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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

entry arrow9:02 PM | The Meaning of Kisaw

In the beginning—this was sometime in 2009—we just wanted to know if we could defy the odds and put up a National Arts Month celebration in Dumaguete. It hadn’t been done before, and the logistics of putting together a month’s worth of events dedicated to all of the arts was formidable. Plus we were working from a budget of zero pesos. But when Dessa Quesada-Palm—Dumaguete’s transplanted resident theater maven and tireless cultural worker—gathered a group of local artists and culture advocates that year, she—and Glynda Descuatan pushed what was possible, essentially urging us to go for the equivalent of that great grade school staple of “Let’s put on a show!”

The plan was to gather, as much as possible, all cultural groups mushrooming in their secret corners all over the province, and put them together during one week of intense celebration of the arts—from dance to music, from literature to the visual arts. Thus was Kisaw 2009 born—a “pasundayag sa bulan sa sining.”

We settled on a tagline: “Mag-mugna ta!” Mugna, after all, seemed the right word to describe the endeavor. It is the Cebuano word, after all, for “create,” but the word has also taken this street lingo connotation of friends gathering together to create something, anything in the spirit of fun, and in the light of communal effort. “Mag-mugna ta!” sounded like a spirited battle-cry, with the benefit of a smile and a wink.

People asked us: why exactly put on a show? Because February was National Arts Month—and it was becoming too strange to note that, no matter how much we hype Dumaguete City as the “Cultural Center of the South,” the city—and in a larger context, the province of Negros Oriental—had yet to undertake something as culturally all-encompassing as this particular celebration.

The rest of the country—particularly in stronger cultural centers such as Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Baguio—has been celebrating it for almost every year of the past decade, courtesy of the provisions of Proclamation No. 683, which has declared February of every year as National Arts Month. It is an official recognition of the role of the arts in reflecting, affirming, critiquing, and shaping our society—and, Dessa tells us, “it is a time when artists can take claim on public spaces, to engage with each other and with its communities, to create.”

Because art is truly a human right—something that only the most pedestrian cannot understand. And art truly has a function to fulfill as a beacon for the development in any community, something I have already explored in previous columns.

Alas, after 2010, we took a rest, for some reason or other. It took a while to revive the spirit, but in 2016, we’re back, and we’re still doing an exploration of art in public spaces, using the parks, the tempurahan, the boulevard, the kampanaryo, and the streets as venues for the arts to engage with the people.

It’s a more streamlined set of events, covering two days—February 26 and 27—although satellite events, such as the various Tayadas sa Plaza helmed by various schools around town, dot the rest of the month. For Balak, Balitaw, ug Uban Pa sa Tempurahan, slated on February 26, we pay tribute to Dumaguete as a literary capital of the Philippines with an earnest performance of the best of balak and balitaw, the traditional poetic forms of the region. For Huni ug Himig sa Kampanaryo, slated on February 27, local music takes a boost in a spectacular concert of some of the best musical groups and singers of the city. And for Puting Tabil sa Kampanaryo, also on the 27th, cinema—long considered as the favorite entertainment mode of Filipinos—is taken to the more public realm in a rare showcase of the best of local short films.

It promises to be a veritable celebration of our artistic wealth—a good enough return to Kisaw for what is hopefully a truly annual celebration locally. Good enough, even with its marvelous kinks, given that this has always been a thing conceived on the fly, and with almost no budget or institutional sponsorships—only magnificent scruples and a great love for culture by all those who come to participate.

Your Quick Guide to Arts Month 2016 in Dumaguete

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