Art/Style/Travel Diaries

AAP’s Tahanan—a home that artists and art lovers built

The venerable 75-year-old Art Association of the Philippines finally has a home to reach out to young and needy artists

For 75 years, the Arts Association of the Philippines (AAP), an NGO devoted to supporting people who work in the fine arts, operated in a setting fraught with instability. It has been trying to sustain its activities while dealing with government agencies and individuals to host the group.

Finally, the 12,000-member AAP has a permanent home in Silang, Cavite, built entirely from the support of friends. “We have a Tahanan for our artists,” says AAP president Fidel Sarmiento. Weary of the “nomadic” operations, he and the AAP officers bravely initiated fundraising programs.

It will be inaugurated on Oct. 8, 2023, 4 p.m.

For so long, the AAP met in restaurants or members’ residences. “When I became president, I had the vision of having a permanent place,” Sarmiento says. At the turn of the millennium, AAP occupied a rent-free house along P. Guevarra Street, San Juan, for six months. The only material exchange was in the form of paintings.

A ‘tree’ grows through the building

Then the National Park Development Committee (NPDC) offered AAP a place at Rizal Park, which it occupied from  2002 to 2014. Rental payment came in the form of 12 paintings a month.

However, the NPDC eventually asked the AAP to leave, to give way to plans to develop a picnic grove. That development drove the AAP to become self-sufficient.

Sarmiento, who studied architecture at Mapua before shifting to fine arts at FEATI University, designed the AAP’s 200-sqm contemporary building. The roof deck for special events with a view of Silang, Cavite is a come-on in the two-story edifice. Artists can hold painting sessions and exhibits in the building, and paint murals along the sides of the property.

“Tahanan is literally a house with a kitchen, four bedrooms with bathrooms,” he says.

Well-lit, airy interiors—the better to display artworks

If an artist is making a 15-ft-high mural, one can stay in the rooms. “We have provided quarters for artists where the rates are a lot cheaper than accommodations in Tagaytay,” says Sarmiento in Filipino. “If there are artists from the provinces, the gallery can be turned into a sleep area. We received many beds from donors. They can stay for 10 days under our supervision.”

Hence, dorm-style sleepovers can accommodate as many as 30 people. “The members can experience bonding,” he says. “We made sure that everything would be comfortable.”

‘If there are artists from the provinces, the gallery can be turned into a sleeping area. We received many beds from donors’

 Tahanan will also serve as the national headquarters and education center. “We put up Tahanan to serve more artists who didn’t get the chance to go into the mainstream art scene. We can help put up an exhibit and introduce their talent to the public. A poor artist can’t break into a mainstream gallery. Artist groups who come to Manila but can’t afford to pay the gallery and hotel can stay here at minimal cost,” he says. AAP can guide them in negotiating with galleries.

Interns from Fine Arts schools can come to Tahanan to learn how to curate, put up an exhibit, make plates, and be guided on the content for their thesis.

Sarmiento has dedicated his art for the betterment of the arts community. He had hoped to become an Ibarra dela Rosa, the painter known for stylized realism. He taught briefly at Philippine Women’s University but refused to accept his salary, since the students either lacked motivation or were always absent. “I don’t think they learned anything from me.”

When he joined AAP in 1993, he observed that there was a generation gap between the senior artists and the juniors. “There should be equality. The neophytes should be guided,” he says.

Sculptor Ramon Orlina’s wife, Lay Ann, egged him to run for AAP president. Other members also endorsed him so that he could make changes.

During his first term from 2002 to 2008, he and the AAP officers reached out to the younger members to start creating a family culture. “The young artists were too shy. No more timidity. We asked about their problems. We guided them in painting, how to be professional, how to exhibit, communicate with galleries, and deal with collectors,” says Sarmiento.

The AAP mentoring has produced talents who have earned local and international recognition. Randalf Dilla’s homage to Juan Luna received three awards in the Art Renewal Center Salon Competition in the US. Abstractionist Max Balatbat won grand prize in the 2021 Florence Biennale. Rodelio “Toti” Cerda’s watercolors have been sold in auction houses. Filipino-Australian photographer Emmanuel Santos has exhibited fine art and documentary exhibits in many countries.

The center can even house artists with dorm-style accommodations.

Sarmiento started his second presidential term in AAP in 2010, and continues to serve now at age 63.

Teaching inmates was one of his biggest rewards. From 2014 to 2016, he visited the medium- and maximum-security areas of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. He shared his art materials with prisoners who had no access to them. After every session, he would leave his paintings that were used during his demo.

“I told them to sell these paintings to visitors so that they could earn. They raised enough funds to put up a gallery in New Bilibid,” says Sarmiento. He hopes that the government would support these artists. “They became productive during our lessons. Not all prisoners are bad. They are talented, but they became victims of circumstances.”

Sarmiento notes that the AAP reached out not only to prison inmates. “We have taught the Lumads, Aetas, PWDs. We want to share the arts with everyone, aside from the rich and the poor. If the mayor or congressman invites us to their community, that’s when we can share,” says Sarmiento.

For nine years, he has been teaching painting at the Sunshine Place, a recreational center for the senior community. Sarmiento veers away from the academic approach. “Since the students are seniors, I ask them what they want to achieve, what is their mood,” he says. “I’m more like a therapist. I discover what you have that you couldn’t bring out. Even in their mature age, they can express their identity.”

Sarmiento enjoyed the friendship of his students, not realizing that they had deep pockets. Now that they are artists, they wanted to return the favor by donating to the construction of Tahanan. Sarmiento thought they would contribute only P100,000. One donated P1.3 million, while another gave P300,000, and another, half a million pesos.

“They believed in the project and wanted to do their share. To this day, they ask what else is needed for Tahanan,” he says.

The AAP credits Cebu’s Michael Dino, former presidential adviser for the Visayas, for getting the ball rolling. After Typhoons Ondoy in 2009 and Yolanda in 2013, the AAP members donated their works for a fundraising auction called Artabang 1 and 2. Dino was grateful for AAP’s support in helping the Visayas after Yolanda. In return for AAP’s cooperation, he organized Artabang 3 in Cebu in 2019, which raised P4.5 million seed money for the construction of AAP’s new home.

 ”Ang Tahanan ay pinagtulungan at pinagmalasakitan ng mga tao (People cooperated and worked selflessly for Tahanan),” says Sarmiento. His college buddy, John Morales, an engineer, gave his contractor services pro bono.

Several spaces and a roof deck with a view are ideal for events.

When struggling artists can’t afford to pay the annual P300 membership fee, Sarmiento shows compassion. “I want to show the younger artists that you don’t need a lot of money to exhibit abroad. If you have the talent, someone will sponsor you. When there’s talent, there’s a future,” he says.

About author

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She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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