"Blood is thicker than water" is actually an incomplete saying. Most people utter it to emphasize the superiority of familial relations over platonic friendships, but that's wrong. The correct saying is "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb"—which is the complete inverse of the popular adage. And even though whoever coined it couldn't have possibly considered the committedness of alumni to their alma mater, you can’t deny the universities in this country are pretty hardcore about that stuff.
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The Xavier Art Fest at Xavier School in San Juan, the Jesuit-run Catholic college preparatory school for boys, has been ongoing for five years. Each year it is spearheaded and organized by that particular year’s homecoming batch. If you're 25 years outta high school, your alumnus cred is put to the test, as you help organize an event that gathers some of the most recognized artists and galleries together in a single space. Or in the case of this edition, two spaces. This year, the event is called Xavier (xICA) Art Fest 2019, which brings the all-boys schoool and the all-girls ICA (Immaculate Conception Academy) communities for a fundraiser that takes place in both schools, making art more accessible for people inside and outside of that circle.
After five years of existence, the fair has already carved an image of being a haven for collectors, attracting buyers from outside the academe’s radar. But as Ken Chua, the head organizer puts it, "It is still a fundraising project. For the school, for the project, for the teachers themselves." Ken, who has been collecting art as early as high school, owes his passion to art partly to his early exposure to artists and the 90s art spaces. "It used to be the galleries were still in the mall, and you'd be walking around in the malls, and you would see the different galleries. That's what started it off for me."
Ken is organizing this year's Art Fest with his wife, Pia Chua. They graduated from Xavier and ICA respectively. "The school is so excited. They want to expose the community, the families, the kids, to the arts," Pia tells me.
And what a lineup these families are getting. In Xavier's Multipurpose Center, premier galleries such as Art Informal, Tin-Aw, Blanc, and Finale Art File display their paintings and sculptures. In ICA's sports center, an extremely spacious covered courts-style space large enough to accommodate grand-scale artworks, various individual artists get to display their work. Renowned artists such as Tiffany Lafuente and Christina Dy, also featured, are alumni of ICA. Suffice it to say they really look after their own here. "It's one really big community. Most of the people really know each other and want to support each other," Ken says. "That big network allows us to do such big projects."
This is probably one reason you don't see events of this scale or nature being conducted by other private universities, even though those institutions flex in other ways with their networks.
This year's Art Fest is comparable to the likes of the city's larger art events, like Art in the Park or Manila Art Fair. That something of such a scale could be put together in such a space is a testament to the power of community, and how vast networks that overlap with other circles can come together and make things happen.
The two-day event began Saturday and ends today. Today’s itinerary includes a concert by Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra, and other young musicians. This event is also for the kids, after all, and another function of this fest is to empower the youth through art appreciation.
But perhaps the main highlight of this event is the silent auction happening in the Xavier side of the fest. Through the silent auction, anybody can quietly submit their bids. In this way, people who normally don’t get the chance to bid and own art gain another point of entry.
In the Art Fest's first year, it was known simply as a fundraiser, but has now come into its own as a hotspot for serious collectors. On how the event came to this point, Pia tells me: "We have an amazing selection of the galleries who have their own following, and artists with their own following. When their collectors and their followers find out they're all going to be together in the Art Fest, everyone comes here quite excited." It helped also that Ken asked the online auction effort of Dr. Steve Lim called Art Rocks to promote the fair to his member collectors. Now real collectors scout the Xavier fair for finds. Galleries also don’t have to pay rent for their spaces, unlike in the bigger art fairs, which is most likely why even the top brass ones book a spot.
The silent auction, now only on its second year, has become a major attraction. The current harvest features some of the most acclaimed contemporary artists in the country, including the likes of Zean Cabangis, Pancho Francisco, and Buen Calubayan. This is an event that has everything art lovers look forward to, such as well-curated displays and a friendly crowd, but it isn't burdened by the insufferable foot traffic that other art events of such as scale are known for.
Plus, there's a free shuttle service that can easily take guests back and forth between ICA and Xavier. Have a look, and you might get a glimpse of the real beauty that defines this art fest: the value of community.