The Philippine folk artists who participated in the 1998 Festival shared a common involvement in elaborate systems of exchange, reciprocity, and gift-giving that characterize Filipino society - a theme that was chosen to structure the Festival program. Their lives could be read as essays on gift-giving: mentors of younger generations, diplomatic representatives to worlds outside their communities, custodians of artistic creation, performers and makers of the implements of celebrations. They represented the spirit of pahiyas, a word that collects notions of gem-like treasures and blessings. Pahiyas is a shower of gifts and blessings in the celebratory abundance of a harvest. Through these artists, the Philippines celebrated the centennial of its declaration of independence by asserting its freedom to construct the future with the culture of gift-giving.
At the start of work on the Philippine Festival program, the first order of business was to define an approach that engaged not only how intricately Filipinos articulate identity and reweave tradition with 20thcentury passions, but also how they do so while simultaneously expressing delight and dignity, vivacity and solemnity. The demand for accuracy of representation was extraordinarily high. The project was negotiated by the Philippine Centennial Commission with the Smithsonian in the context of the Philippine Centennial celebrations in the Philippines and of the associated events planned in many cities in the United States.
It was clear to the project team from the outset that during these celebrations, Filipinos wished to signal their arrival at a juncture in history where they could enjoy a complex understanding of the deepest sources of cultural pride. The project's goal was to express a sophisticated sense of the dynamics of folklife in a national formation. Thus, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the implementing agency for the project on the Philippine side, assembled a project team of independent cultural workers and worked with the Smithsonian to create a Festival concept - pahiyas - and corresponding presentation to communicate that sense of arrival and to register that refined understanding.
The 80 Philippine master artists honored by the Smithsonian Institution and their nation have in common - aside from their levels of achievement - a strength of character that has enabled them to meet the challenge of modernity by accepting and reworking certain aspects of it. Many of the artists were savvy about recordings and other forms of documentation, marketing techniques, alliances with other communities and countries, public presentations, discussions, and political action. Individually and as a group they laid to rest the weary stereotypes of the primitive or the abject rural peasant. Although many of them were poor by the standards of urban society, they all projected to Festival visitors a grace, a pride, and a sense of assurance that seemed to issue from the aesthetic pleasure and wisdom inherent in their chosen art forms.
Richard Kennedy and Marian Pastor Roces were Curators, with Ramon Obusan as Program Director and Eva Mari G. Salvador and Andrea Yangas as Program Coordinators. Flora Elena R. Mirano was Research Director and Ricardo Trimillos was Research Associate.
The Philippines program was produced in collaboration with the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine Centennial Commission and was supported by the American International Group, Inc., The Starr Foundation, Bell Atlantic, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Philippine Centennial Foundation/USA.