There’s an art gallery inside the auditorium, though since we started rehearsing there a few weeks ago, I have never caught it open, nor have I come across any announcement of an upcoming or ongoing exhibit. Beauty pageants, singing contests, the occasional music concert and once every couple of years, a stage play or two – but lately, it’s been cold and quiet at the Baguio Convention Center, and I’m not so sure if the looming takeover by the Government Service Insurance System of the property has anything to do with it, or rumors about the plan to turn the property into a condominium complex. Even the Soroptimists International of Pines City office tucked in a corner sheltered by pine trees oftentimes feel empty, only the presence of the Guardians in the tents behind give any indication of activity at all. How sad.
In the meantime, the most vibrant exhibit venue these days is a mall’s basement. Baguio-based National Artist Bencab’s museum isn’t as easily accessible being down in Asin Road seven kilometers away from the city proper, and the P100 admission fee doesn’t help. Tam-awan Village too, Bencab’s first baby, has been quiet. The last time I visited the Greenhouse Effect Gallery, the late Santi Bose’s brainchild which he worked so hard for, there wasn’t really anything happening there except for some artists working on some props for Anthony de Leon’s musical extravaganza, Panagbenga’s Phantom on the Lake. Events at Kidlat Tahimik’s VOCAS, located at the top floor of La Azotea Bldg. on Session Road, have dwindled too.
A couple of non-government organizations have complained about the pathetic state of the city’s major tourists attractions, among the reasons for the decline in the number of visitors to the city, and have called for action from the government. Good luck with that.
Back inside the Baguio Convention Center – the stage, the halls, the offices in the basement, the lobby: the whole place is perfect for the city’s very own cultural center. A full art season may be put together, making it easier and more cost efficient for the artists to organize exhibits and performances. It could be run by an arts council, run hand in hand by the city government and local artists. It could be the center where all artistic and cultural activities in the city emanate from. The offices inside the hall may be turned into intimate film screening rooms where people wanting to take a break from the usual commercial fare at the malls can go to experience the works of independent alternative filmmakers. Every month a new play opens on center stage, while the lobby hosts a new exhibit by a local artist. You walk down the stairs to the basement and wouldn’t it be nice to hear the sounds of various musical instruments coming from the rooms, budding musicians rehearsing for an upcoming recital or recording an original album. In another room a visual artist in residence works on his canvass while students linger to see the artist at work. I’m sure a room or two may also be reserved for a library.
Given the opportunity to have a home, I’m sure most local artists would work hard to keep the place vibrant, alive, bringing Baguio City’s soul back to life, and surely the soul of a city is a better tourist attraction way more than a week-long tiangge or putting together the world’s longest longganisa.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see the city’s youth exposing themselves to the works of city’s artists instead of to the elements in the dark corners of the city’s streets at night, or even participating in and expressing themselves through art instead of brawls and vandalism. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents can bring their children to a storytelling session, or a film showing on weekends for hours of art and culture instead of the arcade for hours and hundreds of pesos of noise?
We can’t bring back to old Baguio, that we know. The efforts of our congressman to amend the city’s charter, with the primary aim of empowering the local government to distribute public lands, if successful, will perhaps put the final nail in the coffin of the Baguio we all once knew. The view of mines is gone, so do the scent of pine, the sunflower-covered hillsides, and others that made Baguio, Baguio. The artists are still here, though, and all they need is a home.