Into a Golden Age: Celebrating 50 Years of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines
“Art matters in the life of every Filipino.”
This has long been the vision of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP) since it first opened its doors to the public in 1969. Indeed, for many Filipinos, the CCP is where they had their first experience of the fine and performing arts: school field trips to see the works of local masters displayed throughout its halls; a child’s ballet or piano recital; or perhaps even a breathtaking look at a masterpiece like The Nutcracker or an original Filipino performance like The Tales of the Manuvu.
Today, it continues to serve as the main performance area for some of the country’s leading creative companies. More than that, it has gone a step further by bringing its various programmes to provincial venues in a bid to educate and enlighten the people.
According to current CCP president Arsenio Lizaso, “We are concentrating on [our outreach programmes] because we want to bring art to the people, to bring as much of it as possible. So, we are given a good budget by the national government, through the office of Senator Loren Legarda to bring shows to the provinces like Baguio, Iloilo, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, and Antique. We are now working on [bringing programmes to] Dagupan, Lingayen, Isabela, Tuguegarao, and Legaspi. That's the idea of making art available – or accessible – to the masses, to people of all walks of life.”
Prior to the foundation of the CCP, the Philippines did not have a single institution dedicated to presenting and promoting the performing arts. Instead, plays, dances, and musical performances were usually hosted in town plazas or in the private homes of those from the affluent sector. Before the Second World War broke out, Manila would see the construction and the heyday of the Manila Opera House where classic zarzuelas were staged, as well as the Metropolitan Theatre which hosted the performances of a roster of great foreign artists, including the renowned Russian-American violinist Jascha Heifetz and the Italian coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci.
In 1961, the Philippine-American Cultural Foundation began to raise funds for a new theatre that would be designed by the renowned architect Leandro Locsin and built on a 10-hectare site in Quezon City; however, the concept would see neither action nor fruition for another four years. Around that time, Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, the wife of then-presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos, considered the idea of building a national theatre – one that would bring art to the Filipino people. Her plans began to coalesce with her husband’s issuance of Presidential Proclamation No 20 on 12 March 1966 which authorised the construction of the theatre; and, subsequently, Executive Order No 60 mandating the establishment of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines.
Three years later, on 8th September 1969, the CCP staged its first-ever performance - the Lamberto Avellana musical Dularawan: Salakot na Ginto - as a way of kicking off a three-month-long inaugural extravaganza. The guest list for that gala included no less than two American presidents: then-president Richard Nixon and then-governor of California Ronald Reagan who would eventually become 40th president of the United States.
Aside from a regular slew of artistic performances and exhibitions, the CCP is also known as one of the foremost centres for artistic learning, not only in the Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia.
According to CCP trustee Nestor Jardin, discovering, developing, and nurturing Filipino talents all play a part in the Centre’s contribution to the people.
“First and foremost, it is the creation of an original artistic body of work in all fields, whether it's dance, theatre, music, visual arts and literature,” he opines. “The CCP has been instrumental in the creation of these works which have helped define what we are as a people and a nation.
“Second, we have discovered, nurtured, developed, and promoted major talents in all the art forms. Through our programmes in arts education, touring programmes which bring artists to different parts of the country and the world, and our residency programme – all of these are aimed towards developing Filipino artists along the lines of international standards. These include the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Ballet Philippines, the Bayanihan Dance Company, [pianist] Cecile Licad – they all somehow started with the CCP."
Aside from the learning programmes fostered by some of its resident companies, as well as the National Music Competitions for Young Artists Foundation (NAMCYA), the CCP offers an extensive artistic education to the talented scholars of the Philippine High School for the Arts in Los Baños, Laguna, as well as in satellite venues like the Angelo King Centre for the Performing Arts in Alabang and the Assumpta Theatre in Antipolo.
Jardin goes on to say that, “We want to develop an audience for the arts. Without the CCP, we would not have a whole field of audiences who understand and are critical of artistic standards and content.”
To this, Lizaso adds that the Centre aims to augment its current outreach programmes with what he refers to as “The CCP on Wheels.”
“We want people to know that they have a cultural centre, and that it is not stuck in Manila,” he says. “It follows the philosophy of a two-way flow: we bring the people to the Centre, and we bring it to the people.”
He cites how the recent donation of a bus to the Centre will play a key role in bringing the arts even to some of the most remote communities in the country. An LED wall will be mounted onto one side of the bus and, when parked, will be used to show recordings of various performances staged in Manila. Inside, the vehicle will be remodelled to become a mobile library with internet access to enable students in the provinces to learn more about both the fine and performing arts.
This is not to say, of course, that everything has been rosy for the CCP.
Even during its construction, the Centre had its share of criticism and controversy. Then-senator Benigno Aquino Jnr decried how the government used public funds to build what he snidely referred to as “an institution for the elite.” Likewise, historians cite the CCP and the complex surrounding it as a key example of Imelda Marcos’ “edifice complex” – her seemingly insatiable penchant for building massive structures which struck a strong contrast with the widespread poverty experienced by much of the public.
The appointment of Maria Teresa Roxas in 1986 as president of the Centre – the first following the long years of the Marcos Dictatorship – was seen as a setback by many art-lovers in the country, as her sweeping drive towards “Filipinisation” prevented presentations by foreign artists in what is now perceived as a misguided attempt to put Filipino artists and original local material to the forefront. On the upside, Filipinisation would lead to the discovery of a new generation of visual artists, musicians, and performers, many of whom are making names for themselves on a global level on both screen and stage.
The curtailment of a good deal of public funding during the first Aquino Administration also led to difficult times for the CCP, but the generosity of private donors and supporters went a long way to enabling it to continue its mission.
More recently, Locsin’s brutalist masterpiece – the structure housing the Centre – has taken a serious structural hit. The earthquake that hit the capital in April of this year had weakened the graceful arching driveway leading to the front entrance. As a whole, the building needs extensive reinforcement and its interiors are in great need of refurbishment to a more modern look.
Our goal is to see a modern and iconic architectural landmark that can metamorphose as the premier centre of the arts in Asia... There are so many plans in the pipeline to benefit artists that will bring them closer to the CCP.
— Margarita "Margie" Moran-Floirendo
But these issues aside, the CCP continues to be a flourishing institution that has won renown both here and abroad due to the excellence of its various productions and exhibitions.
The annual Pasinaya Arts Festival has enabled Filipinos from all walks of life to enjoy and appreciate the work of local artists from various disciplines. Likewise, the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival is now on its 15th year and various productions screened at its annual runs have won awards in festivals overseas. The Centre also served as host for the first-ever Asia Choral Grand Prix in July and will also hold the first Manila Performing Arts Summit, a four-day event bringing performing companies, stage professionals, and theatre stakeholders from the Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world, from 19 to 22 September 2019.
These events can be seen as a grand lead-up to the gala celebrating the Centre’s 50th anniversary. On the 19th, the CCP Facade will be lit up to herald the beginning of the festivities. The official gala – both an invitational night and a public evening – featuring performances from resident companies and noted Filipino artists is slated for the 20th and the 21st of September.
Beyond these events, under the leadership of its current chair Margie Moran-Floirendo, the CCP is expected to undergo a great deal of redevelopment which will go a long way in cementing its position as one of the region’s key centres for arts and culture.
“Our goal is to see a modern and iconic architectural landmark that can metamorphose as the premier centre of the arts in Asia,” Moran-Floirendo says of the massive initiative. “We have started with the Black Box Theatre. The next will be the Arts Centre where arts companies can use its studios for rehearsals. There are so many plans in the pipeline to benefit artists that will bring them closer to the CCP. This will materialise as soon as we find sponsors who can work with us in this goal.”
Needless to say, the Cultural Centre of the Philippines continues to push for making art matter in the lives of the Filipino people for now and for years to come.
- Art Direction Anton San Diego
- Photography MJ Suayan / Archival footage from the CCP
- Styling Monique Madsen