“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
Instituto Buena Bista (‘IBB’), Curaçao’s Center for Contemporary Art was founded by visual artists Tirzo Martha and David Bade in 2006 to create a robust platform for art education and prepare aspiring artist for art academy and a sustainable career in the arts. Over the course of two years IBB’s approximately 25 students per class participate in as many as 16 two-week workshops taught by domestic artists and international artists-in-residence, receive ‘senior’ artist mentorship, participate in at least one international exchange and provide assistance to Capriles Psychiatric Clinic’s patients enrolled in art therapy programs. “IBB is much more than a two-year pre-college artistic incubation: we bring people together around art and aim to create a lifelong support system for Curaçao’s artists, a community that keeps on giving,” says Martha.
The majority of IBB’s students tend to grow up under challenging socioeconomic circumstances, struggling their way through school with few or no role models to look up to. The upside of their experience is that they tend to have lots of creative fodder to harvest and constantly envision change. IBB’s curriculum and faculty facilitates both talent and personal development, because the artistic process depends on consistent production: “artists must remain highly motivated and practice unwavering discipline… they must also have thick skin and deep conviction.”
Martha and Bade, both internationally acclaimed artists, serve as role models, teachers, mentors and facilitate access to ‘art world’ connections to develop students’ future careers. They have secured subsidies from Netherlands-based Stichting Doen and the Mondriaan Fund and have implemented a system whereby students receive need-based scholarships from private sector and individual sponsors in return for a piece of artwork. “Students feel valued… they really light up when they see their work exhibited in sponsors’ office buildings and homes… their art gives them access they never thought possible [before enrolling at IBB],” says Martha.
Though ‘Curaçao’ serves as IBB’s equatorial multicultural backdrop, it has drawn over 40 international artists-in-residence, such as Kara Walker (professor of visual arts in the MFA program at Columbia University) and Guillermo Gomez Pena, who bring new and different perspectives to the students. In fact, ‘Curaçao’ is hardly recognizable in students’ work. Martha recalls a recent landscape assignments where students overlooked Curaçao’s ubiquitous goats and cacti in favor of the exotic… “they lose touch with their surroundings, but it’s normal … we want our students to draw inspiration from a variety of sources [gained through international workshops, etc]… but most importantly, we want them to return to their creative essence, develop their unique artistic soul, create their own identity…” Martha’s guess is that ‘Curaçao’ will feature prominently in students’ identities over the course of time.
IBB has developed collaborations with six art academies in the Netherlands and a partnership with The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague to facilitate exchanges. These seven academies have agreed to waive their HAVO diploma requirement to admit IBB students who pass an IQ test [most IBB students don’t have a HAVO diploma]. Martha and Bade maintain close relationships with faculty and are able to provide personalized guidance and placement to students: “we help them get settled in the Netherlands, make sense of challenging assignments, manage language and cultural barriers, encourage them to improve the quality of their work… we’re there for them 24/7.”
And museums and art festivals are starting to take notice.
ArtPie / Kunstvlaai [Festival of Independents in Amsterdam] has been exhibiting IBB students and alums for the past two years. “Bade and I want our students to aspire to our level of quality and content, so that they can go on to receive commissions, teach workshops, exhibit internationally, shape the future of IBB” and they have unwavering belief in their students: “if we can do it, so can they.”
IBB’s Kunstvlaai 2012 submissions, theme “INexactly THIS”. The exposition compiles contributions of over 70 independent art institutions, art schools and artist-led initiatives presenting live arts, exhibitions, film screenings, archival presentations, lectures and workshops.
Though Martha didn’t have a mentor growing up, he considers himself very lucky to have had supportive parents and remains a firm believer in charting one’s own course in life, despite what naysayers may say. “The fact that I’m sitting here today [in Curaçao] … 23 years [after returning from studying in the Netherlands] goes to show: I support myself, I travel, I exhibit all over the place,… it really just depends on where you feel most comfortable expressing yourself… if your work is good, then the projects, exhibits, commissions etc will follow.”
IBB and its stakeholders are betting on Curaçao’s vast artistic endowment as well as the island’s ability to function as ‘artistic expression catalyzer’. “We’re trying to build self-esteem among Curaçao’s aspiring artists, we hope they’ll pay it forward.” So far, so good: IBB alums Cleo de Brabander and Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata have both returned to teach workshops at IBB after they graduated from the Design and Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands, respectively.