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Local art gallery provides ‘jump-off point’ for homegrown artists

By Mary Judaline Partlow

DUMAGUETE CITY – As the country celebrates National Arts Month, a local art gallery in this capital of Negros Oriental province endeavors to provide space and a jump-off point for homegrown artists who have fewer opportunities in the highly competitive national art scene.

Arté Café/Gallery/Workshop, owned and managed by 30-year-old Sabrina Skye Diago Benito, has been an exhibit venue for more than a year now and caters to more than 50 local artists.

Benito, an artist herself, said a majority of them are from here, while others are from outside Negros Oriental.

Not all of them have had the chance to promote their artworks, much less be known in the local art scene, she said.

But some have been able to “spread their wings already” after starting as a featured artist in Arté Gallery, said the artist from Bais City, Negros Oriental.

“I hope that enthusiasts and the general public will support local artists by coming to visit Arté Gallery and appreciate the displays, help promote the local art scene, and even buy one or two of their artworks,” Benito said.

The gallery’s youngest exhibitor is a 17-year-old senior high school student whose watercolor painting hangs on one of the inner walls of the gallery.

Benito shared her dream of helping fellow artists continue their craft and forge ahead amid the challenges.

There are a few galleries here and most of them are either “exclusive” or have stringent curating processes that usually make budding artists feel left out, she said.

Risky business

Benito, whose love for art began in grade school and was formalized when she took up Fine Arts at Silliman University, admitted that running the gallery has its business risks.

She, however, hopes to see it grow.

She describes the mood of her art gallery as fun, cozy, friendly, and homey.

The establishment not only exhibits artworks or serves coffee and snacks, but is also a venue for workshops and displays locally made crafts and souvenirs.

Benito said she curates the items that go on display, carefully poring over tons of applications and art samples before deciding which ones get featured in a particular show.

Arté Gallery holds at least two shows a month with varying themes and the participating artists freely come and go, depending on their availability and with the approval of the curator.

“It’s tough running the gallery when I am also managing the Dekada Negros restaurant owned by our family while also handling the social media aspect of the businesses,” the artist-cum-entrepreneur said.

She juggles her time between the restaurant on the ground floor and the gallery on the 2nd floor of the family-owned building situated along Rizal Boulevard.

She said the gallery is not earning much compared to other visual arts outlets in the province and that she only gets a small percentage of commission from sales.

She, however, emphasized that the business side is only second to her passion for art and helping local artists.

Arts Month celebration

Arté Fair 2024 runs from Feb. 10 to March 17, showcasing the talents of Cil Flores, Angelo delos Santos, Yul Gabriel Dionson, Wilmer, Torres, Hannah Ragay, and Francis Dafielmoto this National Arts Month.

Flores, a self-taught artist who now exhibits some of her paintings in well-known outlets like Metro Gallery in San Juan in Metro Manila, thanked Benito and her art gallery for helping promote her art pieces.

She said Arté Gallery is the best place for local artists looking for a “safe space” where they could promote their works while aiming for greater heights.

Meanwhile, the gallery has lined up other activities for the celebration of National Arts Month.

These include creative bazaars with merchandise from local artists and crafters and a “Law of Attraction” workshop by Carla Florin, with business hours open from Tuesday to Sunday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. with free admission.

Benito said she holds art classes once in a while but hopes to make it regular soon, with local artists perhaps being invited to also share their talents.

Her biggest hope would be for the local community to visit and promote the gallery regularly in support of local artists and their art.

“I just hope the art scene in Dumaguete will start picking up and that we will be getting more and more collectors who can get to know our artists here,” Benito said. (PNA)

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