November 2, 2004 (STAR) ARTSPEAK By Ramon E.S. Lerma - A museum is a powerful symbol of the importance society gives to the arts. As both a physical structure and professional organization, it also delivers a very powerful statement about the core beliefs and values of its principals as men and women committed to serving the public by providing a seat of learning, a center of culture, a source of civic pride.

Recently, ArtSpeak had the opportunity to sit down with the two ladies behind the renaissance of the Ayala Museum: Vicky Garchitorena, president of the Ayala Foundation, and Nina Baker, director of the Ayala Museum. As in all conversations regarding new, worthy endeavors, our repartee was expectedly charged, and brimming with promise.

Now that the opening festivities are over, and the eye-catching glass, steel and stone edifice at the corner of Makati Ave. and Dela Rosa St. has thrown its doors open to a public who have yet to grow accustomed to crossing over (literally) from the mall to the museum, expectation is high, and only time will tell – and history, judge – how the Ayala Museum utilizes its position as an institution with gravitas.

Philippine STAR: With the reemergence, so to speak, of the Ayala Museum, what now is your unique niche?

VICKY GARCHITORENA: First of all, we feel that we now have a facility in the Philippines that meets the standards of international museums and collectors. We can now bring in Philippine collections from abroad and assure these international institutions that all the conditions they look for in a partner institution are available here. At the same time, we would also like to position Philippine art and culture in the international stage. Now that we have a space three times larger than the old building, there’s so much more possibility and opportunity that we can explore.

In addition, the museum is situated in the mall where 200,000 to 300,000 people walk by our second floor entrance everyday. It’s unique. I don’t know where else in the world you have a museum in a mall or a mall in a museum. We hope that this sends the message that culture, history and arts is for everybody and should be part of our daily lives.

In terms of the exhibition programs that you have lined up for the Ayala Museum, is there necessarily a Philippine focus?

Garchitorena: Yes, Ayala Museum is first and foremost a museum of Philippine history, art and culture. However, we do not discount the possibility of bringing in exhibitions from other cultures since we are increasingly a global community and not all of our people can go abroad.

You mention that this is a museum of Philippine history and culture, are we talking about its entire length and breadth?

Garchitorena: Well, we do want to look at it as a whole universe that is open to us. On the history side, we have of course our collections of dioramas of Philippine history. They have been enhanced with multimedia presentations that give a new dimension to the museum experience whereby visitors enter a living diorama of the Martial Law years and the People Power revolution. We feel that this would make it a little more exciting for the kids rather than just viewing figures, even though they are by themselves real works of art. In addition, we have the shipping galleons trade boat exhibitions and our ethnographic collection.

Certainly whenever you have a new edifice, you know the curiosity factor is there and you will get your groups in the beginning. How do you sustain that interest?

Garchitorena: For one, we will continue our educational programs to develop the interest among the youth and even adults who are interested in arts. And because of our unique location, we will try to have programs that actually respond to all audiences: The young, the yuppies, office-goers, families, etc. New exhibitions are lined up. We plan to gather a select number of Philippine paintings and sculpture from the permanent collection of the Singapore Art Museum (Crossings: Philippine Works from the Singapore Art Museum opens Nov. 8, and is part of Zero-in: Transitions – ArtSpeak). Next year, we will have a program on Wednesday nights at the museum where we will have performances by small groups like jazz bands, poetry reading sessions, ballet, or film showings. Hopefully, this will create a new audience of museum visitors from among the mallgoers. It’s a very exciting part of our future programs.

Another thing that we would like to pursue is a program aimed at improving the professionalism of managers of museums and similar institutions. For our inauguration, for instance, our partners from the New York Public Library, the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago generously and graciously agreed to give lectures to members of our local cultural institutions.

I know you have a patron’s circle. Can you tell me more about that?

Garchitorena: The big challenge in the cultural world is how to develop financial sustainability. The Patron’s Circle is really one way to bring in families, individuals and institutions to help us think through and create programs that they feel would resonate with society and at the same time help Ayala Foundation support the Museum. While the Ayala group, mainly through Ayala Corporation and Ayala Land, has put in the resources to construct this facility and to sustain it, we do want the Museum to be a partnership with the rest of our society and art-loving public. Together we can accomplish many activities that will redound ultimately to the benefit of the Filipino.

I was asking Vicky what the unique niche of the Ayala museum is. Extending the question somewhat, if I may be so corporate about it, what is its mission and vision?

NINA BAKER: In line with the Ayala Foundation’s mission to eradicate all forms of poverty, our mission has always been to contribute to the spiritual nourishment of the country and to help build and define our identity as a people. We are trying to go a step further and situate ourselves in an international context as well.

I guess it is best expressed in the phrase that we have, which is "recollecting our past, representing the future." By recollecting we mean not merely remembering the past but also physically recollecting our past in the forms of various collections that are scattered in different parts of the world and bringing them back for the local audience; because not all Filipinos have the opportunity to go overseas and see these collections. They are usually hidden in vaults and sometimes even the institutions are not aware that they own these treasures. Now that we have the facility, the conservation capability, the temperature control and the security capability, we want to forge partnerships with these institutions so they can entrust their collections to us.

Yes, I was going to get to that…

Baker: That is what this new building is addressing and we’ve been very careful and very particular about the systems that are in place. So we’re very confident that when we borrow from an institution, we know that we have the capacity to conform with their requirements.

And that is why when we assemble these collections for the local audience, we represent our future by showcasing them in a different light and in a global context. Because if we want to be part of a global community and break into their consciousness we need to be aware of what the trends are, where these art communities are headed, and what issues have been addressed by contemporary artists or are being addressed overseas. We don’t want to be 10 to 20 years lagging behind and trying to solve a problem that has been already resolved by an artist in the West, so we want to situate Philippine art, both contemporary and traditional,

Moreover, I think it is very critical for contemporary artists to be able to see where their art falls in the global arena. That is why we are also open to having a two-way exchange where we can send our local artists overseas and at the same time bring traveling exhibitions from foreign countries for the local audience and artists to appreciate and digest. For example, in 2005 we are hosting the Federation of the Asian Artists’ international exhibition. I think the last time that it was held here was in 1994. Eleven countries will be participating and it is really interesting to see how the different Asian artists are trying to address certain social issues or aesthetic problems in their own ways. I think it would help us situate ourselves and discern the path we would take towards the future.

Speaking of meeting international standards for museums… could you identify particular features of the Ayala Museum that shows it to be adapted to the tropics. As I am sure you well know, our climate presents… certain difficulties in so far as the collection and display of certain works are concerned.

Baker: Unfortunately we haven’t gone as far as designing a building where air-conditioning is not required although I do know that it is possible in countries like Canada and Australia.

For the new Ayala Museum, we have in place precision air-conditioning and a humidity control system. I think the most important thing for the objects is just to maintain the stability, just have a stable environment whether it’s 20C to 25C. Also in terms of security, we have a very sophisticated security system. We have cameras that monitor every single movement. There are motion sensors and alarms on the exhibition pieces that are very sensitive to touch. And of course, we have the old-fashioned stanchions and human control systems.

In terms of sustaining visitorship, I can imagine that part of it would have something to do with your exhibition and public programs. Could you tell me more about the shows that you have just opened?

Baker: First is the exhibition on Philippine art in ivory from the 16th to the 19th century called Power + Faith + Image. This is the largest ever exhibition assembled in this topic: Almost 400 ivory pieces from various institutional and private collectors. It is unlikely that will ever happen again because many of these collectors are very hesitant about showing their collections in public.

Then we have Multiple Originals, Original Multiples: 19th Century Images of Philippine Costumes. We have three major loans from overseas and these are collections that have never left their institutions. These are the Damian Domingo watercolor album belonging to the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Justiniano Asuncion watercolor album of the New York Public Library (which is being lent for the first time), and the Leiden Museum of Ethnology collection of 18th to 19th century costumes. And because the materials must have limited exposure to light, they will not be exhibited again for another 10 years.

I am very confident that we can sustain the visitorship with just these two very important exhibits because people will not likely see these things again in their lifetime and will probably want to keep coming back and take advantage of the fact that they are here.

In addition, on the third floor, we have the Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel collections. And again a lot of these have not been exhibited for an extended period of time.

Your "Carozza" is there. (The painting, by Fernando Zóbel, is on loan from the Ateneo Art Gallery. For more information regarding the artist, the Filipinas Heritage Library has created a website – ArtSpeak)

This is the first time that it [has] traveled outside the Ateneo. I am very happy about where it is placed! Now that you’ve mentioned those four shows, how do you propose to get the word out there, how do you plan to market these?

Baker: We do have other programs that are designed to sustain interest in the exhibitions. We will have lectures by scholars geared towards museum professionals as well as family programs. All the events and programs that we plan will be anchored on the ongoing exhibitions.

And this includes the dioramas, which we’ve updated. We also plan to have roundtable discussions among historians to revisit them – how our history was interpreted in the past, why are dioramas designed that way and why focus on certain perspectives. There’s also something for the children as well to make them more aware of our history, encourage them to be more analytical and critical in their thinking rather than just memorizing the past and the dates. We put images of the heroes so they can "measure" themselves against the heroes to make the diorama experience fun and interactive.

Let’s talk about public access…

Baker: The regular rate is P350 for adults and P250 for children. But local residents get a discounted rate of P75 for children and P150 for adults. The rates are low compared to international standards, which may be US$10 dollars or above.

As far as the relationship of the Ayala Foundation and the Ayala Museum is concerned, in terms of approving the exhibitions you present, how much say does the Foundation have?

Baker: The museum is a division of the Ayala Foundation. We maintain a degree of independence in terms of setting up our own plans and programs but we are also sensitive to the implications of what we do. Every year, we present our programs to the foundation, which in turn elevates issues to its board of trustees.

Do you accept proposals… let’s say from local curators?

Baker: Oh, certainly. Certainly!

So you do have exhibition spaces available? It’s important to get the word out about that as well!

Baker: Yes. It’s also a balancing act because while we are very open to collaborations and ideas, we also have the financial aspects to work on. And while we are grateful for generous offers of loans or gifts, we also have to incur additional cost on our part to maintain the collection.

Final question, where do you see the museum in 10 years? What does Ayala Museum aspire to be?

Baker: What do we aspire for? Obviously we want Ayala Museum to be the best in the country (laughs)! Our vision for the Museum is to be an international, world-class museum. I am very proud to say and very lucky to have inherited such a stable institution supported by Ayala Foundation and Ayala Corporation and thus the entire Ayala group of companies.

I think the task that lies before us now is to professionalize the museum practice. You know we are in short supply of people with formal training on how to run a museum. We’d like to play a role in increasing the capability of our local professionals. We are very supportive of our staff getting training locally and overseas, supporting their application for grants, and exposing them.

Ten years from now, we would like to see a very stable museum where all the systems are in place. The procedures conform to international procedures. The cataloguing system has been cleaned up so that we can talk to colleagues in the US, Europe or Asia in the same language. The conservation systems are in place so that concerns are routinely addressed instead of requiring extra effort to meet their standards.

Most importantly, we would have active programming that is expertly replicated internationally to better facilitate incoming loans and traveling exhibits. People have been so supportive. While it has taken us three to four years to lay the groundwork for partnership with institutions and it is now all bearing fruit. We have broken new ground with these inaugural exhibits and we would like carry on our reputation as a valuable institution. Foreign institutions can send their collections to the Philippines and be sure that they will get them back in one piece.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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