The art community of Palawan is slowly regaining its vibrancy, thanks to the collaborative effort of some pioneers who initiated a move to restore the scene and the industry through an exhibit to depict what happened when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and how it was before.
The Palawan Artists Collective, a group of artists, staged a 10-day exhibit showcasing artworks and masterpieces they created, some of which were done during the nearly two-year pandemic, particularly during the lockdown period in 2020, to demonstrate their resurgence in the industry.
The “Tuloy ang Kwento” art exhibit, spearheaded by Jonathan Benitez, a home-grown premier artist, is now on-going at the Kalui restaurant, which coincidentally just reopened last month, after shutting down for more than a year, also because of the pandemic.
“This [exhibit] is actually a reflection of the pandemic,” he stated, noting that when the lockdown was implemented, everything came to a standstill.
“But now that the pandemic is (almost) over, everything is also back to normal. So for us, although actually from an artist’s point of view, we were still able to do work, but in general, everybody was affected,” he said.
Benitez stated that the reopening of Ka Lui was a perfect timing for them since the restaurant has been synonymous with their brand, and art itself.
He stated that because Kalui has been a symbol of arts and culture, the arts community wants to demonstrate that life continues as everything returns to normal. The arts reflection is the result of post-pandemic work because most of them during the lockdown was somehow a projection of fear, which was what the majority, if not all, felt.
“So, now that Kalui is open again, it is also back as an alternative venue because we don’t have an art gallery here. Kamarikutan has also closed down. The creation of artists here, the message to the community is that since they come from different walks of life – the story goes on,” he added.
A total of 15 artists joined hands for the show, which included young and budding artists.
Benitez said most of the artists used acrylic as medium for its durability. “If you will notice, artists here seldom use oil. Acrylic is the favored medium because it dries fast and does not mold,” he explained.
Benitez also explained that the lockdown somehow did not affect their work, as they just needed to stay home to be able to produce an artwork. Even during normal days, artists would rather be isolated to be able to concentrate more on their craft.
“So artistically, a lot of artists grew, but when it comes to the economic factor, it was a different story. And that’s aside from the fact that the market here is quite small, so once you overcome the hardships of a painter’s life, you just need to balance,” he explained further.
“But it is still a choice for everyone because when you do it purely for artistic purposes, it’s ok, but if you consider other factors like the economic side, that’s where the problem lies,” he said, adding that personally, he was able to cope because of the support from others.
In general, he said that in the Palawan market, artists still need names to have leverage with their product, which is unfortunately above the level of the market the province has.
He, however, said that based on his more than 20 years of practice, it is also a good move to increase the value of your work so that, in turn, you also level up.
“Because if you maintain the level and value of your work, it would mean that you yourself will not increase your valuation and therefore, no growth,” he elaborated.
Lost soul of art and culture
Meanwhile, Benitez also lamented what he described as the lost soul of arts and culture of Puerto Princesa City,
“The cultural soul of Puerto Princesa has shifted. The settings have changed,” he said.
That’s why the cultural hub has also moved out of the city and has found its new home in the northern town of El Nido, where art is now thriving.
“There’s a small community there, but it is making waves because the people around it can afford – businessmen who also bring in foreigners that can afford the level and kind of lifestyle of art infrastructure,” he said.
He also factored in the feasibility aspect of other creative forms of art including music which he said was done in El Nido with the able support of both government and the private sector.
But in the present setup of Puerto Princesa City, he said artists will just go back to the drawing board and start all over again, repeating the same old story.
It was at this point that he once again called for support, particularly from the local government units concerned. He said such a lack of support is pushing budding artists to quit in the pursuit of their careers.
With so many activities that the city has, he said he can’t help but notice the lack if not total absence of arts activity at all.
“We have this Subaraw Festival, Balayong Festival among others but some key ingredients are missing that could further attract more tourists. There is the art which adds soul to the activity and the place itself, but somehow, it is not enough,” he said.
He further said it is the budding artists who need more support. And to add to this, there is also the stigma against painters being labeled as hard to sell.
And to add to this, he also noted that the level of appreciation for the arts is low.
“That’s also one factor, which I believe will change with the intervention from the LGU. Palawan is very promising, you can do a lot of things as a creative practitioner,” he said.
Struggle for upstart artists
Benitez also described the plight of aspiring artists who face difficult obstacles.
Because you are new, you will have a more difficult time obtaining the necessary assistance. “And what happens is most of them would rather because they tend to give more weight to the economic factor,” he said.
He also said that while the notion of artworks being hard to sell in the city, there is also a different battlefield now which is the online auction. It is now where most of artists who look for economic value go to in order to survive.
Need for initiative from LGU
And with the arts and culture of Puerto Princesa in dire straits, Benitez said the local government needs to exert extra effort, to complement what the non-government organizations and the private sector has been doing.
“The initiative must come from the LGU. It’s been quite a while since we’ve asked for assistance, but now that the support has shifted, I think it’s about time to ask again. There is an arts council that I think is already in place but is not moving, so we need to act now,” Benitez said.
“Through the council, we hope that little by little, arts and culture will be incorporated to the festivals, and that there should be a wider perspective because art itself has a broad expanse. Aside from painting, there are murals installation arts and other community projects plus workshops that we can apply,” he enthused.
In comparison, he stated that what other places like El Nido and Bacolod have accomplished can be accomplished in the city with the LGU’s initiative.
He went on to say that the city requires this level of awareness and consciousness toward art. We simply need to balance visual treats through colors with physical activities to increase effectiveness, which will significantly raise appreciation, particularly among the youth sector. Furthermore, a location will gain more identity through the use of arts and cultural significance.
“But anyway, as I said, life goes on,” Benitez said.
Reconstituting PPC Culture and Arts Council
City Tourism Officer Demetrio C. Alvior explained to Palawan News that the Puerto Princesa City Culture and Arts Council (PPCCAC) has long been established, but went dormant due to the pandemic. it was also not prioritized with the reopening of the tourism industry as the city government was pushing for bigger events to revive the economy.
“What we are doing now is we will reconstitute the council and select a new set of officers to be able to focus on the culture and arts sector of the city,” Alvior said.
“We are just finishing up our heavy events, one of which is the recent Ironman 70.3 challenge, and tehn hopefully by December, we can convene the council to start all over again,” he added.
He further explained that because of PPCCAC inactivity, the culture and arts sector were indeed left out with no support given by the city government. He also said with the reconstitution of the council, he is looking forward to the active participation of local artists group in the city’s tourism activities.
Once the council is reconstituted, we will tap them and ask them organize as a group for them to become members of the council. We know for a fact and I believe that we have many local artists who have the potential and world class quality,” alvior said.
So now, we are reaching out to them and actually, we already had initial talks,” he added.