Johanna Michelle Lim, Founder of Cebu-based branding agency Dual Story, talked to hundreds of creatives in Central Visayas in 2022. This article slash tirade is what she made of that experience, along with her realistic wishlist for all creators in the Philippines.
In 2022, I found myself talking to all types of Visayan creators and creatives. When I started in January, I didn’t even know there was a difference between the two. Educated now, I found out a creative is anyone who uses the dynamic of creativity to come up with an idea. Ideas, however, can be conjured by any Juan, therefore every Filipino can be considered creative. What sets a creator from a creative then is his ability to turn a seed of an idea and execute it to its tangible, full fruition–whether that’s in the form of art, design, or content. This isn’t a new argument in the usage of this jargon. More developed creative economies have been calling out the misuse since 2013.
But I digress.
When I said I’d talked to hundreds of creatives in 2022, I meant it. Through a series of serendipitous projects, I pieced together sentiments and issues, tirades and tokens, to map out what would seem to be the snail-pace growth for the Philippine creative industries.
How did this happen?
In January 2022, our agency, Dual Story, was fortunate enough to co-author the Philippine Creative City Playbook, a preparatory playbook that would help LGUs be reverse-educated on the fundaments of creativity, and how to use it as a socioeconomic development tool. This was a project under the office of ACCIB, through the leadership of Congressman Christopher “Toff” de Venecia. This then gave us a way to work with the Department of Trade and Industry, which set out to launch Creative Konnect, a fact-finding mission of sorts to learn more about the creative industries in the Visayas in April 2022. This was a timely intervention given the passing of the Creative Industries Development Act in August, which among many things, stipulated that a new Creative Industries Development Council would be formed under the auspices of the office.
By September 2021, DTI’s regional office, Region 7, reached out to me to facilitate ten stakeholders’ conversations in Cebu. Picture a room of musicians, designers, animators, game developers, dancers, theater actors, and hybrids all passionate and knowledgeable about their fields. These sessions sometimes ended in an argument or two, which to me is a testament that creators, usually shy creatures, are now ready to eke out of our three-feet wide basements and attics (or for the fortunate, out from beachfronts and co-sharing spaces) to speak about what we hold dear. Among others, these conversations were supposed to find out what the potential was of ten chosen creative subsectors which included the audiovisual, new media, creative services, performing arts, functional design, publishing, and cultural expression fields–and quite candidly, whether there was even one, to begin with.
While I’ve been a practicing creator myself–having started in the industry when I was 18–I couldn’t say that I was fully immersed in it. When I started, buzzword terms that we speak of now–terms like creative industry, intellectual property, and original content–were non-existent. They were intangible–perpetually invisible, undervalued, and unappreciated. In my 20s, when asked what I did as a starting graphic designer, my boyfriend said I laid out restaurant menus. Of course, there’ve been too many memes made from situations like these, when architects’ functions were oversimplified as “drawing-drawing,” when musicians were known only as “banda-banda,” or worse, “tig-saba saba” (noisemakers)and writers were just known to take up elbow room in coffee shops, staring at space.
I can’t blame those who aren’t ingrained in creativity to think this way
The creative process can still be a mystery even to long-time practitioners. Additionally, how are you supposed to map the value of disruption, something the creative process is supposed to do? And how do you not scare off those who made these square pegs that we know now with the idea of “out-of-the-box thinking”? Because creative practices are always at the forefront of change, it’s understandable that it’s not often given value. Not simply because we don’t want to, but because we cannot. For a time, we didn’t know how.
So, what did I learn from talking to hundreds of creators?
That while it is romantic to think of the story of the Philippine creative industries as one of revolution, a middle finger to a system that never seemed to understand, value, or even look at us, this sentiment is not entirely true.
Instead of revolution, creators want inclusion. We want social integration. We want the Philippine government to finally recognize what the economic figures have said all along, that we contribute 7% to the Philippine economy–and that should garner us a seat at the table. It is not by accident, after all. Many have had to fight tooth and nail just to produce creative output even when the existing system has put all the red tape in the way, and even when the snickers of our product–poetry, Youtube videos, illustrations–have been reduced time and time again. How many times have we been told, for example, that anyone can do what we do? Except you can’t. Except you don’t.
While the reports have already been prompted of the output of my conversations, which I will leave to academics, administrators, and city councils to prompt the next output, I’d like to share my personal wishlist, something I hope to see happen in 2023, finally, for Philippine creators:
1. Include the Creative Industries in BIR’s 2023 Industrial/Occupational Code
Have you tried registering your creative business, only to find out that it doesn’t specifically belong anywhere in the Philippine Standard Industrial Classification Code? You might be lumped together with IT, Professional Services, Marketing, Consultancy, or Manufacturing, but there isn’t exactly a specific Occupational Code for Creative Industries, and their subcategories. This makes it difficult for BIR to quantify how much tax the creative industries are contributing. So, include it in your dropdown list, BIR. We’d love to recategorize ourselves.
2. Strengthen the HUMSS Strand
Yes, we know there’s a shortage of everything in our education sector. Lack of classrooms, teachers, and learning materials. But since you’ve included it is already in the K to 12 Program, DepEd, can you please try to strengthen the HUMSS strand as well? Incentivizing practitioners to educate talent early on, in basic education, not only helps in the creative economy’s talent acquisition but also in the appreciation of creative output and our cultural expressions.
3. Creative City Councils in LGUs
While some LGUs have culture and heritage councils, this doesn’t entirely address the need for creatives to be represented. The culture and heritage council’s agenda are mostly focused on the preservation of the past. Creativity is more focused on shaping the value of a city’s future. Shaping images, places, objects, and systems consciously is an act of creativity, and therefore, should have a creator at the table when decisions are made, not just as consultants, but as sitting council members. Or better yet, have a separate department for the Creative Sector (it’s a wishlist so I’m asking high.)
4. Create a Tourism Circuit for Creative Spots
The Visayas does not have a deficiency of creative output and creators, but thus far, there doesn’t seem to be a directory of places to visit when you’re a creative tourist wanting to visit spots in Cebu, or Negros, Siquijor, or Bohol. This opens up our tours to more than just place as product, but people as experiences. Imagine visiting and learning from a favorite poet in Bohol, a sculptor in Cebu, a weaver in Negros, or a gastronomist in Siquijor. High-value experiences over kitschy souvenirs any day, please.
5. Hire a city secretariat to document collective creative output.
A lot of creative output is ephemeral–graffiti, hole-in-the-walls, limited theater runs–and yet they contribute much to the locality’s flavor and color. Having a repository for these initiatives track output, and show creativity’s impact over the long run, so a committed secretariat whose main job it is to do so will help. But that said, this is where the citizenry can come in. Tracking creative output is a citizen engagement initiative. Take lots of photos when you witness something awesome. Share an artwork on your newsfeed. Even if you’re not the main consumer, you can be an enabler, and help a local artist or designer reach the proper consumption channels.
In the past few months, creativity has been met with unmitigated risks of disruption from the likes of Chat GPT and machine learning. Will it disrupt the economy, other countries ask? But conversations like these, while exciting, seem like a far-off conversation, even a distraction, especially when creators in the Philippines seem to be still waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to the sector’s potential.
Will we finally get a return this year in what would seem like a decades-long version of a passion project?
This is my way of asking, how do we disrupt a creative economy that hasn’t even been formally established yet? So I say, let me earn from laying out menus first.