WE are in the middle of a festival, or didn’t you know?  The Ibagiw Creative Festival formally opened on November 12 and will close on November 30.  In the intervening time, activities have been slated ranging from exhibits and exhibitions, trade fairs, performances, competitions, demonstrations, and lecture series in identified venues all over the city.

         This occasion is apparently a nod to Baguio City’s membership in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since October of 2017, the first city in the country to earn such a distinction. Baguio City’s contribution to this network is its engagement in crafts and folk art, contending that the city is endowed with an “artistic culture”  and forms its identity along this premise.

         The creative cities concept was an offshoot of the ratification of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 which calls for inclusive growth among others. The mantra emanating from the UN is to leave no one behind. This principle brought attention to the creative sector because they are supposedly a part of a demographic where traditional economic investments are not readily infused.

         The creative cities network is established to steward and ensure the involvement of society’s creative group in developmental policymaking. This elevates the creative community  from its previous status as a passive actor in a locality’s economic infrastructure, to one that actually produces goods and services on an industry level.

         A locality’s economic infrastructure thus provides an initial glimpse into the possibility that it might possess the attributes of a creative city.  In the case of Baguio, it has long been stipulated that its economic backbone is a service-oriented tourist economy where one of its primary allures is its rootedness in indigenous culture.

         Within the customary economic framework that Baguio is a tourist spot which heavily relies on the patronage of visitors, culture then became a commodity that served to draw on tourists en masse, on a promise of a cultural experience based on performance, as well as the possession of cultural goods as a holiday memento. Within the purview of Baguio’s traditional economic framework, culture is a consumer item, and for a time this was the norm.

         Since one integral component of a creative city is culture, how then does it differ from the well-established tourism economic framework that advocates cultural pride and pride of place to begin with?

         One important point that must be mentioned here is that tourism is not seen to have created adverse outcomes so that the creative cities concept is regarded as the better alternative to a tourist economy that we have been accustomed to.  After all, the tourism sector provides employment opportunities, and it has a diverse economic service base ranging from transportation to accommodation.

         A prevalent criticism to the tourism economic model however, is the idea that mass tourism is unsustainable due to its tendency to yield ecologically harmful by-products such as accumulated waste and the destruction of fragile environments due to unregulated visitors’ activities. But tourism is also within the scope of UN policies as it issues a call for sustainable tourism through the UN World Tourism Organization. Thus, from mass tourism, it also talks of alternative tourism, and balanced tourism development.

         The “creative cities” concept, however, is said to encompass more than the human and ecological collision. The artists and artisans that produce cultural goods and services through the crafts and folk arts engagement must be emancipated from their usual role as cottage industry suppliers, not obtaining the true worth and value of their work while traders reap profits in the international market.

         This time, the creative sector is endowed with an agency in that it will benefit from official governmental policies that will elevate outputs in crafts and folk art from a cottage industry into a creative industry that contributes to the local gross domestic product and GDP per capita.  For this reason, there is a push not just from the government but all sectors to boost public and private investor confidence in the creative industry. At least that is the idea.

         Four years since Baguio’s inclusion into the creative cities network, we have seen the determination of its multi-sectoral advocates to prove that a creative economy is indeed more sustainable.  The Covid-19 pandemic upended our notions of a robust tourist and visitor economy as lockdowns and isolations brought the economy to a standstill.

         But we might recall that it was the creative sector that provided the city’s tepid economy with a cultural ventilator when life-saving vaccines was yet a pipe dream. The “creative economy” and “sustainable tourism” are both in the vocabulary as we mark this year’s run of the Ibagiw Creative Festival. Whether these terms are mutually exclusive or  there are aspects in them that intersect, we will know from official decisions as Baguio winds its way towards “”re-opening the economy.“