writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Monday, April 2, 2007

Death of an Independent Art Space?


This piece was published on 29 January 2007, Monday, on page F-3 and F-4 of The Philippine Star. A couple of days later during the closing party of FP and Chunky Far Flung, I was told that the article became the talk of the town (or at least the talk of the Cubao X community, I guess!). Not exactly sure what they talked about since I only heard tidbits here and there!

Death of an Independen
t Art Space? by Clarissa Chikiamco

Independent art spaces are vital elements of a thriving art scene that allows unfettered creativity, unhampered by commercial aims. These spaces, being (nearly always) artist-run, pass the reins of control to the artist, who at times is at mercy to the other members of the art community (such as gallery owners, art critics, curators and collectors) and their pressures or demands that his/her – the very creator’s – potential and power to create seems mechanized or diminished in the process. While full control is not without its pitfalls as many artist-art managers have discovered, these spaces are still vibrant beacons of promise where many of the young in the art scene gather to support young artists, to brainstorm and concretize ideas or simply to experiment and produce something together.

Autonomously, an independent art space has its own value. Yet, when these spaces converge together in one location, it constructs an art community that magnifies the significance and sincerity of each space’s vision while furthering appreciation for the different kinds of art they provide. Manila has one such jewel, Cubao X or the historic Marikina Shoe Expo in Araneta Center, Cubao, which, amidst the shoes and an authentic Italian eatery, has several art spaces and quirky shops that complement its alternative offering. Events at this place for the past two years, ranging from exhibit openings to film showings to poetry readings to indie music playing, have been mainstays in the Manila cultural calendar, particularly for the fresh-faced (most who go here are in their 20s and 30s). A key contributor to the energy of Cubao X is Future Prospects, an independent art space founded by artists Louie Cordero, Cocoy Lumbao, Gary Ross Pastrana and Japanese curator Mizuki Endo.

But all of this is about to come to an end. Marikina Shoe Expo is under new management this year (it is now back to its original owners as the lease to the shoe shops who managed the place for several years has expired) and with this change is an increase in rent, the closure of Future Prospects along with some other art spaces and ironically, perhaps an attempt to market the place as an art venue. It’s like locking the barn door after the cow’s been stolen only this time, I think the cow ran away.

Apparently, the management seems to be under the impression that the spaces at Marikina Shoe Expo actually make money otherwise why would they increase the rent of Future Prospects from an estimated P18,000/month to P25,000/month – a nearly 40% increase?

Others at the Expo protested over Future Prospect’s rent raise as FP, as it is often called, really doesn’t earn money, played a large role in calling attention to the place and is often the one responsible for bringing a large crowd to the Expo, a benefit to the other spaces who do manage to make some sales. Dawning on the landlord how intrinsic FP is to the place, a counteroffer was made but alas, too late. The artists behind this central space had a firm wake-up call and have decided to pack up. This month is their last month in the Expo, much to the dismay of many of us who often attend their events. Unfortunately, FP isn’t alone. Also closing down at the end of the month is Chunky Far Flung, an exhibition space that sells figurines, comic books and other collectibles. Kukuada, a gallery owned by Dr. Joven Cuanang, has already closed along with Bespoke furniture store. Pablo, an art gallery and retail store that offers stylish home décor items designed by Manila’s cutting edge graphic designers, may not be far behind as co-owner Yo Garcia cites “communication problems with the present management” as making them open to the idea of transferring to a new location.

Maybe the new condominium being built around the corner is the reason why the rent is being jacked up. Perhaps they’ll market Marikina Shoe Expo (it wouldn’t be right to call it Cubao X anymore, I think, with so many fundamental spaces that made it Cubao X leaving) as a quaint Soho-style area with art and cafes, something like a bohemian Serendra? Not quite sure how that will turn out as someone recently said to me, “Have you been to Cubao [X] lately? The owner totally killed the place. Tsk tsk tsk.” The magic of an art community can’t be contrived. The moment it tries is the moment it’ll never get there.

In fairness, the initial higher rent and new management aren’t the only factors which have led the artists behind FP to reach their decision. Pastrana reveals FP’s closure as mired by the usual issues that surround independent spaces. The main issue, of course, always boils down to funding. FP held a raffle last year to take care of the rent. About 25 raffle tickets were sold for P10,000 each, guaranteeing each ticket holder an artwork from one of a promising roster of artists. The artworks were available for viewing during ticket sales then raffled during FP’s anniversary party. (Yet, 2-3 ticket holders didn’t pay up, which was rather inconsiderate.) With the raffle money going mainly to the rent and the hired tagapagbantay, the artists sometimes found themselves digging into their own pockets for the expenses in putting up their events because FP simply doesn’t earn. Artworks and other items at FP are rarely sold while drinks are given for free most of the time since it’s both tricky and awkward to ask FP’s friends and patrons, most probably struggling in the arts themselves, to pay.

Pastana also mentions the difficulties in having no staff, no office (no computer) and equipment problems. There’s also the do-it-yourself symptom that affects all those in art projects flailing for funding – taking on multiple roles because well, of sheer necessity. The artist becomes manager, curator, writer, designer, installer, invitation disseminator (via email/text) and even caterer. Unsurprisingly, artists have a tough time practicing their art while managing a space. The administration or day-to-day takes up a lot of the artist’s time that might otherwise be spent in a studio. Pastrana acknowledges the help of friends such as Buboy Cañafranca, Lena Cobangbang and Erick Encinares in running and managing FP.

Though is it really the death of FP yet? What are Future Prospects’ future prospects? Pastrana says they may open again in another location after a break of some months. He floats some ideas: one being to not be space-bound or site-specific but to create projects in different venues; another being having a shared space with a shared staff with 5-6 project directors – each director being assigned specific months to take charge of the space and to spearhead a project. Yet, there’s still nothing definite and, even if keeping the name of Future Prospects, the space (or non-space if they do decide not to anchor themselves somewhere) will probably emerge a different animal. It doesn’t mean it won’t be a great animal or an even better animal, just a different one.

No one expects an independent art space to last for a long period of time. Yet, for those of us who go to these spaces, we can’t help grieving a little when it comes to the end. As one door closes, another one opens, they say. Yet, we can’t help feeling that when that door was open, it was very, very good indeed.

Future Prospects is holding their closing party on 31 January 2007, Wednesday evening.

5 comments:

aj omandac said...

This is quite moving lisa.Too bad iv only read it now. Ill link your blog at my present one.
Wish me luck wiht iLoveTheArtScene:)

Anonymous said...

When you have someone like the guy in the picture, who beats up his mother to get spending money, and has never held a real job and conned his way throughout much of his life, it's not a wonder why such places have difficulties thriving.

Nino Pujalte said...

Hi,

Yes, moving article.
Would you know where they moved, if they have? Or is there any other "independent art space" I can visit here in MetroManila? Thanks.

Nino Pujalte
www.bizidoc.com

Clarissa Chikiamco said...

Hi Nino,

They haven't moved though Gary Pastrana, one of the founders of FP, mentioned to me last month that he is thinking of opening a new (very small) space in Katipunan Ave.

Other independent art spaces you can visit - Cubicle Art Gallery (Stella Maris corner C. Raymundo Ave., Maybunga, Pasig), Green Papaya Art Projects (124A Maginhawa St., Teacher's Village, Quezon City), A.r.I.A.S. (LRI Building, Nicanor Garcia St., Makati), Blueroom Art Gallery (Lacuna corner Apolinario Sts., Bangkal, Makati).

Pablo and Blacksoup have stood ground and decided to remain at Marikina Shoe Expo. A new gallery opened there last May called White Box.

Hope this helps!

Clarissa Chikiamco said...

A much delayed reply to anonymous but anyway...

The guy in the picture?? Err... he wasn't running FP nor was he running any independent art space. Jeez, did you even read the article?

Btw, leaving your name as anonymous with your allegations is just um... plain rude. That's the crap of the internet. Any anonymous can just easily say anything without being responsible for it.