NCCA says ambassadors are 'icons,' not representatives

MANILA, Philippines  A post on the Philippine Arts Festival Facebook page promoting the National Commission for Cultue and the Arts (NCCA) Ambassadors recently sparked ire on social media.

The post announced the NCCA had selected Boy Abunda as its ambassador for art, Lucy Torres-Gomez for dance, Sarah Geronimo for music, Shamcey Supsup for architecture and the allied arts, Ogie Alcasid for heritage, Piolo Pascual for culture, Dingdong Dantes for youth, and Venus Raj and Jericho Rosales for indigenous peoples.

The post said the ambassadors "are expected to advocate and stir everyone's interest in our culture and the arts scene with many fun-filled, exciting, and educational activities particularly in the coming month-long Philippine Arts Festival in February 2014."

Post by Philippine Arts Festival.

 

Critics in social media took offense at the selection, with many questioning the celebrities' qualifications to serve as pillars of Philippine arts and culture.

Some called it a "marketing move" or a "commodification of art." Others defended NCCA, saying it was a legitimate way of drumming up support. 

NCCA 'icons'

The NCCA is aware of the backlash. Rene Napeñas, head of the NCCA Public Affairs and Information office said the ambassadors were chosen to make the NCCA more visible to the public.

They are not so much representatives of the country's art and culture scene as a whole, he said. Instead, they are "icons to call for attention."

Napeñas said many of their programs are not heard or seen among certain markets, including the masses and the youth. 

"We just needed popular celebrity icons who could represent us in popularizing festivals," he told Rappler.

The ambassadors were commissioned to guest in cultural events around the country as well as participate in NCCA infomercials.

They were approached by the NCCA artistic committees, and by Napeñas himself, who admitted a number of other celebrities had turned them down.

Global reach

Napeñas said that each ambassador was invited to serve according to need, and would remain an ambassador for roughly a year. 

Boy Abunda and Dingdong Dantes, for example, were the first two NCCA ambassadors chosen in 2009 to promote the National Arts Month held every February.

Abunda was chosen because of his global reach, a distinction that would make it easy for him to promote NCCA events to Filipinos abroad. Dantes was appointed because the commission believed his achievements in as an actor and director made him a suitable role model for the youth.

Napeñas also clarified that the NCCA did not pay any of the ambassadors to promote their events. In fact, the celebrities even shouldered their own airfare to join out of town events. The ambassadors considered their assistance a "way of giving back" to the community. 

Not discounting other artists

He said the celebrity ambassadors are part of the "mainstream layer of NCCA," not to be confused with national or folk artists.

"With the celebrity ambassadors," said Napeñas, "NCCA and its events became more recognized and visible to the public... mas malayo ang mararating ng presence ng voice ng NCCA in terms of pop culture, but we don't discount the maximization of other artists."

Napeñas added that while their affiliation with the celebrities helped boost the NCCA's popularity, they are "not discounting other artists" who are not celebrities, actors, or actresses.–Rappler.com