BY MANICA C. TIGLAO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSEPH PASCUAL
Five years into operating Bellas Artes Projects, a non-profit foundation that aspires to—among other missions—make art less intimidating to as many Filipinos as possible, Jam Acuzar continues to allow her freethinking approach to guide the direction of her passion project.
It’s served her well thus far. BAP has successfully mounted exhibitions such as the recently concluded “Bruce Conner: Out of Body,” by the late American artist Bruce Conner, whose works were presented in a major show in the Philippines (and Southeast Asia) for the first time. Through her foundation, Acuzar also endeavors to support local and foreign talents in various stages of their careers with residency programs at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a collection of heritage houses in Bagac, Bataan. And in early 2017, Acuzar decided to launch Bellas Artes Outpost, a satellite space in Manila where works and exhibitions produced in Bataan could be showcased for an entirely new audience.
Acuzar, who studied art history at the American University of Paris and later earned a certificate in Art and Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, dabbled in fashion for a time, working as a studio manager for London-based fashion label Barbara Casasola. In 2013, when her parents requested that she return to the Philippines and be involved in the family business, Acuzar took the opportunity to present a compromise: She would work for the company, and in turn, they would sponsor her art project. “I decided to come back because I missed that side of me, of being around art,” she says. “And I think it was just finding the right space or role for me within the art world.”
I think a lot of people think of art as a collectible item, which it is, and it drives an economy, which is great. But I felt that my role in the ecosystem is to be able to provide a space that’s free from market forces and commercial interest.
What that would be did not become clear to Acuzar until she was back in Manila. Once she had been given permission to utilize the resources at the family-owned Las Casas, the idea of Bellas Artes Projects began to take shape in her mind. “I had to find a way to work around what was available to me at the time, and that’s how the artist residencies came about,” she says of her initial steps into establishing her non-profit foundation. “In the beginning, it was sort of like my weekend project, and we didn’t have a curator so we were doing very informal residencies.” Since bringing in an artistic director to serve two-year stints (Bellas Artes Projects’ founding artistic director, American curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, was succeeded by Colombian curator Inti Guerrero in July), the foundation’s residencies have become more focused, and Acuzar and Guerrero are deliberate when it comes to their choice of artists to invite to Bataan. The length of each residency, however, depends on the artist. “Some residencies end up in an artist’s talk at the outpost, while some end up doing large-scale installations or complete exhibitions. It’s artist-centric in that it depends on what the artist wants to do and finds interesting,” she says.
Here, Acuzar speaks to The Edition about the evolution of her original idea, and how she views her role in the artistic community.
What was your vision for Bellas Artes Projects, and how did the idea of building an outpost in Manila come about?
It was very simple—to build a collection of contemporary art and use a preserved heritage building as a space to show this collection. I wanted to build a museum in Escuela de Bellas Artes, which was one of the first fine arts academies in the Philippines. There were no heritage spaces that made room for contemporary art and I thought that would be an interesting dialogue. We slowly bought a few works, but I realized that one of the things that this kind of model lacks is real engagement with the artists, as well as engagement with the larger community. Because we have all these rooms available at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, I thought we could lend them to an artist who could stay there, live there, and work with our craftsmen onsite. The artist would be able to experiment and also mount a show in Bataan. Eventually, I realized it was a shame that not many people are able to experience the work because of the distance, as the art scene is in Manila. [We built Bellas Artes Outpost] as a satellite space for us to establish what we’re doing in the city.
How do you differentiate the experience at Bellas Artes Outpost from other art spaces in Manila? How did you come to realize that your contribution to the art scene would not be in the traditional exchange of support and profit?
Apart from university-run museums and artist-run spaces, there aren’t many institutions that are non-profit spaces where people can just walk in, and they don’t feel that they have to buy anything. We built our program so that it is catered to education rather than consumption. [The goal is] To be able to communicate that to the public—that there is that side of art that is not commercial. I think a lot of people think of art as a collectible item, which it is, and it drives an economy, which is great. But I felt that my role in the ecosystem is to be able to provide a space that’s free from market forces and commercial interest. I thought it would be interesting to set up something here where people can come and think about art for what it is, and be able to ask questions. We provide the Outpost and its library for talks, film screenings, research…like a community, or a hub for anyone interested. It’s one big experiment and we are still testing it out. What we’re trying to present here is a platform where people can discover new, different things through art, especially for a lot of artists, and for people interested in art, who can’t travel abroad and see museums. There’s quite a lot of people who are in the arts but who haven’t visited museums, and so we strive to bring museum-quality shows here.
There aren’t many art institutions that are non-profit spaces where people can just walk in, and they don’t feel that they have to buy anything. I thought it would be interesting to set up something here where people can come and think about art for what it is.
Besides helping introduce and cultivate emerging talent in the Philippines, how else do you hope to impact the local art scene?
I’m very interested in those that we can speak with who could potentially be interested in art, and how to involve more people into this community. There are a lot of people who understand the art scene, but there are also a lot of people who don’t know how to approach us at Bellas Artes Projects because we have nothing commercial to offer. It can be difficult. On some days, there will be 30 people coming in, which is amazing, but on some days there will be two people. What I’m hoping for is that viewers are getting more excited about seeing a variety of exhibitions, and that our artists are being more imaginative about what they’re going to show, and become excited to exercise their creativity without having to worry so much about market pressure.
What’s next for Bellas Artes Projects?
We’re slowly changing the format of Bellas Artes Outpost by transitioning from purely an exhibition space to an art academy. We’re still developing the program for that, and we’ll be launching it next year. It will be for people who want to learn more about art, or be part of workshops with our visiting artists. We bring all these talented artists here, and many of them also want to teach, so we want to be able to provide that opportunity. Because we’re a foundation, our aim is mainly education. It’s one big experiment.