For the past two years, our gallery Orange Project was working on big plans for 2020, especially with the homecoming of VIVA ExCon, a Visayan-based traveling exhibition-conference that we started here in Bacolod City 30 years ago. Art District, where Orange Project stands proudly, is to be the venue of most of the important exhibitions, installations and fellowship activities of VIVA come November 11 to 15 , 2020. Orange Project also had important exhibitions lined up for the whole year, including fundraising shows featuring some of the best artists in the country who are willing to donate their sales to VIVA ExCon. Shows by local Negrense artists were also in the pipeline. After all, Orange Project is the biggest professionally run gallery in Bacolod City.
Then COVID-19 happened.
We all took this particular reality in stride, hoping things will get better in no time. However, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better given the warnings of increasing number of Covid-19 patients in the news and a lockdown being presented as the only solution. Thus, ArtHeals was born.
ArtHeals was the hashtag I used when I posted my artworks on my personal Facebook page. These are artworks that I intended to bring positivity to my online friends at the start of the pandemic scare. Personally, art healed me when I went through a health crisis six years ago when I suffered from kidney failure which led to dialysis and eventually, a kidney transplant in 2014. Art helped get me through my own crisis mentally, emotionally and financially.
Before the start of the lockdowns, I saw people emptying the grocery shelves. It instilled fear in me and my first concern was the artists in our art community. How will they survive if the quarantine goes on for several weeks? My business partner, close artist friends and I then started to do the first wave of ArtHeals. For us, it wasn’t the time to think of the future. What was important was NOW. Using common and personal funds, we bought groceries and packed food relief bags to distribute to our local artists and employees around Art District. It was a beautiful and gratifying feeling to be able to help the art community.
Before we knew it, we were already moving on to our Second Wave of ArtHeals.
We gathered materials to make face shields and distributed them to artists to produce while under community quarantine in their own homes. When friends learned of our project, more donations came and we were able to produce 400 face shields and distributed them to the frontliners in our local hospitals. The rest of the funds were used to purchase food for the checkpoint frontliners.
Orange Project’s ArtHeals Third Wave came in no time as we put up ArtHeals Art Fundraising. With more than 50 artists signing up to help, we started to sell affordable artworks online. They all donated 50% of their artworks’ sales to a local foundation called Negros Volunteers for Change (NVC) that we felt had the best network of resources and beneficiaries. 40% of the sales went to the artists while the remaining 10% was divided among artists who were not able to sell and part of it will be spent for shipping the works to the buyers when the quarantine is over. It was the perfect arrangement, the artists survive through their art while helping the community at the same time.
Soon after, the Fourth Wave brought ArtHeals to the mountains of Silay City where we brought relief food packs to remote barangays where government aid was not able to reach. A total of 150 families were able to receive relief goods to last them another week before the quarantine is supposed to be lifted.
ArtHeals concluded operations on April 30. We decided it is now time to focus on the reality of what the world of ART can become with the COVID-19 hovering over the whole world. Up to when, no one knows. With the uncertainties unfolding before us, I feel this is what it is. We need to go on with our lives, living the “new normal.” With what is left of our funds, Orange Project will still go on. The plan is to still put up actual exhibitions but do it virtually at the same time for the benefit of the audience who cannot be physically be there to enjoy the shows.
VIVA ExCon will go on in November 2020. Funds will be spent in the upgrading of technology so we can set up virtual conferences and exhibitions. Just the same, artists and curators will still be participating, although not in what they are used to doing. Meetings will be held through video conferences for now and plans are underway to set up VIVA’s Virtual Conference Hall.
As an artist, along with all the artists in this world, I can still do my art in any situation I am in. The art trade, though, is a different story. What we are experiencing now is an eye opener for all of us. Can we adapt? Are we willing to accept this change? Technology will play a big role from this day onwards. Are we ready? These are questions we cannot turn our backs to.
But I remain hopeful that we are going to adapt to all the changes that we are going to face because somehow, someday, something good will come out of this. Because of this crisis, we pause and re-assess what is to come. The Philippines is a third world country and it is clear that the unseen enemy will not go away anytime soon. One choice is this: Live and let live… the dawn of the new normal.