IBAGIW ArtFest – reprieve for Baguio’s lockdowned souls?

November 2020 came. And it went! Ang bilis! Baguio pulled off IBAGIW --our creative city art festival, despite the lockdowns. In spite of MCQ pessimism, nangyari ang ArtFest! 

Baguio’s creative outburst lit up the city with flying colors. We don’t just mean paintings sprouting in many exhibits spaces, or street murals galore! Nor was it simply the sudden spray of crimson bahags celebrating Baguio’s finest in culture and the arts.  

No wall is left colorless by children with a brush

3-stories-high mural by Venazir Martines

IBAGIW revitalized our lockdown-weary community by bringing LIWANAG –that glimmer of light – into these darkest times. "Breathe Baguio!” was IBAGIW’s theme. 

Baguio did take its deepest breath and jumped to life. Baguio’s image as a premiere health destination was rejuvenated. We sparkled before the eyes of a nation fatigued by daily body-counts and COVID statistics. Joyful artwork reminded Baguio residents to inhale our God-given assets. Yes, our pine-scented air! And to be grateful for our cool-na-cool city. 

Nagka-isa ang creative energies ng mga young artists at ng gurang na city dads. In unison, culture dancers and tourism officials waved their hands to the heavens – to  heal as one. (How often had we heard imperial Manila’s mantra to “Heal as One” – pero madugo pa rin ang labanan sa kongreso diba?) As bahags swayed at the Dap-Ay in Burnham, the Mambuno blessed the shamanic ricewine, invoking Kabunyan to  open up the skies and to smile upon Baguio-folk once again. 

Nov 6 Ibagiw Opening

It was a big bonus that our super-strict Mayor Benjamin Magalong had put COVID protocols into place months before. Therefore on Nov 6th, we could Canao in a free-spirited opening. The explosion of artistic energies at the Baguio Convention Center catalyzed a community spirit that money can’t buy. Feel-na-feel ang Alab-ng-Baguio from the Ugayem prayer of the elders-- to the proud pony-girls riding the flag to the stage. From high-decibel gongs inviting Kabunyan to join the celebrations, to the DepEd teachers enjoying artworks of proud-to-be-Baguio-artists. 

Pony-girl Solana Lim carries flag to opening rituals

Benguet girl beats solibao drum at opening canao

After a blackout from a short-circuit in a fusebox, National Artist Bencab swabbed the giant canvas with his overhead rainbow. Soon Mayor Benjie shyly picked up the brush to make his indelible fingerprint on the IBAGIW mural. Then the 1st Cordi figures were painted in by our next-gen artist Venazir Martinez. Beyond the opening-night spectacle — the next 4 weeks drew sleepy-town crowds out of hibernation. They flocked to convention center’s lobby — to see the giant mural evolve, by the collaboration of multi-generation artists like John Frank Sabado, Leonard Aguinaldo, Kawayan de Guia, and veteran Apo Roland Bay-an. Hindi basta-basta, for individualistic painters to paint images on a single canvas. They must balance each image into the evolving masterpiece – in the spirit of IBAGIW.

Dapay-in-the-Sky hovers above galleon

Artist Gelo paints his mural for Ibagiw opening

Across the road beside UP Oblation, the Mandeko artisans’ fair drew long lines waiting to enter the tent (salamat sa social distancing). Sunshine Park showcased the works of Pasakalye talents organized by Maricar and Karl. Further in Asin road, Bencab Museum hosted a sculpture contest for Ifugao’s best woodcarvers.

Tamawan Village displayed Cordi portraits of Lin Bulayo. The “Creative Crawl” – an organized walking tour – brought art-hungry spectators to view paintings from 15 years of  VOCAS shows and to Ili LIkha Artists Wateringhole. At CJH’s Forest-Bathing trail, nature installations enhanced the visitors’ experience with kalikasan

Blind optimism + Culture confidence

How did November 2020 come together? Overcoming the inertia of pandemic paranoia was no easy ride. With funding up in the sky and the nagging question: “Who are the audiences that will brave the lockdowns and come to Baguio?"

Young tot views works carved by elementary kids during lockdown

Masked fans view street art

It was the negative mindset “Ay Apo, Madi gayyam!” ("OMG, it's impossible!”) that could have nipped IBAGIW in the bud. Exploratory meetings of the Baguio Arts and Crafts Collective Inc. (BACCI) began in July. ZOOM conferencing was still a novelty. At least, the ping-pong of constructive ideas started moving us out of the dark.  IBAGIW execom approached National Artists Bencab and myself in August – to do  “permanent artworks” in Convention Center. As artists who love Baguio, we agreed in good faith. No contracts. No drawings. No itemized budgets. The central pillar of faith was: “We Love Baguio… Bathala Na.” Bencab would spearhead a collaborative mural, 12ft x 20 ft, while I committed to mount a galleon to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Lapu-Lapu stopping Magellan’s circumnavigation.

During 4 week artfest, artists add strokes to giant mural

Giant mural by Baguio talents dwarf visitors

Lockdown checkpoints vs artist mobility

To mobilize my 1521 Galleon installation, logistically, I had to free my Ifugao carvers who were locked-down outside Baguio. There was Santos Bayucca in Banawe, Apilis Mahiwo in Hapao, and Cris Atiwon in Pugo, La Union. How to get these warm bodies to Baguio, with health papers to pass multiple checkpoints! 

We had to secure DENR permits for our wood artworks to arrive at Convention Center. DENR had to be convinced of the importance of IBAGIW re-booting Baguio’s economy. By mid-October, our transport permits were in place. The sheer power of Bathala-Na optimism was finally moving people and products toward the IBAGIW epicenter.

Giant-fern sculptures made in Ifugao and bound for Ibagiw

DENR permit allowed artworks loaded for Baguio

Can Undas undo the Artfest momentum?

Our opening date Nov 6 was preceded by our Holier-Than-Thou holiday Undas. The All Souls Day weekend was crucial to have my giant wooden boat installed by Nov 4, so technical rehearsals could proceed on Nov 5.  

November 1 fell on a Sunday. Automatically, Monday became a non-working holiday. This meant City Hall’s cranes (vital for mounting my life-size galleon) were on 3-day holiday break until November 3. The crane's boom operator stayed home, praying for the dead.  

One day before opening, crane helps finishing touches

Wooden planks get a lift from a septuagenarian

Undas or no Undas, crane or no crane, on the day of the dead, my crew from Ifugao was beside me: very alive, on call, laging handa. My cultural confidence in Cordillera muscle and brawn materialized.

Milagro! Magellan’s ship sails were unfurled on November 5, thanks to Cordi blood, sweat and tears. 

Output Lessons from Unquantifiable Inputs of Art

What lessons can be learned from people flocking out of their COVID-safe homes to experience IBAGIW artworks? With our Baguio economy spiraling downward in crisis times, we needed that spiritual spark to give Bangon Baguio a boost.  

It was the incipient energies of countless artists – that responded in Covid times.  Yes, artists love the city that nurtures their creativity.

Artistic contributions are not quantifiable by the MBA mindsets who calculate the gold in Baguio’s veins, or the taxes from mall ventures. (Hoy, our mega mall doesn't pay income taxes to the coffers of its host Baguio… but that's another story)

There's an intangible life force fertilized by the artists’ deep TLC for Baguio. 

We’ve displayed this time and again – to heal as one. We proved it in July 1990, after the Baguio earthquake. With the City’s spirit and infrastructure shaken to the  ground, where could Baguio turn to? How could it repair its deeply fractured soul? The Baguio Arts Guild knew the depressed citizenry needed an ArtFest! 

At first, shortsighted minds complained – why mount a frivolous art festival in the  wake of a tragedy – with so many dead and wounded. Let's just focus on body counts and mourn our beloved.  

But precisely, cityfolk needed to be re-booted out of their lethargy or self-pity, and to be reminded of our innate capacity to rise. The 1990 Baguio Arts Festival did that. 

1521 galleon is ready to sail on opening day

Flash-forward to 2020, 3 decades after our earthshaking disaster. Coronavirus has dragged our Baguio economy down. But we did not just despair or lick our wounds. In this dark time of COVID-19, it cannot be said that Baguio slept through the night. Galvanized by the artists, we pulled ourselves up by our colorful bootstraps. 

View IBAGIW as a mouth-to-mouth respiratory job by the creative sector on lockdowned Baguio. We got Baguio breathing again. 

Or, let's view IBAGIW as a cultural vaccine that we creatives injected into the souls of the lockdowned citizenry (without a single loan from abroad). Nag-buntong-hininga ang Baguio! Sugod, mga Kapatid– Rappler.com

(Read the next installment: the author picks up the coronavirus. As a National Artist he feels obliged to give warning or babala to IBAGIW visitors who might have been exposed to him.)

Kidlat Tahimik is a National Artist for Film