address during your term?

Malou Jacob: The greatest is the unconscionable situation of the majority of the employees of NCCA. I understand that this has been taken up by previous executive directors but without much success. I want to try again, using a different strategy.

The NCCA cannot continue to be the umbrella organization for culture and the arts serving the entire country through its policy making, granting giving and coordinating functions with 80 percent of its employees in temporary positions for 5, 10, 15 years and artists all over the country as volunteers, just because DBM has a RAT plan. The RAT plan is for the bloated government agencies. The NCCA is a lean and mean agency serving the entire country with a miniscule staff. I will bring this issue to the highest office of the land.


This article was published Friday, 21 May 2010 in The Manila Times Arts Awake, the paper’s culture section that was created in coordination with The National Commission for Culture and Arts. Arts Awake comes out every Friday.

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