Pasay City art scene, still a growing seed

Ana Teixeira Pinto’s piece about the implications of the socio-politico-economic matters to the art scene in Lisbon fed into my continued ponderings about the art scene in my own city, Pasay. While we have the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the longest-running Philippine commercial gallery on our map, I believe Pasay’s art sphere has yet to blossom. Dare I say, the seed has yet to turn into a bud.

As part of understanding how I found myself in the art world, one of the things I looked into was how art was presented in my milieu, more specifically, how art was promoted by my local government. My earliest exploration was part of a requirement in one of my first classes for MA where we were asked to create a map of “cultural assets and resources you can identify in your immediate community.” It was at the height of lockdown at that time, so the best I could do was research online. I must also add that I didn’t yet have this conundrum of my positionality in the art world then. In hindsight, I would say that the activity was a great starting point for someone entering the scene.

Going back, my initial research led me to the official site of the Pasay City Government which placed anything arts and culture-related under the Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office. Through the website, I also found a book published in 2018 titled “Travel in Time: A collection of photos of Pasay Heritage.” Since none of the entries in the book mentioned an artifact, person, or location specific to my barangay, I also emailed the Tourism office. After a few days, they responded with a phone number I could call, but it was already late since I already turned in my assignment.

That was in 2021. Two years later, my questioning about how my locality shaped my identity (in the arts, at least, if it did) started sprouting. Another online search led me to an event in April 2023 celebrating the publication of a Cultural Mapping book by the Pasay City Government. Curious to read, I reached out to Pasay City Library (Pasay Aklatan on Facebook). They said they do not have a copy, but the Tourism Office has.

I was able to visit the local library days after, but unfortunately, it slipped my mind to drop by the Tourism Office. Either way, I found three publications by the Pasay government that recounted the city’s formation, development, and targets which also provide a glimpse into the past and present leaders’ sensibilities in the arts and culture, if one would read between the lines. It was also informative for me to see the library itself because it shows how the local government values it as a cultural center, as seen through the library’s collections, space, and programming — all of which have a lot of room for improvement. In my travels, the best local library I’ve visited so far was the one in Davao City.

(I would also add that aside from the three books, I have also bought Manuel D. Duldulao’s Pasay City: Gateway to the Philippines (1998). The library has multiple copies of this. This book might have been what pushed me to continue my research because I thought it would be a waste just to let it gather dust on my table.)

One of the three publications I found in the local library was the Pasay City Citizens Charter, which, writing now, I discovered that it has an updated version online. Like I encountered two years before, arts and cultural spaces are bracketed under Tourism. For example, in the “Cultural and Tourism” subsection under “Brief History,” art institutions like the Cultural Center of the Philippines are listed there. In addition, the chapter on the “Issuance of Tourism Registration Certificate” includes museums and galleries in parallel with businesses like karaoke bars, fine dining restaurants, shopping malls, cinemas, and more.

The other two touted as commemorative/coffee table books — Pasay: A Royal Kingdom’s Evolution to Travel City (2013) and Pasay: Rise of the Travel City (2019) — reflect the same view on arts and culture as a tourism arm. In the 2013 book, “Arts and Culture” was under the “Pasay as the Travel City” chapter; in 2019, it was under the “Legacy: Arts, Culture & Tourism” chapter which includes a section on “Four Pillared Project: Tourist Retention & Repetition” with Cultural Mapping Program as the second pillar and “Kaleidoscope: The Many Faces and Colors of Pasay” chapter with “Arts and Culture” placed alongside “Churches,” “Hotels & Entertainment,” “World Class Venues,” and more.

To also note, both books listed these institutions under their “Arts & Culture” section: Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Aliw Theater, Newport Performing Arts Theater, Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines, Manila Film Center, The Coconut Palace, and GSIS Museo ng Sining. In 2019, the following were added: Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, Museo Maritimo, Elite Techno Park, Upside Down Museum, Dessert Museum, and Philippine Air Force Aerospace Museum. Neither has included galleries such as Galeria Duemila or Avellana Art Gallery. I also have opinions about these, mainly about their exclusivity and inaccessibility to locals (I have only visited these galleries for the first time last year even if they were just 20 minutes walking distance to our home, so that says something) — but maybe for another time.

As I skimmed through the city’s history and present-day activities, my general perception was their focus on commercial progression. This ties in with the nature of the location as well, with Pasay being a hub for multiple modes of transport (airplane, train, bus, jeep, etc.). This, according to Duldulao, also informs the citizen demographics leaning towards migrants, either leaving immediately or staying permanently (the latter was the case for my parents).

Duldulao writes:

“Pasay is an entrepot for everyone’s commerce, a port of call for airlines of all nations, a destination for cargo, a junction for currencies, and an inviting place for anyone to make some cold, hard cash… a venue for free enterprise.” (p. 135)

“The community however is hardly that of a settled populace. Like all else in Pasay, life is in perpetual restlessness. A common sight in Pasay is that of a family on the move, changing jobs, changing names, changing the way they live… Pasay is in a state of ceaseless ferment. But there is nothing remarkable to it. It is the norm.” (p. 148)

My journey continues in understanding my city and myself vis à vis my city. While the art scene has yet to mature, there surely are avenues for entry and growth. If one would require the local government’s support, I would advise framing it as beneficial to tourism, the area where they currently locate the importance of arts and culture. As for my dream contribution to my city’s art scene, I have been nursing this idea of an independent art space like the Kunsthalle Lissabon that Pinto mentioned in her article.

But I’ll keep the seed in its container for now.

This was written for Contexts of Curatorial Practice (Art Stud 284) course in UP Diliman, 1st Semester AY 23-24.