Ramón Pagayon Santos

Professor, University of the Philippines; Commissioner for the Arts, National Commission for Culture and the Arts

Leadership Conference on Conservancy and Development 12-18 September 1999: A Brief Report


September 1999, Yunnan Province, China

The entire conference, with such a variety of topics, areas of expertise, and activities, was a major attempt in initiating concrete steps towards formulating a comprehensive strategy or master plan for cultural conservancy in the context of modernization, social change, and specific concerns on the preservation of the environment. The conference dealt not only with the great diversity of topics and sub-topics, the usual problems emanating from time constraints, simultaneous translations, and other technical requirements.

The most striking feature of the conference was the delegates and participants themselves who represented many different disciplines and sectors; e.g. the academe, NGO’s, funding institutions, cause oriented programs, international organizations, government and commercial groups. For this reason, the conference required a highly systematic rapporteurial work which would be the key to a comprehensive integration of many ideas that were presented and discussed.

Perhaps greater focus should have been emphasized on one encompassing, underlying framework, such as "culture and traditions as foundations for social well-being and community development in contemporary life". The diversity of the levels of discussion – from purely empirical to theoretical and scientific – also required optimum quality in summing up all the ideas according to basic issues such as history, culture, contemporary values vis a vis traditional values, religion, etc. In actuality, most of the presentations tended to explore the possibility of striking a balance between material progress and the preservation of non-material cultures, expressive forms, spiritual and social values, and other sources of cultural identity. The talks and exchanges also covered a range of views – from highly critical and pessimistic, to being cautious, pragmatic, hopeful and imaginative.

The final sessions elicited very positive recommendations for future actions. Three of these are:

    1. Greater involvement of the village people themselves in the discussions;
    2. Consultative meetings and exchanges between artists, scholars, and other experts on ecology and economy from Yunnan and neighboring Southeast Asian peoples.
    3. Institutional linkages with other cultural agencies in Southeast Asia to discuss common interests and issues; e.g. the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
The Conference also provided opportunities for informal meetings among participants on future common endeavors and projects in the field of culture and environmental conservancy. Some initial exchange activities were proposed with representatives from Japan Foundation, the Asia Society and Ford Foundation, Indonesia. – Ramon Santos