\“NAKAKAIN BA ang art? (Can art be eaten?) Does art really improve our quality of life?” With these words Professor Acel German begins her lecture at the good governance class for barangay officials at the Pimentel Center for Good Governance at the University of Makati (U/Mak).
A UNIVERSITY of Makati and Gawad Kalinga art collaboration in Baseco, Manila.

The institute was put up by the U/Mak when Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. ended decades of sterling public service in 2010. It has been training barangay officials in the craft of good governance. The class on barangay art is one of its innovative approaches.

Ms. German continues, “Many Filipinos share the belief that:

“• Art is the monopoly of the elite and that one can never appreciate art when the stomach is empty.

“• Art is for the cultured and ‘cultured’ means being able to appreciate and experience the ‘finer things’ in life.”

She adds, “It has often been pointed out… that there is no systematic study proving… that art improves people’s quality of life. But, there are studies proving that art engagement improves individual health, psychological well-being, skills and creativity.”

Furthermore, Ms. German asserts, “Art regenerates the community:

“As people work collaboratively on the project, they get to know each other better, and their mutual trust increases.

“The community group and individuals coordinating the efforts learn organizing skills.

“They learn how to navigate the bureaucracy and how to build relationships with the barangay, municipal and provincial government…
“Finally, the people involved feel an increased sense of pride and appreciation of their town.”

She cautions that sustainability (“Here today, gone tomorrow”) of art programs is a major concern.

“Sustainability of art projects depends to a great extent on the sense of local ownership,” she says. “Involving the community in the art projects gives them a sense of ownership of the project. They begin to care for it and value its sustainability.” She adds, “Do not ignore the needs and interests of the residents. The art program must not be against the wishes and the day-to-day routines of the community. Art development should be a spontaneous process.”

To ensure success, she advises the communities explore available talents, manpower, materials and art spaces.

“Sometimes we don’t even know that we have potential resources unless we start the project,” she says. “In a barangay set-up, one wouldn’t know if a constituent has talent in acting, drawing, dancing, etc., until we get them involved. Art programmers must be sensitive in spotting raw talent from among a group of fishermen, drivers, mothers.”

Multi-sectoral collaboration is also essential: “Involve the church, youth organizations, women’s groups, local associations,” she advises.

“Partnership with the business sector is encouraged,” she says. “Arts attract investments. By improving a community’s image, people may feel more confident about investing in the community.”

She suggests several barangay art ideas that would be easy to implement.

• Storytelling — “Planners can explore community values creatively through storytelling,” she says. “Storytelling allows people to present ideas about place and experience and to define their roles in those contexts.

Planners can incorporate storytelling in projects such as revitalization, preservation, and redevelopment.”

She adds, “As a creative tool, storytelling helps planners understand how people in the community are seeing, have seen, and would like to see their location.

“It appeals to the participants because it enables them to share in their own voices. It has benefits for planners because it results in personal feedback and can be conducted with minimal materials.”

She continues, “For example, senior citizens can tell stories about their personal experience during the Japanese Occupation to let the youth understand the value of freedom. Couples can share their love stories to serve as role models and share some values on courtship, love, marriage and sex. A successful professional can share his/her inspirational stories.”

• Mural art — “Mural art as an engagement technique can be applied in settings such as celebrations of history, commemorations, and educational events. Community members can paint in small groups, perhaps with the guidance of an artist or planner,” she suggests.

“Sketching or art contests can involve the public in urban design,” she says. “Urban design can encompass a broad range of elements (e.g. street furniture, waiting sheds, signage, entry ways, parks, and plazas). It can be helpful to call for sketches and art ideas from the public for a specific project type.”

• Sari-sari stores — “Instead of lewd posters promoting liquor, barangay leaders can encourage store owners to beautify their stores,” she says.

She also suggests creative signage for doors and gates in the community, and using art for environmental advocacy like recycling.

As creative examples of local art galleries, she cites the following: the Enigmata Treehouse, Camiguin Island, and Fundacion Pacita Natures Lodge in Basco, Batanes, a tribute to international artist Pacita Abad, who hails from Batanes.

For easy-to-manage art programs, she suggests kite flying, a paper lantern festival, and a sand art festival.

Even the Internet can be mobilized for art programs. “Optimize the use of the new media,” she urged the participants. “Join the Google Earth sketch-up project.”

The Pimentel Constitute was established two years ago to make available programs that promote good governance down to the barangay level.

Pimentel, who authored the landmark Local Government Code while still a senator, is the center’s guiding light.

Occasionally, the center hosts round table discussions on current issues like the Mindanao power problem, climate change and flood control, and innovative local government initiatives like Rep. Cynthia Villar’s livelihood programs in Las Pinas, which have won international recognition and citations.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank consultancy specializing in transforming social and cultural trends into effective business strategy and public policy. E-mailmibc2006@gmail.com.)