Mention Zambales and what generally comes to mind are the Aetas of Mount Pinatubo, succulent mangoes, Subic resorts and beaches. But to our family, when one refers to Zambales, it means Casa San Miguel (CSM), the artists’ haven considered by not a few as the Cultural Center of the Philippines of Zambales. Located within a mango orchard in San Antonio, it was established by acclaimed violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata in 1993, upon his return from studies at the Julliard School of Music in New York and the University of Indiana.
Coke Bolipata is one of the country’s leading artists who won the First Prize in the National Music Competitions for Young Artists at the young age of 12. He then pursued his studies in the USA and has performed worldwide as a soloist and chamber musician in the world’s major halls. In 1990 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, and Artists Affiliates, New York to bring culture to the rural areas of America. After which, he returned to Zambales with a vision of a community-based approach to art education and production.
|Alfonso "Coke" Bolipata with students|
Casa San Miguel was initiated at a time when the province was recovering from the devastation from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. It holds the vision that art can: 1) transform a fishing village to a destination for visitors from all over the Philippines and abroad; 2) provide the impetus for community growth and development and providing jobs in all levels - the artists, tour guides, labor work, etc; and 3) raise self-esteem and confidence in transcending barriers to creativity. It has brought art, music, theater, dance and film to the barangays, orphanages, and indigenous communities.
The CSM boasts of varied facilities: the Ramon Corpuz Hall, a 300-person seating capacity designed for intimate concerts like chamber orchestra, theatre plays, operetta, with a 7-foot grand piano; a 1,000 capacity circular Outdoor Theatre; a 2-story visual art Anita Gallery; a 7-room Artists Residences for visiting artists. Every room is connected to a porch overlooking the orchard with views of Mt. Pundaquit and Mt. Maubanban on one side and the South China Sea on the other. A tower sits above the entire structure, providing a 360-degree view of the San Antonio landscape. The Sunken Terraced Garden provides a meditative retreat for visitors and also has a main stage where Sunday masses, outdoor film showings, community plays & concerts are done. All events are free for Zambales communities while visitors from out of town are requested to make a donation in any amount at the door.
CSM holds regular classes for violin, cello, viola, visual arts, theater production and shadow play. Open to children ages 5-16 within the Zambales community, it has had about 3500 scholars. Aside from music and art making, the students also learn discipline from gardening and have access to children's library books, recordings, and videos. Some of the graduates of these programs make up what is known as the Pundaquit Virtuosi, which has two divisions - Quadros for the visual arts and Cuerdas for music. The CSM also offers short and long term residencies to artists, providing free board and lodging in exchange to providing lectures and workshops to the surrounding communities. Annually between October and April is the Pundaquit Festival which features artists of different nationalities with the resident ensemble Pundaquit Chamber Players. The CSM also has its book publishing arm Osnofla Books, with publications of folktales series and a community newsletter promoting literacy among the youth of San Antonio.
With known mentors like Cecile Licad, Joey Ayala, NVM Gonzales, Matthew Barley, Roberto Feleo, Myra Beltran, among others, the CSM has successfully prepared its students for scholarships and grant awards in leading conservatories in the Phils., Germany, United States, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia. They have also won prizes at the National Music Competition for Young Artists. The Pundaquit Virtuosi has had the honor to perform with the famed New York sextet of Julliard School, violinist William Harvey, Frank Shaw and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. They also represented the Philippines in the Tianjin International Children’s Culture and Arts Festival in China, and in Indonesia, in celebration of 60 years of bilateral relations between the two countries. As an institution, the CSM has been awarded the prestigious Gawad ng Hiraya Award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Book Award, Urian Award, Aliw Award, Golden Screen Acting Nominations and Awards, Star Awards, the TOYM Award and the Gawad ng Maynila Award.
In the midst of the beautiful Zambales beaches, mountains and Capones Island, Casa San Miguel, with Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata at the helm, has indeed been a haven to all persons alike - the artists, the students, the local community and the visitors, as it continues to transform lives and persevere in their work of enlightenment, empowerment and excellence through and in the arts. It is a jewel that all should support and be proud of.
Filipino or non-Filipino, artist or non-artist, if you are interested in being a benefactor and supporter of these programs, contact Coke Bolipata at email@example.com. Your contributions and yield will definitely not be just monetary.
* This article was written for the April 2012 issue of Pinoy Living magazine.