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Nick Lizaso: How an octogenarian arts technocrat keeps pace with modern technology

Arsenio J. Lizaso, also known as Nick Lizaso in the culture, entertainment and lifestyle world, has been in the arts industry for as long as one remembers. He has been an actor, writer, director and producer all his life.

He isn’t keeping his real age to the public, though. He’s in his eighties, would you believe? But he doesn’t look it. He is still physically fit to act, write, direct and to run a public office as heads of two important agencies of the government on arts and culture, President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

His mind has been secreting creative juices to think of artistic projects for the welfare of the Filipino people in his vision of art for art’s sake.

But in these extraordinary times of the novel coronavirus plague, how could one flesh out substantial and meaningful arts and culture gigs for the enjoyment of the audience who aren’t encouraged to gather in mass traditionally lived out in the past? How could artists as participants in the multimedia productions maintain healthy and safe environment during their performances aside from adhering to health protocols as wearing face masks, face shields, applying sanitizers, practicing physical distancing and other safety nets? What media platform/s would be employed in the production and eventual showing of artistic creations when physical settings such as theaters, art galleries, auditoriums, music halls, streets, etc. as venues would require only limited numbers of people in any community quarantine standards when most of genres are peopled with not only one or two persons? All these and more are being considered for a massive response to artistic and cultural convocation.

Nick despite his age has always been at bay with the current technological advancements many are territories of the young and tech savvy. Yet he doesn’t sit on his laurels but walk down the common path of inquisitiveness instead like asking his fellow technocrats or subordinates or even his  kin, young and old alike or relying on his wisdom, about the feasibility of his artistic projects and how to implement them in critical times.            

As captain of CCP, he has just pulled through a project—a program meant for a restrictive atmosphere created by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sining Sigla” is Lizaso’s latest conquest.

As the press briefs suggests: “No pandemic could ever stop the Cultural Center of the Philippines Office of the President (CCP-OP) from bringing the arts to the masses with the launch of its virtual outreach program ‘Sining Sigla,’ a brainchild of the CCP President Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso.”

It is an offshoot of Nick’s palpable vehicle “CCP on Wheels” where he brought the agency’s outputs in a bus with a built-in screen where previous dance and musical concerts, stage plays, movies like the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, videos of architectural designs and sculptures, visual arts and other allied aesthetics were shown. During the pre-COVID-19 era, “CCP on Wheels” regularly paid visits to designated town, community, region or city in the country to spread the spirit of the beauty of the arts, as Lizaso always put it.

The emergence of the new coronavirus, though, has changed the landscape of promoting national arts and culture especially to the grassroots because of many limitations, a feat Bick managed to muster. At least it’s delineated in Lizaso office’s press release: “’Sining Sigla’ is CCP-OP Outreach Program’s pivot to digital that further highlights its indefatigable mission of reaching out to its public despite the current ban on communal activities due to the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the CCP-OP outreach program was able to visit a number of cities such as Antique, Baguio, Palawan, Davao, Bulacan and Iloilo to name a few.”

Yes, Nick has time and again reiterated the positive reception of the public, especially, in the countryside like Bacolod, San Jose, Bocaue etc. about his bringing live the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) to them. “Libu-libo ang mga manonood. Hindi lang nasusulat. Intresado ang mga tao sa probinsiya sa classical music. Pagkatapos ng pagtatanghal, sasabihin nila na ito ang matagal na nilang hinahanap sa kanilang lugar. Nakakatuwa (There were thousands of listeners and viewers but they weren’t publicized. People in the provinces are interested in classical music. After each performances, people would come up to me and said they were long been awaited for this. It’s heartwarming),” he related to us in a virtual interview.

This is, more or less, Lizaso’s vision of his upcoming shows.

As stated in the press statement: “There is really something very magical when the Art, artists and the stories we want to tell become one. It gives us a sense of understanding as people. That’s what we celebrate here in ‘Sining Sigla’–the opportunity to be one with everybody through the arts.”

It is a season-long campaign which would feature art programs that will provide the public culturally-relevant contents online.

Starting this September, on the Facebook pages of CCP and the institution’s Office of the President, the general public can watch and enjoy various art shows for free. To kick off the project is a gig billed “Jazz Star At Home,” a jazz fest will livestream until October respective jazz artists from various generations like the vocal trio Baihana, one of the artistic Laurels’ scions, Nicole Asencio, Lorna and Pipo Cifra, Simon Tan Trio and Michael Guevarra. “We would want to inform the public not only about jazz music but its origins,” said Pipo.

Kim Chiu’s boyfriend and artist Xian Lim is given another shot at directing when he handles MALA (Movies Adapted from Literary Arts), a special series of educational, fun short videos that aim to educate, inculcate good values, and make the young appreciate further the arts. First two installments are adaptations of “Ibong Adarna” and “Florante at Laura.” “I am very excited about this. I am already envisioning a lot of techniques about the presentations of these classics,” said Xian.

Joining Xian in this exciting project are scriptwriter Ony Carcamo, the country’s premiere ventriloquist and production designer Aina Ramolete, renowned shadowplay and puppet designer.  “Kaya nga MALA dahil hindi naman talaga ito ‘yong pelikula mismo kundi parang lang (That’s why it’s called MALA because they’re not really the film new versions but sort of approximation only on video,” explained Ony who will involve his puppet in the interpretations of the past movies.

Meanwhile, prolific poet of the turn of the century Jose Corazon de Jesus, known to most Filipinos as Huseng Batute will be feted with a special tribute by colorful interpretation of his works to be directed by multi-awarded actor Ricky Davao ably supported by top artist like Dennis Marasigan, Ohm David as scriptwriter/assistant director and production design, respectively. Billed as “Pagbabalik-tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan,” it is bringing back the popular joust among poetry-loving Filipinos. “One of the interpreters of Huseng Batute’s poems will be John Arcilla. Marami pang iba pero hindi ko muna sasabihin (There will be others but I won’t divulge them yet),” Ricky chuckled in the virtual presscon.       

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