Life under lockdown: Pineapple Lab Part 2
MANILA, Philippines – The COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizes the arts and culture industry in many ways we cannot measure. Social distancing creates a barrier between the artists and their audiences – and adapting to this new situation is a hurdle many are still all grappling with. (READ: Life under lockdown: Pineapple Lab Part 1)
Re-imagining how art is received and experienced without touch, embodiment, and intimacy will take time despite having digital platforms. The human being will always resist the redundancy of the body as it allows us to express a range of emotions and nuances that words can never capture.
Although the immense value of art in society can never be quantified, ilostmygig.ph attempts to calculate the economic impact of the global health crisis to help the creative community recuperate.
Pineapple Lab co-owners and co-founders of ilostmygig.ph, Andrei Pamintuan and Jodinand "Jodee" Villaflores Aguillon did a survey across the seven arts to know how to help the community. We talk to them about some of their findings.
As artists and cultural producers, your knee-jerk response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to measure the losses of the community you belong to and support through ilostmygig.ph. Personally, as someone who is also part of this community, I am very thankful for initiatives like this.
ilostmygig.ph just released the result of its study, what data discoveries personally resonate with you?
Jodee: The stories and individual hardships are difficult to read through, to be quite honest. I guess a big part of the work is processing that and amplifying these voices through the work we continue to do. A lot of us work gig to gig, paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, paying month to month.
Our line of work, by nature, is perilous, wherein our main revenue stream is NEVER guaranteed. With the ECQ, opportunities and our ability to earn have been taken away; that's what's debilitating. That's what's crippling and paralyzing.
Many have no choice but to pivot or re-strategize ways that they can translate their skill sets to a post-COVID-19 world on a very steep learning curve. For some, it's a natural transition, but for others, it's alarmingly impossible.
The arts will survive – history has taught us that – but at this rate, many artists may not.
Andrei: You know there is a certain stigma that freelance artists being free-spirited wanderers – who choose to dance to the beat of their own drums, with no obligations or responsibilities. But really, many of these dancers, actors, musicians, graphic designers, etc., support themselves and are the breadwinners of their families. They've lost work and have dipped into their savings with no certainty of how they will be able to support themselves and loved ones.
In the study, you mentioned that you will seek the support of the government and cultural institutions. Who are you reaching out to, and what are the proposed solutions you are planning to present?
Jodee: So far, ilostmygig.ph has been presented and discussed in various virtual town halls. Such as a recent webinar by GO Negosyo, the Southeast Asian webinar for the Creative Industry, organized by Thames International Business School and Millet World Singapore. There was also a virtual town hall meeting with the Creative Freelance Community held by DTI & CECP.
Just yesterday, the Film Development Council of the Philippines held a virtual town hall where Congressman Christopher De Venecia (also an arts practitioner and has been championing the Freelancers Protection Act) presented some of our data. We have sent several emails to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), along with contacting UNESCO. Our data is also being used by a consultant for the Department of Health.
There are public talks and demands of reallocating funds – public funds dedicated to various festivals, mass gatherings, and mobility grants. Funds that could be used to implement grant systems for people to apply for to develop new works or sustain their current practices.
Andrei: We've asked the NCCA to take a look at the data – see how much this pandemic is threatening the future of culture and arts. The NCCA exists specifically to protect and cultivate our culture. I hope they consider to redirect and redistribute their 2020 budget and provide funding for those who need it through an efficient, accessible, and equitable process.
How the NCCA responds to this crisis in the next few days will make an impact in the next five years.
To strengthen the call for help, which particular communities do you want to collaborate with?
Andrei: We want to collaborate with local artists, creative hubs, and independent small businesses, so we can band together and let our plights and voices be heard. We want allies in the Senate and Congress. We want to say: hey, we are here too! We matter.
Collectively, we can make a change, advocate for provisions and laws that will protect our rights.
Jodee: I used to be fascinated with spaces where creativity meets commerce. But these days, I'm finding more inspiration within spaces where creativity meets science. Communities I think I'd love to collaborate more with are the worlds of startups, scientists, engineers. I'd like to see what kind of Venn diagram that would look like when artists, independent creators, collaborate and intersect with them.
I think those combinations through collaborative problem solving would be the best strategy for fighting something so unprecedented. For building new systems, for creating a handbook on something that doesn't have a blueprint in countries that don't have clear instructions on how to live, day to day – let alone how to see, or forecast, or plan for our futures.
I'd love to work on projects where science, art, and design collaborate towards tangible solutions to combating the impacts of COVID-19.
What major projects are you not doing this year, and what are your plans moving forward?
Jodee: Personally, I lost a few gigs that I don't think will be pushing through, and an international festival where we were collaborators, involving international artists and local artists.
I believe the big ideas behind some of the projects that we've always done, such as Fringe Manila & Pineapple Lab, translates to a digital platform and can carry forth while still being meaningful. However, I just haven't wrapped my head around what that might look like.
As far as moving forward, I'm taking it day by day at the moment. I plan to keep finding new ways to use my skills for the better; that part hasn't changed. I also plan to not really put pressure on myself to deliver at the same capacity pre-COVID-19.
But really, I can't see past this month. I can't see past this week. I look forward to Saturdays, where I get to watch RuPaul's Drag Race and catch two back to back episodes of Making the Cut. I know that on Saturday, I get to dedicate three hours of television to myself, away from my laptop, away from my phone.
So, as far as plans moving forward - I'm really looking forward to Saturday but not in a "living for the weekend" sort of way.
Andrei: Lungs, a theater show which I was directing for the Sandbox Collective has been postponed along with another musical slated to open this July. I was supposed to co-produce an international collaboration with a Taiwanese collective for Pineapple Lab, but we decided to move it to 2021.
My research trips to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Tokyo are currently being reconsidered – with the Kuala Lumpur leg now completely digital. Hopefully, that's it!
It's hard to tell, at the moment, if plans are pushing through or not, the answers keep changing. That's our reality. My plan moving forward is to see if we can effectively transition some of our programs in Pineapple Lab digitally.
Aside from ilostmygig.ph, do you have any other projects that aim to help the creative industry get back on its feet after this global crisis?
Jodee: Proof of Life is an ongoing virtual gallery and online auction through Pineapple Lab. Proceeds of sales directly benefit the artists, along with our Artist-in-Residency program. The Artist-in-Residency program is a micro-grant system in which people are invited to apply for funding to either create new works or sustain their current practice.
There is also #OneWorld2020, which is spearheaded by Project Headshot featuring digital portraits and the works of local artist Pat Abella. It's a fundraising initiative in which proceeds go towards Artists Welfare Project Inc.
We are also currently laying down the groundwork to develop a new platform that celebrates performance artists and visual artists, emphasizing the arts as an essential business and access to culture as a human right.
What gives you hope amidst this worldwide crisis?
Jodee: It's always inspiring to see human experiences collide and intersect, to create something entirely new. So community initiatives like Lockdown Lab, Frontline Feeders, Trade School Manila, Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club, and Common Room's innovative website, #ReStore, give me hope. Knowing that people are taking action, creating movements with whatever they have, that definitely gives me hope.
Andrei: That creativity and camaraderie in the arts and creative sectors are in OVERDRIVE! This situation has not stopped artists from creating and helping our communities.
How do you see the future? What's next for Theatre and Performing Arts? For Pineapple Lab? For Fringe MNL?
Andrei: To be honest, my headspace at the moment is focused on what is being done in the present – now. What we do now will create ripples that will affect our future. This moment is the most critical time to be mindful of our actions and ensure a future that is fair and just. Today, let's look out after each other.
Jodee: I don't really know what's next for theatre and performing artists, in general. I imagine it's a time for a lot of solo works to step up and get into the spotlight. I believe there will be a lot of "works in progress" presented as more artists welcome audiences into their world, homes, and process.
I see more room for mistakes. I see more room for imperfections. I see more room for excellence and the need to champion artists that lie within the fringes. The stage has always been big enough for everyone to share a piece of the spotlight, but with more performances now going digital, the stage remains the same size but with more spotlights.
A writer and a single mother, Czyka Tumaliuan is a consulting curator at Lopez Museum and Library. An advocate of progressive education and free press, she is also the founder of Kwago bookstore, and co-founder of Komura; book fair, Lockdown Lab and KOPYA digital literature archives. She is one of 3 Filipino fellows in the 2018 Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.