Baguio: Blooming of a creative city

Published November 19, 2020, 8:07 AM

by Nick J. Lizaso

Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso, CCP President and NCCA Chairman

Baguio was deemed a special far-off place during my boyhood days. Anyone in our school who could brag about having been to Baguio was considered privileged, a “sikat.” At a time when travel was a luxury, Baguio was a dream destination akin to Hong Kong for the ordinary Filipino.

Mention Baguio then and people would immediately think of walis tambo, cheaply-priced fresh vegetables, ube jam, peanut brittle, and other pasalubong

That stock image has now been replaced by Panagbenga Flower Festival, the month-long annual flower occasion held in February. The term means “a season of blooming, a time of flowering.” It was created initially as a tribute to the region’s wild sunflowers that grow abundantly in the mountains and on the mountainsides. And because of their medicinal benefits and their use as compost fertilizer, the flowers were seen as an inspiring symbol of the healing and re-blooming of a wounded city after the big earthquake in 1990. Aside from flower decked floats, the festival features street dancing, presented by dancers clad in flower-inspired costumes, that is inspired by an Ibaloi dance of celebration called “Bendian,” which came from the Cordilleras. 

I remember Baguio most especially for having spent memorable weeks shooting on location for two movies which I helmed: Markadong Anghel with Tirso Cruz III, Vic Silayan, and Alma Moreno, and a film drama based on “Wedding Dance” a short story by Amador T. Daguio, starring Robert Arevalo and the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya, before she went on to direct movies herself. 

Photo courtesy of the CCP.

Through the years, I would go up to Baguio many times for vacation. I went there almost every year to give lectures on acting and directing or take part in some cultural festivity. 

My most recent visit was in November 2019, when Baguio City Mayor Benjamin “Benjie” Magalong hosted the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), through the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), to regale residents with a free concert featuring Christmas and OPM medleys during the opening of the Baguio Christmas Fair at Burnham Park.

Labeled as the country’s “Summer Capital” or the “City of Pines,” Baguio City was indeed all that. But now there’s something new and exciting that is blooming in Baguio. It is taking on a new moniker as the “creative city.”

Thousands of locals and tourists who filled the iconic park enjoyed PPO’s rendition of holiday classics such as “The Nutcracker Suite,” “Kumukutikutitap,” and “So This Is Christmas.” The orchestra, under the baton of maestro Herminigildo Ranera, was also joined by the Baguio Ballet and The Nightingales. Aside from the PPO, performers included Bayanihan National Folk Dance Company, Ballet Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theater, University of Santo Tomas Symphony Orchestra, Philippine Madrigal Singers, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, and Tanghalang Pilipino. 

The performances were part of the CCP’s outreach program where its resident companies would be brought to the regions to showcase their Philippine performing art talents for people who otherwise would not be able to attend performances in the CCP in Pasay City.

Labeled as the country’s “Summer Capital” or the “City of Pines,” Baguio City was indeed all that. But now there’s something new and exciting that is blooming in Baguio. It is taking on a new moniker as the “creative city.”

Photo courtesy of the CCP.

National Artists BenCab and Kidlat Tahimik have established residences here. The city’s art scene had been very vibrant before the lockdown and hopes are that it will pick up again with the gradual opening of Baguio to visitors.  

The blooming of the arts can be greatly attributed to the Baguio Arts Guild, which was founded in the ‘80s by painter and international exhibitor Santiago Bose, sculptor Roberto Villanueva, Dave Baradas, Bencab, Kidlat Tahimik, and other prominent artists. 

A trip to Baguio from Manila can be tiring but the city never fails to reward visitors and avid art collectors with original works by local painters and sculptors such as the late Ben-Hur Villanueva, Jordan Mangosan, Rishab Tibon, and Ged Alangui, among others. 

There’s a street full of mural arts, done by Baguio Collective Artists, which show the deep culture of Baguio. 

There is an ever-growing number of gallery cafes and exhibits that showcase the paintings and sculptures of both local and visiting Filipino artists. 

Some galleries have even featured five-medium exhibits, which include such art forms as painting sculpture, performances, literature, photography, and music. These exhibits are stimulating a new wave of artists to pursue art.

In February 2020, just before the city went on lockdown mode, some 90 works of art of 40 Baguio artists were put on display in Luisa Cafe on Session Road, which has been nicknamed the “media center”. It was a month-long arts exhibit titled “Ibagtit” spearheaded by National Artist Kidlat Tahimik, Council for Baguio Creative City (CBCC), the University of the Philippines (UP) Baguio, and the Baguio Tourism Office. 

Photo courtesy of the CCP.

A hot destination is the BenCab Museum, which houses Bencab’s personal collections of the works by other Filipino masters and his collection of Cordillera artifacts. Added attractions are an organic farm, mini-forest, a museum shop, and cafe,

The Woodcarver’s Village on Asin Road is another place where you can observe indigenous artists at work. A row of workshops on both sides of the road features a fabulous collection of carved figures in varying sizes as well as shops that sell a variety of wooden items and basket weaves. You can go there to hang around and marvel at the creativity and skill of the native woodcarvers, or buy furniture, decorations and even kitchen implements for their homes.

For a look of another facet of native art, there is Tam-awan Village, an ethnic, living artists’ colony set at the quiet fringes of the city. The annual Tam-awan International Arts Festival is a “dap-ayan” (convergence) of artisans from the Cordillera region and other parts of the country. There’s also a lot of traditions and cultural heritage such as the making of pinikpikan (a ritual delicacy) and the serving of tapey (rice wine) during festivities and celebrations. 

Indeed, there’s now so much more enriching about Baguio than the usual tourist attractions it has been known for in the past. From the perspective of someone tasked with promoting culture and the arts, Baguio reflects a community unified through its love for the arts and its appreciation of the distinctiveness of its cultural heritage. As a flourishing arts city, the key to its success is the unique collaboration among its artists, its educational institutions and its enlightened city government. 

Because Baguio has given artists a special place to bloom and flourish, I now have given it a special place in my heart as an artist.