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Death of an independent art space?

ART XPRESS - ART XPRESS By Clarissa Chikiamco () - January 29, 2007 - 12:00am
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 the mercy of 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 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, amid the shoes and an authentic Italian restaurant, 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, 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 per month to P25,000 per month – a nearly 40 percent 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 counter offer was made but alas, too late. The artists behind this central space had a firm wakeup 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, that 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, two to three 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.

Pastrana 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 e-mail/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 five to six 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.
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Future Prospects is holding its closing party on the evening of Jan. 31.
ARANETA CENTER ART CUBAO X FUTURE FUTURE PROSPECTS MARIKINA SHOE EXPO ONE PASTRANA SPACE SPACES
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