Behind Every Great Artist is a Patron Who Makes Things Happen

Often operating behind the scenes, generous art patrons are the unsung heroes of the country’s blooming cultural scene. Here, they share the spotlight with their talented wards.
IMAGE Jinggo Montenejo


Before establishing Ballet Manila in 1995, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s very first scholars were her family’s houseboy and the son of her mother’s manicurist, whom she taught on the front porch of her home. That has evolved quite drastically throughout the years, culminating in Project Ballet Futures, the scholarship foundation set up by Lisa in 2008 for gifted but underprivileged dancers. Every four years, Lisa, alongside BM co-artistic director and ballet master Osias Barroso, personally auditions prospective dancers from nearby public schools. Lisa rattles off her initial criteria: Figure. Flexibility. The ability to jump and plie?. A sense of rhythm. From Project Ballet Futures’ pioneering batch of scholars in 2008 and 2009, two have emerged as a potential future premier danseur and prima ballerina. Jamil Montibon and Jessa Balote (pictured above) are Cinderella stories personified, having been plucked out of the grittiest parts of Tondo to join PBF. Both were finalists at the CCP’s 1st National Ballet Competition in 2014, and Jessa was a fifth-placer at the 2013 Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong. “They were promising from the start,” notes Lisa of the two dancers, “and they lived up to the promise. They stuck it out. It’s not just their physical abilities—a lot of their success has to do with character, discipline, and a sense of commitment.” 


Project Ballet Futures accepts donations in cash and in kind. balletmanila.com. ph; 525.5967; [email protected]



Former Miss Universe Margie Moran-Floirendo, a longtime philanthropist and advocate of peace in Mindanao, heads the Ballet Philippines board of trustees as president. The bulk of her role lies in leading fundraising efforts and building relationships with patrons. “I give the artistic department its necessary freedom, but I’m very much involved with the management of the executive and finance departments,” she says. “Managing our finances is an age-old challenge, but with the right attitude and appropriate planning, it will always be overcome.” The company has produced a number of distinguished alumni: Sofia Zobel Elizalde is now doing her part in promoting ballet with her STEPS Dance Studio, and Lisa Macuja Elizalde, a CCP artist-in-residence from 1986 to 1988, has established Ballet Manila. Another alumna, award-winning dancer Candice Adea, won first prize at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition to much fanfare, and is now a soloist at the Hong Kong Ballet. “It’s fulfilling to see our dancers win competitions and receive the recognition they deserve,” Margie says. “This kind of talent must be supported and shared with the world, and I’m very proud to be a part of that. With the increasing involvement of our alumni, there really is nowhere to go but up.”

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As executive director of the Lopez Museum and Library, head of logistics at ABS-CBN, and president of the Lopez Group Foundation, Cedie Lopez Vargas is simultaneously immersed in the corporate and philanthropic endeavors of the family business. At any given moment, Cedie is able to articulate her vision for each one, expressing a passion for corporate social responsibility that is beyond what is required of her supervisory role. One of the beneficiaries closest to Cedie is the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth, a thriving ensemble comprised of 50-plus young musicians aged 9 to 21 who auditioned or were chosen from youth bands in underprivileged communities in Malabon, Antipolo, Mandaluyong, and other municipalities. A shared advocacy between ABS-CBN chairman and Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra patron Gabby Lopez and Cedie’s brother, First Philippine Holdings chairman Piki Lopez, OFY members are given musical training, performance opportunities, and field trips to recitals at the Cultural Center of the Philippines administered by LGFI. “We provide them with other activities to get them more well-rounded and enhance the learning experience they receive here,” Cedie says. “It can only work to enrich the music they express themselves with.” And the experience isn’t merely an opportunity for the children to make music—it also serves as a mechanism to empower their families. “We like to deepen our engagement with their parents so that they aren’t only beneficiaries. Ultimately, they are stakeholders as well,” Cedie says. “The children exhibit a lot of talent coupled with a willingness to learn. We see them having a career path from here, and hopefully moving up the professional orchestra.”



A neurologist and the retired medical director of St. Luke’s Medical Center, Dr. Joven Cuanang has championed the cause of young artists for over three decades through his Boston Gallery, and now, the 1.3-hectare Pinto Museum in Antipolo designed by Tony Lean?o. Boston Gallery, curated by the late Bobi Valenzuela, served as the launching pad of many artists whose works now command sky-high prices at art fairs and auctions. But before everyone else, there was Joven. “I had the first crack at the young painters after the EDSA Revolution. No one was buying [Elmer] Borlongan, [Mark] Justiniani, [John] Santos...” Joven enumerates members of Salingpusa, the group of struggling artists he famously nurtured during their very early years. “You know, nobody builds museums for very young artists. So what happens to them?” Joven muses. “The whole point was to give them a chance.” Cuanang says that there was “absolutely no plan to ‘invest,’” and that he made his purchases simply to help them build careers. Joven bought painting after painting, and before he knew it, he had amassed a private collection that could well rival a public museum’s. Each piece is meaningful to him, he says, and the patron has yet to sell a single one, though Christie’s and Sotheby’s routinely come knocking. “There should be an instantaneous connection. When you connect, that’s it. The first instinct is always correct.” Joven’s sensibilities have yet to fail him—many of his anointed ones have become the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists awardees and risen to prominence following his support. “After they’ve progressed here, I let them go wherever they want, whether it’s abroad or with other galleries. My philosophy is that artists cannot—and should not—be cooped up in one place,” Joven says. “Fortunately, whenever I ask them to put on a show here, even after they’ve become famous, they always come back. This is their home.”



Silverlens, opened by Isa Lorenzo (right) over a decade ago, was initially established as a platform for photography to engage a new breed of collectors. 2004 was a very different time for the art scene, in contrast to the last few years, which have seen the market explode—a surprise for gallerists and collectors alike—and Isa and her partner Rachel Rillo have since built a reputation for having that rare pulse for artistic potential and market- ability. Isa, who holds a medical degree from the University of the Philippines and a masteral degree from New York’s The New School, and Rachel, who studied at San Francisco’s Academy of Art and worked as a photogra- pher in Hollywood, run quite the well-oiled machine at Silverlens. Their background as gallerists was learned on the job, and now Silverlens participates in six international art fairs a year, on average, collaborates with other galleries within the region, and manages exhibitions in Manila and at their Singapore out-post. According to the artists they represent, it helps that Isa and Rachel are artists first and foremost. “They understand that the process of making work is not a straightforward one,” says Patricia Perez Eustaquio. “What they brought to the local art scene is a professionalism in art handling, a support mechanism that allows artists to stay in their studios to work while they manage the rest.” In the process, Isa and Rachel have succeeded where others failed, or never even tried: Silverlens has lifted photography and contemporary art to collectible art forms in the Philippines. The gallerists’ knack for discovering and fostering talent in emerging artists come from a challenge to level with the rest of the world’s art scene. “I get a huge thrill from exhibitions that hit you in the gut. These emotional experiences in art are key,” Isa says. “Exhibitions that feel this way are the goal.”



Founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1963, the Asian Cultural Council fosters cultural relations between selected countries in Asia and the United States. ACC’s Philippine branch was set up in 2000, and since then it has sent more than 300 artists and scholars of various art mediums to fellowships and provided avenues to showcase their work internationally. Youngest among the board of trustees in the Philippines, which includes well-known supporters of the arts like Maribel Ongpin, Deanna Ongpin-Recto, Josie Natori, and Ernest Escaler, are Malu Gamboa and Rajo Laurel, who were invited to introduce a fresh perspective to fundraising for ACC Philippines.

With the rest of the board, Malu and Rajo are tasked with raising money for four to six Filipino artists yearly to attend courses and workshops or exhibit their work abroad. Typically, these artists are “among the top of their fields, the best of the best,” according to Malu, but may not have the funding to showcase their talent on the world stage. One such grantee was playwright and veteran director Chris Millado (above left), who mounted a production in New York in 2004 with ACC’s financial support. He has since gone on to assume the posts of vice-president and artistic director of the CCP. “We want them to go outside the country and network with fellow artists,” Malu says. “That exchange among peers, gallerists, professors— that is priceless. Then they can come back home, share those experiences, and add to the fiber of our arts and culture in the Philippines.”

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