We Are Culture
By DOM GALEON
Images by RIO DELUVIO
Nick Lizaso, NCCA Chairman and CCP President (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)
One Thursday afternoon, in the middle of a late lunch, I received a message from a colleague with a link to a post by an official from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), a neighbor of The Manila Bulletin in Intramuros. The link was to a post on Facebook announcing the election of Arsenio Lizaso as the new chairman for the NCCA, taking over National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario.
Nick, as he is called by friends, is no stranger to the world of art and culture, having been part of the film and theater industry for years, both as director and as an actor, working with legends like Nick Joaquin, Chat Silayan, and even Marlon Brando, as well as icons like Rosa Rosal and Chloe Cruz Romulo. Prior to becoming chief of the NCCA, he has already been serving as the president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, working closely with CCP chairman Margie Moran Floirendo.
The following day, I had a chance to briefly chat with Nick during a presscon for the opera Lucia di Lammermoor, one of the latest projects of the CCP, in tandem with Rustans Group of Companies, the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation Inc., and the Embassy of Italy in Manila. During that presscon, Nick said something about his vision for art, which can be summarized as Art for Everyone. “Meaning comes later,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if that doesn’t occur to people immediately. What is important is that they get exposed to art, that they see the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra perform, that they get to watch the Bayanihan Dance Troupe without going to the CCP. We bring art to them.”
In essence, that is the goal of his chairmanship of the NCCA and in a brief chat over kakanin from Bulacan and coffee, Nick explained his vision a bit more.
“It will always be what I want, even for the NCCA,” he says. “In fact I also explained that I wanted to bring the NCCA closer to the people. Somehow Manila is already established but people out in the provinces, they probably would have heard about the CCP but rarely do they hear about the NCCA—in fact, they thought it was NCAA.
It’s about time we made the NCCA and what it does popular. We are taking steps in making it known to Filipinos, especially those in the remote areas and regions.”
In 2018, for example, he has brought the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra in various venues in and outside of CCP. These include Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, Antique, Nueva Ecija, and Bacolod, among others, gathering over 64,000 audiences.
This isn’t new for Nick. One of his projects as president of the CCP is an art bus of sorts that will bring the Cultural Center to far-flung regions, and he intends to incorporate this into his NCCA chairmanship. “It’s what I call the CCP on Wheels, and maybe I can rebrand it into CCP and NCCA on Wheels,” he explains. “We have a van that has a 14-by-14-feet LED screen on the side and it has speakers loud enough for people to hear, and we can show the things we do at the Cultural Center—Ballet Philippines, the Philippine Philharmonic, the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, and all the other resident companies. The NCCA can show what they do in the different regions.”
Apart from showing videos, Nick adds, this CCP and NCCA on Wheels will also have a library inside where people can read about art and the CCP and NCCA while waiting for the video presentations to start.
Nick understands that this effort to bring the arts to the people should also be from the ground up. In order to change the idea that Manila is the center of local art, he plans to train regional NCCA officials in art management by organizing short courses for them, “possibly at the Asian Institute of Management,” he says. During a meeting with NCCA officials at the commission’s Intramuros HQ, he mentioned this plan to them.
“I plan to invite cultural officers from the provinces to come to Manila for a two-week art management course,” Nick says. “It has to be professionalized. There, they can learn about the one-two-threes of being a cultural officer and they can pass this knowledge down to those who will come after them.”
Like an architect for the future of Philippine arts and culture, Nick intends to build a network of cultural centers all over the country. “I can only add to what the NCCA has already done, to awaken cultural centers in the provinces, hoping that each one of them will develop their own art centers,” he says. “I liken it to building cultural lights all over the country. These regional art centers can promote their respective arts on their own, not always depending on Manila, as if nothing can be done in the regions without the help of Manila.”
Asked about the possibility of creating a Department of Culture in the nearby future, Nick says that it might be possible and he is hopeful. At the end of the day, this new NCCA chairman remains an artist at heart. “If I’m not doing what I do now, working in the CCP and now the NCCA,” he says, “I think I would’ve continued to be making films. That’s what I really love.”
Tags: artist, Nick Lazaso