It is interesting to write about the Folk Arts Theater at this time in the midst of the preparations for the country’s 3rd stint to host the Miss Universe pageant that will happen on January 2017. That is because the Folk Arts Theater itself came into being because of the Miss Universe pageant, when the Philippines hosted it for the first time in 1974. Reportedly, then First Lady Imelda Marcos pushed hard for the country to host the pageant, especially after the country’s Miss Universe candidate, Margarita Moran, won the title in 1973, becoming the second Filipina Miss Universe after Gloria Diaz.
With the hosting secured, Mrs. Marcos had the idea of holding the pageant not at an existing venue like the Araneta Coliseum, but at a new one. For this project, she turned to Architect Leandro Locsin, who by then was already the most sought-after architect and country and also in the First Lady’s good graces for his work on the Cultural Center of the Philippines Theater. However, there was a problem: Locsin only had a short time to complete that dream venue with the pageant just a few months away. Nevertheless, Locsin was one who rises to any challenge and this was no exception.
The result was the Folk Arts Theater*, an achievement for Locsin who managed to complete it in just 77 days, inaugurated just 2 weeks shy of the 1974 Miss Universe pageant which was to be held on July 21. Built just a few blocks away from the CCP Theater, the Folk Arts Theater was meant to both complement and contrast with the former. Both CCP and Folk Arts made use of concrete heavily and employed that “floating” look. But unlike the former, Folk Arts was a venue aimed more to be a performing arts venue for the common folk (hence the “Folk Arts” name). As such, it was conceived as an open air amphitheater with concrete roofing, taking advantage of the seaside breeze of the Manila Bay nearby, while capable of seating 8,458 people.
By all accounts, the Philippines’ first hosting of the Miss Universe pageant in 1974 (won by Spain’s Amparo Muñoz) was a success. And for a venue that was just a few days old to hold a major international event like this, the Folk Arts Theater managed to serve its purpose well enough. For the next 2-3 decades, it became one of the metropolis’ premier venues for concerts, live performances, and events, from concerts of foreign acts like Menudo and Pearl Jam to local performers like Gary V. and the Eraserheads, to other events like a first communion mass organized by the Archdiocese of Manila in 1989, that this roamer was chosen as one of the participants by his school.
But by the 2000s, the Folk Arts Theater was slowly falling out of favor as a performance venue as newer, airconditioned venues were on the rise and climate change made it too stuffy for events to be held there. Unfortunately, setting up air conditioning was out of the question given the limited resources of CCP and potential sponsors or lessees were not keen on shouldering such expense Fortunately, one entity decided to make use of Folk Arts, and it was, oddly enough, a religious group named Day By Day Christian Ministries who gave the structure another name, “Bulwagan ng Panginoon” (The Hall of the Lord). Upon closer look however, that development is not a surprise considering the ministry’s founder, Pastor Ed Lapiz, is himself a patron of arts and culture. In fact, he also is the founder of one of the country’s renowned folk ensembles, the Kaloob Dance Ministry. So it came to pass that the theater became a church of sorts as it seen to this day.
While the Folk Arts Theater today remains in use somehow, its future as a performing arts venue remains to be in question, at the very least. With plans under way to redevelop the entire CCP complex to be a premier venue for arts and culture, the plans call for the eventual demolition of the Folk Arts Theater to give rise to new development being foreseen in the area, though as to what is being planned is not yet clear. More so, the CCP redevelopment plan itself remains to be put into place as its implementation has been hampered for years due to limited resources until the breakthrough came early this year with the groundbreaking of the Black Box Theater which will rise at the sunken garden in the complex.
For the meantime, the Folk Arts Theater stands tentatively at the moment, reminding us of its long history as a performing arts venue, waiting for the day that it may have to give way for the CCP Complex to realize those long-held dreams to be a center of arts and culture in the midst of a congested metropolis. And for us who got to experience watching a live event there, we will always be nostalgic for the Folk Arts Theater that we knew.
*As part of the CCP Complex, the formal name of the Folk Arts Theater is the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas, named after the famed Filipino poet and writer who wrote the classic “Florante at Laura”
Acknowledgements as well to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Designkultur, and SkyscraperCity