The Filipino Street Art Project – the brainchild of Kim Dryden and Fil-Am Austin Smith – recently launched its Kickstarter campaign to fund Manileños, a feature length documentary film that looks at the lives of several young street artists in Manila. The campaign runs until November 7th with a goal of raising $15,000, which would go toward financing post-production for the film. We reached out to Smith and asked him a few questions about the project and his experience with Filipino Street Art and Artists.
How did Filipino Street Art get started?
It’s a long story but I’ll give you the short version. Kim and I were on camping trip and got to brainstorming what our next project would be. She has experience doing films about unique communities of artists and has always been interested in creativity as a process. I was intent on making a film that told Filipino stories, something that would allow me to explore my heritage as a Filipino-American, and those two ideas merged into the Filipino Street Art Project. We never anticipated that it would grow into this multifaceted project, we just thought we were setting out to make a film.
What are the different components of the project?
Well we’re both filmmakers first and foremost, so what anchors the project is the feature-length documentary titled Manileños. It’ll be our way to go deeper into the motivations of the artists and really paint a picture of what life is like for creatives and agitators in modern Manila. Beyond that we host lots of live art events, do educational workshops at universities, and promote the artists and their work at local Filipino and arts festivals. The general day-to-day of the project is updating our blogs, editing videos, and handling commissioned murals, but we’re always really excited when we get to put on a big show or attend an event that lets us share what we do.
What sets Filipino Street Art apart?
The Philippine street art scene is very young. In most western and South American countries, street art is an accepted and respected form. Artists can choose that path and become very successful professionally and financially. In the Philippines, street art is still seen as vandalism by the people. The artists must justify what they do every day, whether to passersby on the street or the barangay police who stop them. And they always get stopped and interrogated. Keep in mind, we’re talking about legal works with permission from the building owner, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still guilty until proven innocent.
The lack of commercialization is actually what’s great about the scene right now. There is not much commission work available for street artists yet. This means less competition for those jobs and, therefore, less egos clashing and less infighting within the scene. The artists who do street art choose to do it because they genuinely love it and are passionate about it. I think this makes the messages in their art that much more powerful.
It seems like there are an inordinate number of Filipino artists when it comes to things like comic books or even modern street art here in America. Why do you think that is?
Without trying to sound overly academic, Filipinos have a unique culture in the US that, while being absolutely unique, tends to align more with the learned experiences of black and latino minorities than it does other Asian groups. Whether it’s for socio-economic reasons or something entirely cultural, there has always been an overrepresentation of Filipino-Americans in things we call “urban arts” like hip-hop, dance, and graffiti. I think it’s just based on the communities we’ve formed here and where we get our social influences from.
That being said, there’s no doubt that the Filipino culture produces talented individuals, and street art is no different. Someone at the street art organization Upper Playground once told me that almost half of their mailing list – 20,000 people – was Filipino-American. There is just a lot of interest amongst Filipinos.
We work with a very diverse group of artists and that is intentional. We are trying to paint as complete a picture of Manila and the street art scene as possible, so our artists have to reflect that. They range from Brian Barrios, who is a full-time activist living in poverty and doing propaganda art for Anakbayan, to Dee Jae Pa’este, a socialite living in Makati and doing murals for upscale restaurants and hotels. They’re both from very different sides of Manila, but they both have street art in common and started their careers in the same way: tagging and wheatpasting the abandoned walls of their neighborhoods.
There are many street art and graffiti collectives in and around Metro Manila, but the three that we work most closely with are Pilipinas Street Plan (PSP), Cavity Collective, and Gerilya. The members are like brothers and share lifelong friendships. Being initiated into one of the collectives is a big achievement for young artists.
What’s the end goal of the Filipino Street Art project?
I think the most we can achieve with any film or arts project is to create a community around our work; to bring people together both online and in person and to spark dialogue and debate on our subject matter. In that sense, there is no end goal just a continuing push for exposure and empowerment. We hope to be around long after the film is released and the Philippine street art scene is respected worldwide.
The Kickstarter campaign runs through November 7th and, if successfully funded, will allow us to finish the film and get it out there to festivals. We’ve spent six months in Manila with Filipino cinematographers and production assistants. About eighty percent of the footage for the film has been shot, but we still need help covering post-production costs like editing, sound sweetening, and color correction.
We wanted to run our crowdfunding campaign like a web store. Often times films will be limited in what they can offer to their backers: a DVD and a thank you in the film’s credits, for example. We’re incredibly fortunate that we have over 30 artists who are contributing original designs and works as donation rewards. We’ll definitely have the most beautiful Kickstarter rewards of any film project on there. Even as low as the $10 level, you’re receiving original designs from Philippine artists.
Let’s be clear, it’s about the artists first. Unless they’ve donated their work, all artists will receive their full commission, with the rest of the profits going towards our cause as filmmakers. So when someone donates they are directly supporting an artist in the Philippines, and they’ll receive an information packet with a video, interview, and photo gallery of their selected artist. We want this to be a win-win for everyone involved.