From the child star Billy Bilyonaryo to the young congressman of the Fourth District of Pangasinan, Christopher “Toff” de Venecia has been relentlessly pursuing what he loves most: Art. Thus, De La Salle University (DLSU) aptly chose him as keynote speaker for its 14th Arts Congress, an annual event that aims to provide researchers, artists, creative writers, students and art enthusiasts a venue to present and celebrate their creative works and research.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the DLSU Arts Congress 2021 (comprising of art exhibit, conference and performance showcase) was held online. With the theme “Pandemic, Resilience, and the Arts,” the congress organizers, led by Dr. Dennis Trinidad, invited artists and scholars to discuss the challenges and opportunities from the current global pandemic and reflect on its impacts on freedom and mobility.
For example, in a parallel session on Arts, Culture and Pandemic, this writer revisited the genre paintings of Angono maestro Jose Pitok Blanco, tracing the theme of fiesta and faith which provided refuge during the trying times transcended by Filipinos. Maestro Pitok, who survived the war’s horror and hunger, gave us paintings like The Burning of Angono, Huling Salu-Salo, Angelus, Carabao Festival, Angono Fisherman’s Festival, Bisperas ng Pasko and Salubong, among many others, inspiring in us the fortitude to survive another kind of war, this time with an unseen enemy, a virus.
In his keynote address, Toff advocated for what he calls the C.O.L.L.A.B. Culture: Centralization and Coordination, Organization, Long-term Planning, Localization, Aid and Protection, and Business Planning — all geared towards invigorating the country’s creative industries. He is responsible for the Eddie Garcia Bill, which seeks to institute policies for the protection and promotion of the welfare of workers or independent contractors in the film, television and radio entertainment industry. Last year, he was appointed to chair the newly minted Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts.
“This a triumph for the workers in the creative industry whose scope is massive and vast,” shared Toff, who evolved from his juvenile TV and film roles to directing the Ateneo Blue Repertory with shows like All Shook Up, Freakshow and Little Shop of Horrors, for which he was nominated Best Director in the first-ever Broadway World Philippines awards, and most recently, Company Call. He also co-owns 9 Works Theatrical, one of Manila’s newest production outfits, which is the theater company behind Rent, The Wedding Singer, Songs for a New World and Sweet Charity.
“It is high time for our country to take bold actions to advance the interest of creative talents and forge a bright future for culture and the arts,” emphasized Toff.
From celebrity prodigy to congressman of substance, Toff is taking a leap of faith to empower what humanity’s soul feeds on to survive the hard times — art.
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