98B COLLABoratory gives us a glimpse into the culture and community at Escolta street.

Escolta Street is definitely known for its culture and history. In a city that was once in ruins, this place was able to survive through the years. 

Its lanes are filled and surrounded with surviving pre-war buildings from the 1900s by renowned artists and architects. This includes The Manila Post Office:a historical landmark which unfortunately suffered a fire, burning almost all of its beautiful structures. 

More often than not, Escolta has this grand image to lots of people: an image that it’s larger than life. For outsiders, it might seem like this “artsy, hip, cool place to be,” but for the people actually living in Escolta, it’s more than that.

It’s just this simple place and friendly neighborhood that they treat as their home.

CLAVEL interviewed Kathy Nuñez and Frankie Lalunio, members of 98B COLLABoratory, an artist-run space/initiative, to better understand the culture and community of Escolta.

 

98B COLLABoratory

98B COLLABoratory is an independent-run space delving more into the realm of contemporary art. Contrary to popular belief, 98B is not named after a building in Escolta—but it is actually named after a small apartment in Cubao back in January 2012.

A few months later after establishing in 2012 and getting to know the building owners of the First United Building, they were offered the chance to relocate at its mezzanine in Escolta.

“Yung 98B kasi is a D.I.Y. and homegrown—kaya ‘yung space, it’s quite casual and homey. It’s something we want people to be comfortable in. The way we invite our friends to our houses.”

The art scene was flourishing back in the 90s, but as years went by, there were only a few artist-run spaces left in Metro Manila. The cityscape was full of manicured buildings, commercial galleries, and big museums. 

Kathy Nuñez, the current director of 98B COLLABoratory, shared that the birth of 98B was a response to the lack of alternative spaces in Metro Manila. And it just so happens that right now, Escolta is the backdrop of this homegrown space.

98B is not just the name of a house in Cubao or a place in an Escolta building—it’s any space where creativity thrives and the people from the team can feel at home with their friends.

 

An Intersection of Cultures

Being one of the oldest streets in the Philippines, it was also home to many of the country’s firsts: first ice cream parlor, first tram, first elevator (located at the Burke Building), and even the first movie-theater house, Salon de Pertierra.

But what makes it more interesting is that Escolta street is a converging and melting point of many various cultures that surround it: the cultures of Chinatown, Quiapo Church, Muslim Town, and of course, Intramuros. 

Although unintentional, pieces of these cultures can be seen even in the minute parts of Escolta: may it be trinkets from The HUB, lanterns hanging in front of a window, the architecture of an almost abandoned walkway, or its people passing by.

Like 98B shared, as residents of Escolta, they are always conscious of its culture and history. In a way, the culture cultivated at Escolta will always be present—even in little ways—whenever they activate projects for their space.

That’s why when brainstorming for projects, they keep in mind what their community needs. It doesn’t have to be something grand and magnificent; it just has to be something that can bring joy or serenity to anyone.

 

Breaking Barriers through Mundane Activities

One of 98B’s most recent programs is the 98B Kitchen—where their space transforms into a place to cook, eat, and talk.  

The team shared that it’s just now that they’ve brought this concept back. The first kitchen event 98B had was back in 2014 with Dex Fernandez, where Dex made Adobo Pasta while he had a talk. 

98B found the kitchen concept and itself alone interesting because it’s a nourishing space. They were inspired because the kitchen is already part of our daily lives. They were in awe on how things that are very mundane can be impactful, too. 

Tinetrespass niya yung built-in barriers ng exhibitions. Parang limited lang yung connections mo [with people] and getting into deep conversations with them. Pero kapag sa kitchen, ‘pag nag-preprepare ng food, it’s a communal thing; it’s a communal activity.”
—Frankie Lalunio on the transformation of their space as a kitchen.

Food is culture. And with the revival of 98B’s kitchen, people are able to gather together (salo-salo) and connect with each other. Definitely, being immersed with different cultures opens anyone’s mind and eyes. With 98B, they help make this possible by providing a space, where people could freely experiment and meet new people outside of their circles.

 

Ideas, Interactions, and Inspirations

As CLAVEL strolled on the streets of Escolta, one incident caught their attention. Two men, walking on the same sidewalk were obviously minding their own businesses—quickly walking towards the opposite direction. One heading towards the North, the other to the South.

Without stopping, they bumped their fists together in the air—like out of habit. Amazing how this simple interaction kind of shows how familiar they are already with each other. 

And this is very telling of how the community is at Escolta.

“…We realized how we survived as a space is connected to the survival of our community.”
—Kathy Nuñez on 98B and being part of a community

98B COLLABoratory shared how the people they have met here is one of the many factors that kept them thriving. 

“What we really also value here in Escolta is the network, the web of connections we have with the people and spaces that surround us, which we have established and sustained, like a garden, through the years.”

“These spaces and people inspire and inform us. 98B’s programs and projects in Escolta are not possible without the collective efforts of the community.”

Frankie Lalunio, a 98B member also shared how 98B is part of this community, similar to rhizome—expanding its roots to where it’s needed. 

“As a space, yung 98B it’s kind of like a rhizome. We want to be a platform where people from different fields can intersect,” Kathy adds.

“Kaya very important yung connections and relationships that we establish and sustain kasi eventually kapag nag-converge ‘yung mga people na ‘yun—maybe through hanging out, meeting, talking, and eventually collaborating. Mas may bagong things na na-sysynthesize from those interactions.” 

As 98B COLLABoratory exists within this wide web of culture—an ecosystem among and beyond the barriers of Escolta—they make sure to recall and reevaluate their belonging in the street; to do their best in being in sync with the art community and more importantly, with their friends & family at Escolta.

“Escolta, for us, are these people.” —98B COLLABoratory

98B is not tied to a certain individual or group. Right now, 98B is hopeful that their space continues to grow and flourish as times change. Inspired by the quote of Adrienne Maree Brown, they move forward at the speed of trust. 

“As long as there’s someone willing to stay or continue, 98B will be here.”

These communities within and beyond Escolta are what makes the place what it is among many things. And truly, supporting each other is what makes up a culture of collaborating, slowing down, and genuinely connecting with one another.

Follow 98B COLLABoratory on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated with their collaborations and programs at First United Building, Escolta Street.

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