Art districts

By Radel Paredes November 30,2014

It is what artists in Cebu have long been dreaming of — a place of their own somewhere in the city. They have been asking the local government to provide them with space where they can put up studios, galleries, or just easels along the road so people can see, and hopefully buy, their work.

Such a permanent art market is one opportunity to showcase the work of local artists, encouraging tourists to buy art as souvenirs and thus help provide steady livelihood for painters. As it becomes a tourist attraction, the art market always tend to generate related businesses, like the usual artsy cafes, restaurants, art supply stores, tattoo shops, etc.

In other words, giving local artists their own space is not only a good way to support them, it is also a good strategy for tourism. Nowadays, after “ecotourism”, art tourism is becoming a popular term.
Perhaps the ultimate model of this is that famous place in Montmartre in Paris where artists freely put up their booths for tourists who come to buy paintings or be painted. You sit before the easel and wait until the artist finishes your sketch or painting. Then you go to a café or restaurant which started to abound as more tourists come. We see this glamorized in such movies as “An American in Paris”.

In Kuala Lumpur, there is a similar artists’ space at the Central Market, where you can buy paintings that range from the usual realistic portrait in oil, a hurried caricature, to Warhol-like pop art.

Elsewhere in the city, another building houses studios for both artists and artisans, like local batik artists. And in Chinatown, a row of studios and studios sell Chinese ink paintings.

In Manila, I once passed by that row of artists’ studios in Mabini street in the Malate area. Paintings of Philippine landscapes and everyday life are displayed on the sidewalk in front of the studios and galleries. This attracts the usual foreign tourists who want to bring home a painting depicting Philippine exotica, like nipa huts under palm trees, tartanillas, or bare-breasted women washing clothes in a river. Never mind if these paintings were mass-produced in assembly line-fashion, which unfortunately is what the Mabini artists have come to be associated with.

This is not the case in Bacolod’s new Art District, an art complex that houses contemporary art galleries, studios, cafes and bars, located in barangay Mandalagan in the city’s downtown area. As you enter the place, you are immediately greeted by art installations and murals on walls of its modern buildings.

The highlight of the place is Orange Gallery which actually consists of various art spaces, open for curated contemporary art exhibition. We went there recently to view the “Life Force”, one of the exhibits of the recently concluded Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA EXCON), the longest running art biennial in the country. Orange is owned by Charlie Co, one of the leading artists in Negros.

Following the success of Orange Gallery, a number of newer contemporary art galleries have sprouted in different parts of the city. This proves that even in such a small city like Bacolod, contemporary art can sell.

It is amazing to see these developments happening in Bacolod’s art community, which is a small but dynamic group of artists mostly bent on doing contemporary art. This orientation of local art goes back to the early 90s when local artists like Charlie Co and Nunelucio Alvarado founded the Black Artists of Asia which forged exchange programs with artists abroad. The Negrense artists have since been able to maintain an art that is at once local as it is global.

The galleries and museums have an active symbiotic relationship with the artists. The galleries provide a haven for artists, a space for them to create or display their work, to gather and discuss issues, or to simply hang out. The artists in turn supply the galleries with works that sell. And the success of some artists under the gallery’s stable, add prestige – and thus marketability – to the gallery.

The Art District has already created a buzz in the blogosphere, as local and foreign travelers write about their experience. Although it has been mainly an initiative of the art community and the private sector, Bacolod’s Art District has certainly contributed to the promotion of the city’s tourism.

Cebu tags itself as a “creative city” but until now it lacks a clear program for supporting local artists. We hope that the local government in Cebu can learn from Bacolod’s example and consider providing what our artists here with what they have been asking for a long time: a space of their own.

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