Culture’s economic import

Kids from Tondo, Manila, are exposed to Italian culture through its cuisine. | Photograph courtesy of Italy in the Philippines

A Cabinet-level policy-making body can harness the potential value of culture and the arts to contribute immensely to the Philippine economy, Italian ambassador to Manila Marco Clemente told Daily Tribune on Wednesday.

Clemente argued that, while the National Commission on Culture and the Arts essentially has the mandate in its promotion in the Philippines, a “Department of Culture” will certainly be a fillip in a national balance sheet where the sector is largely under-tapped.

“Why is the Philippines the only country without a minister for culture? In Italy, cultural tourists are an important part of the economy. Foreigners come in flocks to see opera. Why can’t the Philippines do the same?”

In Italy, peak season for opera houses is one thing; the summer cultural economy is quite another, where, between June and September, tourists soak in the beach in the morning and enjoy opera at night.

“Filipinos are like Italians. They’re performers. They have the talent. Imagine opera in El Nido. Imagine how much the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese would love it. You have to start somewhere.”

Primarily thrust into cultural diplomacy and soft power, the Clemente-led embassy in Manila has put a lot behind instilling Italian art-appreciation among Filipinos, opera being the highest form, according to Clemente.

“It’s a confluence of all the arts.”

The embassy is bringing opera to the youth of Tondo, Manila, the beneficiary of a series of Italian-sanctioned events to help the arts.

“It’s a very interesting experiment, a little something to benefit kids who don’t have so many opportunities. Opera does not put food on the table. But solace and celebrating the beauty of life can certainly help.”

In February, the embassy initiated a six-month free Italian language course in Tondo.

According to Clemente, becoming proficient in the Italian language can open a huge variety of possibilities, say obtaining a scholarship in Italy.

The course, which will run until 3 August, teaches a select group of 29 students from the Canossa-Tondo Children’s Foundation.

Providing more career options to the city’s underprivileged kids, the embassy also organized a cooking workshop on traditional Italian recipes in January.

Last month, the embassy also organized a sommelier wine-tasting crash course, an opportunity for Filipinos to be abreast with the finest in the science–and art–of wine.