From the Philippines, a digital arts contest with social dimension
By Frederick Noronha for APCNews
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, 23 May 2007
“WebSining 2007” is the Filipino name for a digital arts project, and this is what has been keeping the Manila-based Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) busy of late.
WebSining (literally “web art”) is a digital competition run for the past two years by the Philippine National Commission for Culture in the Arts (NCCA), through its Committee on Visual Arts. This year, the NCCA saw it fit to work with a nonprofit partner who could put a fresh spin for the third year of the competition, and to possibly add a more community-based spin to the project.
"Though we do a lot of work with ICTs, this was our first real foray into the field of arts and culture,” says Al Alegre, Executive Director of the FMA, an active member of the APC-Asia network. “Mainly, we wanted to start immersing ourselves in the world of artists, cultural workers and creators—a sector which FMA does not traditionally interact with,“ he explained during a recent APC members' meeting in the Australian city of Sydney.
“Though it still featured a web-based digital art competition as its flagship activity, NCCA was very open to new ideas on how to reach out to previously unreached digital communities outside the normal circle of artists they were in touch with.” Since digital art was a comparatively new field, FMA wanted to help widen the net of stakeholders to technologists, NGO workers, and people outside MetroManila.
To also bring in a strong developmental flavour, FMA ran a series of parallel roundtable discussions with local artists in different regional centres. A brainchild of Fatima Lasay, Websining’s Project Director and FMA consultant for arts and culture issues, these local forums called ‘Kuro Forums’, were “typically low-cost small roundtable discussions organised by partner local communities…they dealt with science and technology issues affecting the artistic community and the larger socio-cultural sphere. This gave Websining a platform to promote discussion on key national issues as well”.
[*KURO is Filipino for reflection, opinion, and meditation.]
Alegre adds “We also tried to use the Kuro Forums to introduce web artists—and other artists and cultural workers as well—to some of the emerging social issues for digital creators, such as ‘intellectual property’ rights, the role of free and open source software (FOSS) in their work, and the intersection of art and advocacy.” FMA held five Kuro Forums all over the country, three of which were in the Mindanao region.
FMA and Lasay (who was also a member of the FMA-initiated FOSS advocacy group BUKAS), also had an additional agenda. They wanted to introduce digital artists to free and open source software (FOSS) tools, and the competition itself explicitly endorsed the use of FOSS. “Though not many artists are using FOSS now, we hope that such a high-profile event would raise awareness about FOSS in the sector,” Alegre added. Kuro Forums were venues for local artists to learn about FOSS multimedia tools (e.g., GIMP, Inkscape, Blender) and also alternative licensing schemes such as Creative Commons.
By all indications, the project was an initial success. The competition itself, carrying the theme of “Contesting Traditions”, attracted more than 200 entries in three categories, and the winners were judged in a totally online process by a panel of six jurors from academe and the Philippine arts community, and Awarding Ceremonies were held last March 2007. (See the winners here: http://websining.net).
In addition, Alegre feels that they have made valuable linkages with the arts and culture community in the country. He says, “Many artists were very receptive to interfacing with the development and technology sector. This is important to FMA as we move forward with our Access to Knowledge agenda, which includes the continuing advocacy of intellectual property rights reform, alternative licenses, and a political agenda which protects and enhances the digital and information commons.”
FMA is set to lead the WebSining Project Team in a final Project Assessment on May 2007, to learn from the initial experience, and hopefully build on this, either with NCCA again, or to spin it off as its own initiative.