Maria Rosario Estrada

Estrada, Maria Rosario.JPG
2019 Getty Foundation. Head of Visual Arts Department, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Muntinlupa, Philippines

A total of 24 modern and contemporary art museum professionals residing in 19 different cities have been awarded support to attend the CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference The 21st Century Art Museum: Is Context Everything? that will be held in Sydney, Australia 15–17 November 2019 hosted jointly by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Launched in 2005, CIMAM’s Travel Grant Program is designed to foster cooperation and cultural exchange between contemporary art curators and museums directors in emerging and developing economies and their counterparts in other regions of the world.

Maria Rosario Estrada's Conference Report

It was my honor to be given the CIMAM 2019 Conference’s Getty Foundation Travel Grant, especially since I was the only one from my country to receive it this year, as well as being one of only four grantees from my continent. Programs such as these are a great support to museum workers such as myself who do not have the institutional resources to travel to international conferences such as CIMAM.

As a first-timer in Australia, the country’s focus on and respect for their true, indigenous history was a highlight for me. It shaped how the conference flowed, as well as the mindset of all the attendees. I felt that the country was one of the most spirited countries that I’ve ever been to, and had a lot of souls. You could see it in the welcome to country, in the way local speakers Wesley Enoch and Uncle Steve Miller connected with the audience. You could experience it in the streets, in the way people interact with you. I was very inspired by seeing what Australia’s cultural institutions give value to.

The institution that I work in, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), sits on reclaimed land, was constructed with the seashells from the sea basin, and was birthed through a very tumultuous history. These facts continued to play inside my head for most of the 3-day CIMAM 2019 Annual Conference. On the first day, I was struck by Wesley Enoch’s Keynote that talked about the museum as “listening buildings”, and the “groaning rocks of history” that the buildings stand on. Have we been listening? Do we let the rocks crush us or do we bring them to light? And if we do listen, if we do bring our conflicted histories to light, do we do it defensively? I am reminded of the brilliant Keynote of Sally Tallant wherein she asked about how what we learn in the outside flows inside the museum.

When I got back to Manila after the conference, I was asked by colleagues and artists, “so what was the answer to Is context everything?” I told them I went home with more questions than a single answer, but that I took comfort in the fact that the answers are everywhere around us. We can find them in stories made from “dream time,” in the detritus that make up our collections, and in how our communities, cultural workers, and artists respond to both past and present disasters.