Monday 18 May 2020

Creativity and Shutdown in a Pandemic

With people confined in their homes during this pandemic, we see more and more evidence of creativity and ingenuity happening in our daily lives. People are finding new ways to stay busy without common forms of entertainment such as shopping malls, social gatherings or gyms. People’s time that would have otherwise been spent in varied activities, is now being spent at home, and most likely on the sofa or bed.

Creativity is not just confined with the arts. There is inventiveness and imagination in sciences, design, sports and cooking. Social media news feeds are inundated with posts of people's creations, whether they are newbies and veterans in these activities: crafts, sewing, knitting, crocheting; performances - singing, playing musical instruments, story telling, video creation (esp. TikTok); podcasts; photography; learning languages; the creative use of 3D printers for PPEs. People are also finding creative ways to celebrate life milestones, i.e. birthdays, graduations, weddings.

Working on something that is challenging but can be addressed by one's skills, people enter a state called flow.  In this state, people are fully absorbed in and focused on the activity, and as a result, they lose track of time. And it is this unlocking of the imagination in reimagining events and activities that provides the amazement factor in this time of the pandemic.


Historically, there are prominent examples of those who found creative inspiration in spending time alone. Isaac Newton, with schooling at Cambridge University halted, retreated to his family home in Lincolnshire, where, in a remarkable burst of creativity, he laid the groundwork for his theories of gravity and optics, and invented calculus. There is also the notion that William Shakespeare wrote some of his best poems and plays while plague forced a closure of London’s theatres.

Arts has been more accessible too with the numerous online workshops, some for free, others subsidized, and some as fundraisers. Performances and films have been made available online - giving us front row seats to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, ballets, operas, landmark films and theatre productions from all over the world. You just need to know where to look. And now, there is the much awaited release of Hamilton in the summer.


Some artists have managed to hold outdoor performances while people stay at home - musicians and singers performing from their balconies or sidewalk, in the rotunda of a housing community, and recently, Keith Urban in a major drive-through concert for first responders. And with most projects being done online, there has also been a noticeable rise of collaborations amongst artists across the globe - first in mind is the Lady Gaga curated tv special Together at Home, in support of the World Health Organization, and Swans for Relief, which featured 32 ballerinas from 22 dance companies from 14 countries, to raise funds for dancers affected by the pandemic all over the world.

Famous museums have offered virtual tours. Many institutions have made educational resources freely available online; IBM made their design courses free, NASA offers many lessons and activities, and a Pandemic University has even been established, offering online courses covering a range of topics including feature writing, true crime, non-fiction book proposals, travel writing, personal essays, food writing.

Corporations have also stepped up to support these online activities. Telecom companies facilitated access by removing internet data caps, relaxing long distance rules to facilitate communication, subsidizing internet rates for low income families and for some, providing free service.

People with a passion for art finally have time to invest in developing their creative side in a more systematic way. While staying abreast of pandemic updates is important, ultimately, a positive mindset and the ability to switch off will help people cope better day-to-day. Art has inadvertently reached a wider audience and range of participants. It has served us well as a means of expression, a coping mechanism, and outlet of pent-up emotions and energies. The hope is that for the long term, access to all these creativity will carry over to sustained support of the arts beyond the days of the pandemic.

Side note: It is stinging that in the midst of all these creativity, collaboration and support between artists, media, corporations and in the government, in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, the largest entertainment and media conglomerate, with a little bit more than 11,000 employees, was shut down on May 5, 2020. It is a perplexing turn of events at these times:
  • when media plays a crucial role in disseminating crucial and credible information on COVID-19, and in ensuring that these information reaches the most number of citizens;
  • when people are already losing their jobs due to COVID-19 and public health concerns, the last thing needed are job losses due to political wrangling;
  • when entertainment is essential for mental health, easing people's anxiety born out of lockdown and quarantine orders;
  • when empathetic conduct from leaders is respected and honoured.
Hopefully, a resolution of this issue is forthcoming.

* This article was published in the May 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Lara Andallo: the Filipino Triple Threat Artist from Down Under

One of the upsides of social media is the opportunity to connect with people and relationships you would otherwise be removed from. It is fun to keep track of relatives, friends, and colleagues, and their movements, i.e. from the Philippines 
to different parts of the globe, and life milestones. 

One such connection kept alive by social media is with an elementary and high school classmate that has allowed me to see the growth and achievements of her young daughter. Now, this daughter is making waves in the Australian music scene, with the release of her debut R&B mixtape. She is no other than up and coming, triple threat artist, Lara Andallo.

Lara’s musical influences go way back, when she started playing musical instruments from the young age of three. She played 10 years of classical violin, along with sax, drums, guitar and piano. At the age of 11, she focused on professional dance - ballet, contemporary, hiphop. She was home-schooled, to complete a Certificate IV in dance, dancing almost 50 hours a week. Her plans for a professional dance career went awry with surgeries on her ankle at the ages of 15 and 17. Faced with learning to walk again and unable to dance, Lara turned to music as a form of expression - writing about her devastation, isolation, of being culturally different, and peer abuse.

At 17-years-old, Lara has signed with Warner Music Australia, independently released three bedroom recordings that were met with praise from likes of Off The Clef, Thank Guard and Complex AU & UK, and released singles ‘Confidential’, ‘180’ and ‘Said & Done’. Early this year, she released her mixtape “For Her” with tracks ‘365’, ‘Proud of Us’ and ‘Trophy’. Lara describes her sound as "R&B at the core, with heavier trap and hip-hop influences”. According to her, the process with “For Her” was like “subconsciously writing the songs to empower myself… and writing affirmations for myself. It is also for young girls specifically who feel like they are outsiders and don’t have a place in this world.”  To celebrate the release, Lara played a headline show and showcased her soaring vocals and virtuosic dance skills.

While she’s at the early stages of her musical career, Lara seems to have already made an indelible mark in the Australian, if not international, music scene. Music reviewer Thomas Bleach has dubbed her as “the R&B princess that Australia deeply needs”. Other praises - “At only 19 and with just two studio singles under belt, Lara Andallo is already one of the most promising R&B artist in Australia”  – The Guardian. “The name Lara Andallo may not be familiar to you, but keep it on you radar” – Artist 1 On 1. “At just 19 years old, this Filipino-Australian artist is an absolute force to be reckoned with. ” and “ of the most addictive R&B songs we’ve heard in a while” – Tone Deaf. “The way she maneuvers the melody of this recalls early Kehlani with a hint of SZA. It’s an exciting step forward and an anomaly for Sydney which hasn’t been known for it’s R&B in the past.” – The Interns. “’s those crisp vocals that take center-stage, soaring high with an intoxicating and utterly convincing hook.” - Life Without Andy.

Young as she is, I love how Lara's story is a story of using her art as a tool for reflection and empowerment, of turning a dark time into a show of force, of overcoming difficulty, and a story of self expression and pursuing one's passion. Lara Andallo is definitely a rising star in her own right.


*Lara’s music is on all streaming platforms. You can also follow her on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Photo credits: Chris Loutfy, ℅ Filterzine; Facebook

** This article was published in the April 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 18 January 2020

The Edmonton Philippine International Centre (EPIC) Defined

In a multicultural society, it is inevitable to encounter a number of cultural community centres around the city. Top of mind would be: the Polish Canadian Cultural Centre; Sejong Multicultural Centre; Edmonton Korean Community Centre; Ukrainian Cultural Centre; La Cite Francophone; Edmonton Chinatown MultiCultural Centre; Portuguese Cultural Centre; Italian Cultural Centre; Slovenian Canadian Cultural Centre; Hellenic-Canadian Community of Edmonton & Region; German-Canadian Cultural Centre; Dutch Canadian Centre; and Edmonton Japanese Community Association, to name a few. The irony of this is that on some occasions, the reason for my being in these venues, were due to a Filipino community event.

Cultural infrastructures are an integral component of Canadian communities. These centres promote cultural values among the members of its community. They are a reflection of an established community where cultural services are increasingly part of municipal services. Arts and culture is one of the attributes that contribute to the highest quality of life of a community.

With the influx of Filipinos in Alberta, which has the second largest Filipino population in Canada at approximately 175,000, and with a migration history to Canada beginning in the 1930s, it is ideal, and rather imperative, that we Filipinos have a sustained venue, that will serve as a gathering place - a recreational, educational and cultural facility. There is nothing wrong in using another culture’s space, but it’s much more gratifying to have one that reflects your values, and way of life.

Some people may think: What does it mean for me?... I have no personal need for this… or this is only relevant to those who are involved in arts and culture work. Research on the impact of cultural community spaces has shown: that 95% of respondents learned something new, and 88% increased their confidence and pride in culture and traditions by participating in programs; for 85% participation increased their desire to learn, while 83% explored ideas, values and dreams, and 79% made friends; 77% reported a positive impact on their creativity; 65% developed skills; and 64% reported a positive impact on their health and well-being. There is substantial and diverse body of evidence that a wide range of cultural activities positively add value to regeneration initiatives - economic, social and environmental.

The Philippine centre is envisioned to be the architectural definition of our community identity. Yet, it is not just about infrastructure but is about the people, our culture, creative engagement, and social interaction. The planning will include multiple perspectives: disciplines of expression – e.g., visual, performing, literary, media arts, heritage, etc.; functions – e.g., recreation, instruction, training, production, exhibition, preservation;  levels of artistic activity – e.g., recreational arts, amateur arts, emerging and professional/not-for-profit arts, for-profit creative industries, etc.; and community goals. For a community whose people are geographically separated with the 7,100 islands, should we not bond ourselves in our communal experiences of migration, values, and way of life in our adopted country?

In my article on March 2019 on “The Quest for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton”, I posed the challenge on what would it take for us to work together towards this goal. And now, I am elated to report that Filipino community organizations and volunteers are working together towards the establishment of the Edmonton Philippine International Centre (EPIC), which will have its launch and fundraiser on February 1, 2020, Saturday, 1:30-4:30 pm at the Corpus Christi Church Hall at 2707 34 Street, Edmonton. The event aims to disseminate information on the initiative, and show what Filipinos have been doing in, and contributing to, the city of Edmonton. There will be performances, tables featuring businesses and services, door prizes, silent auction and food. It is an opportunity to once again convene, be proud of our personal history, share our culture and participate in this legacy project.

Work towards establishing a centre is long term work requiring dedication, focus, determination and commitment with time, energy and resources. The current group of organizers and volunteers recognize the importance of accountability, trust and transparency and are exerting efforts to uphold these. However, an endeavour of this magnitude will only be made possible by sustained commitment, time, input and vision of MANY supporters - advocates, artists, business leaders, volunteers and community members. I appeal to everyone to lend their support, in whatever capacity, to the various upcoming projects supporting the Edmonton Philippine International Centre initiative. And let us uphold our tagline, The Filipino Spirit Shines Through! 

* This article was published in the January 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.