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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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Sunday, November 12, 2017

entry arrow9:00 AM | The Value of Culture in the Development of Dumaguete

Early this year, the effort to establish local councils in Dumaguete that would spearhead policy with an eye towards heritage and art and culture, began with a simple meeting of individuals tasked to do a quick cultural mapping of Dumaguete. Its facilitator was Dessa Quesada-Palm, working with City Tourism Officer Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio—and the people they gathered were representatives of the arts, cultural organizations, journalism, sports, business, academia, and others.

We were tasked to give initial insights that Dumaguete could use as impetus to make culture and heritage be part of its blueprint for development in the coming years.

In that meeting, Dessa briefed us about the need to set parameters for culture in the name of national, not just local, development: “A couple of years ago, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts set out to ask a very brave question: how can one really say that art and culture has helped economic goals, poverty alleviation, disaster risk management, and others?”

Indeed, what has arts and culture done so far for social development?

These questions needed asking, not because they are fair questions—they aren’t—but because they embody the general dismissiveness that artists and cultural workers regularly get when held up to proclaim measurable contributions to community well-being. This dismissiveness take on many forms: among them, the slashing of public endowment for art programs, the gradual disappearance of music and fine arts in school curriculum [in my high school days, music was folded into one subject that included physical education and health], the destruction of heritage architecture to make way for parking lots, the quizzical looks that students in music, fine arts, and creative writing get when they announce their majors and are then asked: “How is that practical?”

Never mind the studies that actually suggest that discipline in the humanities make fields steeped in STEM more competitive [the Apple story is the best example], or urban design observations that communities that embrace artists are more thriving and make for good economic indicators.

“The bottom line here, whatever it is that was identified by NCCA as relevant,” Dessa told us, “it needed indicators.”

Indicators are benchmarks we could measure the value of things that are often intangible, and this includes culture.

The first focus could be an assessment about what it is in the local community that we have to celebrate—pertaining, of course, to its flagship cultural programs. In Dumaguete, you have Sandurot; Bayawan has Tawo-Tawo; Sibulan has Yagyag. This assessment is important because cultural celebrations cannot just be spun from nothingness; they need an anchor in community life and culture to make the celebration more authentic, more truly a reflection of the community story.

Cebu’s Sinulog gets its spark from the commemoration of the Sto. Nino story in its history and, together with Aklan’s Ati-Atihan Festival, set the blueprint for other festivals in the country to follow in the conception of their reasons for being. At the outset, the impetus from Cebu is a good one. But the drawback has proven to be this: the Sinulog model has ceased to become mere inspiration; instead its very rhythm has been copied wholesale by other festivals without organizers stopping to think, what is the rhythm of my own place? It has become a practice for most festival performers to hire trainers from other places, like Cebu—and this affects the culture. This is why whenever you go to another city or town in the throes of carnival spirit, you get the same percussion beat, the same dance beats that you see performed in the streets of Cebu every January.

There is no value in being a copycat, and that includes socio-economic value. Which is why, for Dumaguete, we had to ask:

What is the Dumaguete story?

What is the rhythm of Dumaguete?

What is the inspiration of being a Dumaguete artist?

From the answers we hope to achieve, we can create a dance from the rhythm that is inspired by Dumaguete itself.

The second focus is on culture and heritage preservation and its link to risk-reduction management, environmental concerns, and socio-economic responsibilities and concerns.

What is the role of local artists and cultural workers in any of these?

And the answer is, truth to tell, simply this: know yourself. The community must know itself thoroughly, and this includes, by and large, its culture and heritage. A community that has a complete map, a complete picture, of what makes it the vibrant community that it is, is indeed a community that can address properly its socio-economic concerns, its environmental concerns, and its risk management concerns.

A few snippets, among many, to illustrate:

When one goes to a pasalubong shop in town, whether you are a tourist, or a native simply interested in sampling local goods, one should not only see on the shelves of these pasalubong shops products that are ubiquitous everywhere else like Boracay; they must have Dumaguete products that can be really be called “Dumaguete’s own.” (But what do we exactly mean by “Dumaguete’s own”?)

When one buys a product made of uway—and by doing so, one is convinced that he is doing his part to support local tradition and artisans—one might not immediately be aware that uway has an endangered status, which might come as a shock to many, and thus its harvesting must be regulated. (What are other natural things that we have in our community that needs protecting?) In a country that is in constant danger of typhoons and earthquakes, when one thinks of reducing risk, what constitutes the list that needs saving beyond people and livelihood, if saving a community also means saving the things that make it the community that it is?

According to the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction, risk-reduction management “aims to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones, through an ethic of prevention.” Accordingly, “disasters often follow natural hazards,” and a “disaster’s severity depends on how much impact a hazard has on society and the environment.”

This calls then for a mapping of the community’s heritage, which includes not only artistic effects or monuments, but also its natural heritage and creative industries. A cultural mapping is a process of identifying natural and cultural heritage resources of a specific locality for purposes of conservation and development, which then enables us to understand and share culture, to re-think history, and to promote creativity and development.

Only with this map can we consolidate a community’s identity and soul—what makes it tick—and from that can spring a plan for community development that is organic, that is reflective of community ideals, that is finally beneficial to all.

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