Artists, cultural workers call for immediate assistance amid lockdown

JK Anicoche (extreme right) at Sipat Lawin’s Gobyerno Project community performance during the Castemaine Festival in Australia 2017.

“Let us value the life of each cultural worker affected by this crisis. What we need is immediate response toward the realization of our collective well being, right to health, and freedom to create and speak up.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – JK Anicoche, 33, is scraping his savings to live by.

As a performance-maker at Sipat Lawin and Komunidad X, Anicoche earns from production and creation grants from local and overseas cultural institutions and performance-festivals, from crowdfunding and project-based engagement with local government units and NGOs. The lockdown has put all of these projects in midair.

“Most of our work is grounded in live community engagement – research, workshops and performances with disenfranchised communities, indigenous peoples, inter-cultural exchanges. Most projects were cancelled if not postponed to 2021,” Anicoche told Bulatlat in an online interview.

The enhanced community quarantine imposed all over Luzon also coincided with the peak season for artists like Anicoche. Summer workshops usually held from April to May have to be called off. Their summer earnings would have helped them survive the rest of the year.

Anicoche lives with two other cultural workers. All of them have been affected by the lockdown.

Anicoche and his colleagues at #CreativeAidPH and Concerned Artists of the Philippines initiated an online petition calling on the government to provide immediate assistance to artists and cultural workers.

In particular, they are demanding the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to reallocate “its abundant 2020 budget approved under the General Appropriations Act” to aid freelance artists, cultural workers, and creatives deeply affected by this pandemic.

Very limited assistance

Artists and cultural workers call on the National Commission on Culture and the Arts to respond to their demand for immediate subsidy.

The NCCA’s assistance for cultural workers is limited to the Department of Labor and Employment’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program, where beneficiaries will be paid the minimum wage for ten days of sanitation work and the 5,000 cash subsidy under NCCA’s Assistance Program for Cultural workers under the State of Calamity.

At least 748 have applied for TUPAD as of April 19, according to NCCA’s Facebook page. The cash subsidy, meanwhile, targets 800 beneficiaries.

The NCCA released on April 8 its memorandum regarding its assistance program for cultural workers. Artists and cultural workers decried that the NCCA management committee did consult the 19 duly-elected arts and culture committees.

The NCCA National Committee on Cinema, in a statement, rejected the program, branding it as “arbitrary, limited, partial, and has no clear benchmarks.”

Anicoche’s Sipat Lawin has applied for DOLE’s cash subsidy under another program, COVID-19 Adjusted Measures Program (CAMP), but has not received any response yet.

Cultural workers who signed the online petition are proposing that NCCA’s 2020 budget be reallocated to provide immediate cash relief for freelance workers in the arts and culture sector, through a disbursement process that is transparent and accessible to the public.

Based on NCCA’s Procurement Plan for the year, the government agency has P267.2 million at its disposal.

CAP urged the NCCA Management Committee to hold long overdue consultations with the arts and cultural workers community. “They should reallocate funding and transform existing programs into COVID-19 responses for the Philippine arts community, and through a transparent, accessible, and equitable process where no one is left behind,” Lisa Ito, CAP secretary general, told Bulatlat in an online interview.

Artists have also taken the campaign to social media, posting their photos with the hashtags #NCCAloka, #NCCAAnoKaMo and #ArtistsFightBack and tagging NCCA Executive Director Al Ryan Alejandre.

Besides cash subsidy, Anicoche also maintained that institutions need to create more remote work opportunities as the damages is six months or more beyond the months of lockdown. “People will be afraid to gather again in public events for a certain time and this greatly affects our way of generating sources of income from doing live events and performances,” he said.

Anicoche also called on government to create capacity-building workshops or webinars to assist artists how to bring practice to virtual sphere and learn ways to monetize these workshops.

Some projects that Anicoche leads like the Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines eventually shifted to becoming virtual so as to continue providing work for a lot of theater-makers.

He worries more for independent artists who produce their own content and for freelancers waiting for companies to give them work. “They are the most affected as they have lost all sources of income.”

A survey conducted by #CreativeAidPH and supported by Nayong Pilipino Foundation reveals that the mean income loss of 499 Philippine freelancer respondents since January is P98,209 ($1,925.14).

One of the respondents shared, “I have no income at all since January. I extremely say I am broke. And I am a single mother with a daughter who’s now in 2nd year college in UST.”

Another respondent said, “We only eat one meal a day to try to make our food supply last, as there is no guarantee that this quarantine won’t be extended.”

As CAP’s Lisa Ito pointed out, “Let us value the life of each cultural worker affected by this crisis. What we need is immediate response toward the realization of our collective well being, right to health, and freedom to create and speak up.” ()

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