Last week we recognised that Cebu is a city of Culture, with a rich heritage, and a number of institutions working towards building a strong civil society. This week we visit some of the spaces where creative expressions of the culture in the form of music, design and visual culture are shared.
I've always been a strong supporter of spaces where artistic representations of lived culture are performed, celebrated and contested. When they are consistent in programming, they provide an ongoing touchstone for artists, creatives and the community at large. They allow for an ongoing reimaging of place, by its users, through the arts. They invariably become generators of some kind of change. Sociability and conviviality are cornerstones of successful spaces.
Finding such places in Cebu's not easy. Other than the museums, projects and events mentioned, the internet does not provide enough information to make the city's offerings accessible - its design and arts, its live music and related night life The nightlife area punted in tourist guides is Mango Street, a rather seedy area in reality. To find a good listings and review section on Cebu I was turned to Zerothreetwo site, a commercial store, whose value add is its listings. Here I found some deeper layers.
Music in Cebu is hard to come by. But I find there is a vibrant scene of young bands, much of it in the folk, electronic and rock/hard rock side. Theres a lot of pop influence. There is a vibrant reggae scene in the working class districts. But music here shares the same challenging story many secondary or smaller cities face, the difficulty of sustaining independent music venues. The Outpost, was the last key music space, in-operational when I was there.
I was introduced to Handuraw, a popular pizza joint, which is the main hangout spot for young artists and creatives, and around which a vibrant music scene revolves. The music tends to be, more often, vocal and acoustic guitar based. A bit of a new folk feel with beautiful vocals with hints of rock and electronic. The scene has a strong influence in the form of 22 Tango Records , many of the bands it has signed perform here. Handuraw was once in an atmospheric heritage building, but the lease ending forced them to a venue in a shopping complex. Their old space due for replacement by a new building.
Culture and the Public
In Cebu much of the arts activity takes place in restaurants, cafes, or malls. While housing cultural activities in spaces used regularly by the public is a good way to get the public to engage with arts (and the pairing of art and food is a good one), it has its draw backs.
The first is the challenge of access for arts for all. It's mainly the middle classes who can access such spaces because of entrance fees and food costs. Secondly, the lack of support for a non-profitspace that allow artistic freedom, means there is no consistent space for collaboration. No theatres exist nor dedicated non-profit arts centres. A long advocated cultural centre was built not too long back, but its poor workmanship led to its collapse two years after construction, during one of the hurricanes that regularly hit the region.
The popular Ayala Mall’s amphitheater therefore becomes a key space - for performance, activations and for its cinemas used by the Arts Council for film screenings. Its also being used currently for a folk festival by 22 Tango Records. Over 7 weeks, 28 artists get a significant platform to perform their music to audiences who may never otherwise have come across them.
Entrepreneurialism and Claiming Public Space
What the lack of support - financially and in space does - is build a strong self of self sufficiency. I noticed all cultural project business models seem to be built on an entrepreneurial mindedness. This is apparent everywhere. It’s the key to the success of Cebu in many respects and very apparent in its creative industries sector.
Creatives are responded to needs, and providing unique products in the process. The lack of public spaces for Cebuanos provided inspiration for the Sugbo Mercado. This weekly crafts food market is held in various locations in the city, usually in IT City and near Ayala Mall. It offers delicious local cuisine and provides a platform opportunity for various small businesses, from chefs to new products launches, such as locally crafted beers. It draws heavily on young creatives and attracts a large young crowd working in the BPO sector.
Create Cebu and Crossroads Mall
One of the most exciting spaces in the city is Crossroads Cebu in Banilad. is a truly interesting spot for a number of reasons. It is an old strip mall that’s been turned into a “lifestyle centre” with a view to “contribute to creative economy’s growth in the city by showcasing some of the best local brands alongside art, design, and craft showroom-gallery spaces in a work-play community.” It has a number of great, busy restaurants and cafes.
Its core creative spaces include the Qube Gallery a contemporary arts space, the HoliCow Sustainable Furniture and Houseware Showroom and the A Space co-working environment. All three are excellent spaces, providing valuable services for creatives and innovators alike, and they are used regularly for creative events. Qube is one of a handful of galleries in the city, with a selection of artists producing beautiful works. Holicow focuses on developing and promoting locally designed products. A Space caters for the growing number of IT start ups and other creative business. It has an events and multi-use space where Pecha Kutchas are held and a second floor for co-working and shared services.
The remaking of Crossroads Mall into a beautifully curated environment that is clearly becoming a hub of energy, is led by the vibrant Cecilia Martinez-Miranda, who is a strong advocate for sustainability and systems thinking. The regeneration of her father's property into the hub it is today is testament to creative thinking and entrepreneurial savvy.
Cecilia is part of a group of young people who have come together as Create Cebu, this includes Kae Batiquin and Bea Sagun- based in Holicow and Qube respectively. In recent months this collective, which regards itself as a an open network, has been active in the city hosting events, projects and talks. Their enthusiasm is just the kind of energy needed at this point to rally, the largely younger crowd who engage with it regularly, many of them creatives themselves. Create Cebu see itself doing the programmatic work of the Creative Cebu initiative, which is responsible for its creative city program, and is strategically semi-dormant.
An Innovative and motivated Government department
Create Cebu is building on the work in the design sector driven by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The DTI is playing a key role in facilitating more local products from communities. This includes bursaries grants and community access. In this way Create Cebu hold information sharing events supported by the DTI, that bring creatives together to dialogue about their practise.
Implementing Design Strategies
The DTI has been a key player in accelerating Cebu's creative city initiative, and worked closely with the British Council, building on ideas the Council brought into the country on creative industries.
As part of its mandate influencing and Improving design and local crafts production, DTI has opened a Fab lab in the University of the Philippines. The Fab Lab UP Cebu makes accessible rapid prototyping technology to companies and individuals. As Mona Alcudia, a former designer for Cobonpue, who runs the Fab Lab says: "Cebu’s creative industry can easily compete with other design cities and address its challenges with production in industries like furniture. We just need more of these companies to see how technology shouldn’t be feared but instead complements our skilled artisans. When more traditional companies see the benefit of integrating digital fabrication technology in their processes (3d printing + rattan, laser cutting + laminated bamboo), we can go leaps and bounds with product and process innovation."
Living to Fight Another Day
Cebu's creativity and its enthusiasm as a place, can be felt in its various cultural spaces, temporary as many may be. Sites like Crossroads show new entrepreneurial models for working sustainably with culture and creativity. There is a vibrancy and freshness in Cebu, both in content and in its distribution of its products. Its active young producers and markets show that there is indeed an excitement for making, sharing and celebrating. Clearly there are alternatives for working smart in making a city creative.
We talk a bit about cultural policy and its implementation. Thereafter I will make some observations and conclusions about Cebu, a city that I have come to appreciate in many ways.