Rita K. Ledesma (1938-2021):
‘She had much passion for culture,
it was infectious’

Hers was a life-long advocacy and work. She broadened
the MET’s capacity for exhibit and programming

Rita K. Ledesma at the press conference of 'And They Will Come Afar: 2000 Years of Vatican Treasures' in 1994 (Photo from MET)

The country mourns the death of arts leader and lifelong advocate of Philippine art, culture and history,  Rita K. Ledesma (1938-2021) last Sunday, August 1. She was president of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (MET) from 1993 to 1997 and its vice-chairman from 1997 to 2001. She was also head of the Art Association of the Philippines in the ‘70s.

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila chairman Joselito Campos, Jr. spoke on behalf of the board of trustees: “We are grateful for her invaluable contribution to the MET, and to her lasting achievements during the many years that she served as president and vice-chairman of the Museum.”

In an official statement, the MET said: “Under her leadership, the Museum broadened its capacity for exhibition and museum programming, undertaking the first of the major renovations that saw the expansion of the Upper Galleries as well as the construction of the Basement Galleries. She paved the way for landmark MET exhibitions such as And They Will Come Afar: 2000 Years of Vatican Treasures (1994) and the exhibition of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas permanent collection of Pre-Colonial Gold and Pottery (1996 to 2015).”

Vice-Chairman Doris Magsaysay Ho added, “Rita contributed so much to the Metropolitan Museum. She had so much passion for art and culture, and it was infectious. When the MET needed more space in the early 1990s, she convinced the BSP to approve the concept and worked with esteemed architect Lor Calma to design the second-floor galleries. She raised the funds with such determination, that we achieved the expansion in record time.”

Rita K. Ledesma received accolades for her contributions to Philippine arts and culture, and for being at the forefront of civic organizations such as the Friends of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Heritage Conversation Society, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Philippines. She was also an avid writer who contributed to the Lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, about topics ranging from her own reflections about life to ruminations on Philippine art, history, and culture.

In 2018, she edited the two-volume book on her close friend, the Spanish-Filipino artist Betsy Westendorp, which was published by De La Salle University Publishing House.

The MET continued: “Her love for the MET was abiding. She continued her patronage of the Museum and its programs beyond her terms on the board of trustees, always advocating for the spirit of volunteerism and the privilege of service during lectures and talks for different museum audiences. Even in times of adversity, most particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, she remained steadfast in her dedication to the Museum and was wholeheartedly committed to our mission of Art for All.”

“Rita remained committed and unwavering in her support of the Museum and the art and cultural community to the very end. Up to a few days ago, we had enthusiastic discussions to work together on an archiving project of the history of the MET Museum. She will be greatly missed. In her honor, the MET will carry on her legacy and passion,” said Museum president Tina Colayco.

Ledesma centered her life around art, culture, service, faith, and family. Her mother was the pioneering leader of Philippine visual arts, Pura Kalaw-Ledesma, a woman known for her steadfast spirit and commitment to Philippine culture and the arts.

Rita Kalaw Ledesma was born on March 19, 1938 in Manila, to Rafael and Pura Kalaw-Ledesma. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University Philippines in 1958, and her postgraduate degree from Radcliffe College in 1960.

She was exposed to the arts from an early age, her mother being the founder-president of the Art Association of the Philippines.  Rita herself became a director, then president, of AAP in the 1970s.

She remained active in the arts scene and museum administration throughout her life.

She also chaired the cultural committee of the Alliance Francaise, Manila, from 1990-1991.

In 1980, the French government bestowed upon her the Chevalier de L’ordre des Arts et Lettres award.

Her other affiliations: Member, Friends of the Cultural Center, Manila, 1990-1994 (board directors). Benefit chairperson Manila Symphony Society, 1972; Art Association of the Philippines, 1979; Bamboo Organ Festival, 1980; board director, Friends of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1995-1998.

She is survived by four children from her marriage to Leonides Gonzalez: Victoria Regina, Jose Ernesto, Alessandra and Leo.

From the MET Archives: (top photo) Rita Ledesma, third from right, during the MET’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2016, with, from left, US Deputy Chief of Mission Michel Klecheski, MET chairman Joselito Campos, Jr., trustee Maricris Olbes, BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco, Jr., artist Phyllis Zaballero, former MET president and trustee Corazon S. Alvina, and current MET president Tina P. Colayco; (bottom left photo) Ledesma  (in pink) with former MET presidents Felice P. Sta. Maria, Alvina, and Josephine L. Hermano, and museum director for administration Nelda I. Sansaet (center, receiving an award); and (bottom right photo), Ledesma (center) with the current MET curatorial staff during the opening reception of 100 Years of Deutscher Werkbund in 2019. (Contributed photos)


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