The art of the future, the future of the arts

The De La Salle-College of St. Benilde School of Design and Arts.


WORDS  NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN | IMAGES  JONATHAN BALDONADO

Jutting out from the streets of Manila is a 14-storey building of glass and concrete. When it opened in 2007, the Ed Calma-designed structure—properly called the De La Salle College of St. Benilde (CSB)-School of Design and Arts (SDA) building—was hailed as a modern architectural icon. Ten years since it debuted to much fanfare, the SDA wants to shift the conversation to what happens within its confines.

“As a whole school, we want to contribute to design and arts. That’s why we set up the SDA. We’ve since produced artists in different fields: animators, performance artists, designers…” DLS-CSB President Br. Dennis M. Magbanua FSC told High Life.

DLS-CSB President Br. Dennis M. Magbanua FSC.

A few hours after his interview in August, we were told that Gerard Salonga, renowned musical director and arranger, was dropping by to conduct an orchestra before a group of music students at the building’s theater on the fifth floor. On the 12th floor, meanwhile, the cinema was booked for the screening of the annual CineSB Independent Film Festival, a showcase of student films. On the same floor, a gallery is dedicated to featuring student works in conversation with that of other Filipino artists.

Another ongoing art project titled Stations of the Nation required 14 art installations, one each for the SDA’s 14 floors. The students worked with Manny Montelibano, film producer and artist whose oeuvre is focused on religious, economic, and socio-political artworks. A University of St. La Salle-Bacolod alumnus, he is  the director of the Institute of the Moving Image at his alma mater. He was also one of the artists that represented the Philippines at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

Also found at the SDA campus is the country’s biggest school-based museum, the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design (MCAD). Headed by Joselina Cruz, incidentally the curator of the current Philippine Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, MCAD regularly taps the services of DLS-CSB students when mounting exhibitions. The most recent show, Re-enactments, gathered gestural works by Francis Alÿs, Yason Banal, Erick Beltrán, Dora García, Liz Magic Laser, Michelle Lopez, Gabriella Mangano, and Silvana Mangano. “These exhibitions are ways of assisting the young people to learn professionally,” said Br. Magbanua.

LEARNING THE BASICS

The flesh-and-blood talent attracted by the SDA is complemented by hardware and software. Mac computers, Wacom Cintiq tablets, and Nikon and Canon cameras with complete lenses, lighting equipment, microphones, stabilizers, and camera dollies are all available for the students to play with, depending on their major. But in the face of digitization, what, then, becomes of traditional arts?

Explained Ms. Cruz in an e-mail interview: “SDA does not teach fine art, it does not offer painting and sculpture as majors, precisely because these are already taught in the other colleges. This is how I have been made to understand it. SDA fufills another niche, another need. … While the curriculum may be geared toward the digital, it remains on the teachers to make sure that the classes they teach are grounded and appreciated as part of a larger context: historically and in the contemporary.”

This kind of thinking extends to other programs. Music production classes, for example, require students to know how to play real instruments before they turn them into digital forms. “Plucking a real guitar is different from pressing on a key that sounds like a guitar,” said Br. Magbanua.

Core subjects for each course require “basic” skills, which take up nine to 12 units. It is only after taking these prerequisites that students can jump into out-of-the-box concepts.

CERTIFYING THE ARTS

There is a longstanding notion that the hard sciences are held to a higher standard than the arts and humanities. The school wants to debunk this cliched thinking, perhaps by certifying artistic professions. “Many actors do not really have degree in acting in the Philippines, not just a degree, but also Masters to put that level of academic rigor on their side. In our dance program, there are people who love to dance but they do not know how to dance—so how do we deal with that? They can be creators, choreographers of dancers,” said Br. Magbanua. “The contribution is we certify professionals.”

He added: “We add to what the industry needs. There are types of jobs that are not yet certified, and we need to create a course that the industry will need, not now, but maybe later.” For instance, the school provides weekend classes for high-definition makeup, which costs approximately Php60,000.

DLS-CSB is seemingly clairvoyant in creating courses. Today, it is the only school in the Philippines that offers Photography as a course; it is the biggest program in terms of student enrollment. “Why do I need to study three to four years when the guy taking pictures in the plaza did not go formal study? But now, Photography is a regular course. And we realized that we can move forward once we have more graduates and more opportunities for Masters,” said Br. Magbanua.