Photo by Martin Espino

A Beginner’s Guide to the Iloilo Arts Scene

By Althea Villanueva

Carrying nothing else other than our dreams and faith, our family moved to Iloilo City on March 2012, which was made possible through the support of our relatives and friends, after living in the busy city life of Metro Manila.. From a couple of events that happened in my life before the move, I thought I already lost my passion and enthusiasm for art. I thought I lost all the love I had invested in my dreams since I was a kid.

Until one day, my fellow theatre member at school encouraged me to meet with his artist friends who were fond of helping aspiring artists like me to grow. Guess what’s the magic word he used just for me to say yes? “It’s for freeee!”

It was 2015 when I got involved with a certain Ilonggo art group. I realized I already found another family in them, but it took me another couple of years to finally decide to pursue this dream with the right amount of serious faith.

Since I stepped into the beauty of the City of Love years ago, I witnessed the growth of the local art scene. Fellow Ilonggo artists, carrying out-of-the-box ideas, have filled vacant spaces in streets, malls, museums, streets and various cafés with their brushes and paint.

manggad art exhibit booklatte Iloilo Carren Evangelista
A “Manggad” art exhibit by Carren Evangelista at BookLatte, Megaworld | Photo by Sasha Cabais

It’s easy to get lost in the universe cultivated by the Iloilo art community. Whether you are planning to acquaint yourself with minimalist or abstract works; or just know the difference between what it’s like to work on paper as opposed to canvas or the difference between watercolor and oil paints, I find the scene to be very welcoming to “newbies” like me.

For me, I have discovered a community of like-minded people, from amateurs-turned-professionals to seasoned artists, with golden hearts who are willing to help and mentor one another. As a result, this made today’s generation of Ilonggo artists become braver in discovering their own voices from the beat of their hearts.

Thanks to the supportiveness of this community, my fellow artists were encouraged to showcase their works in collective art shows and, later on, got to even organize their very own art exhibits.

HIMBON Contemporary Ilonggo Artists at SM City ARTSALE
HIMBON Contemporary Ilonggo Artists at SM City ARTSALE | Photo by Althea Villanueva

You might be wondering where to begin exploring Iloilo’s diverse art scene. Whether you do so as a beginning artist or as someone who is just interested in the culture, you would be surprised to learn how art has permeated every corner of our beloved Iloilo City. Come and see for yourself.

First Step: Art Inside the Shopping Malls

Going to a shopping mall has become a necessity for most Ilonggos. Because we all know that people love shopping, eating, doing errands, and meeting with friends in the mall, there is no doubt that artists and organizers took this as an opening for holding art exhibits inside these venues. And why not? Iloilo City has a lot of shopping malls today, and many more will be opening soon! Yay!

Some of the many art groups in Iloilo City, like the Himbon Contemporary Ilonggo Artists, have already established fruitful relationships with some of the major malls here. The beautiful thing about this is that many of these art groups showcase artworks of both premiere and amateur artists, with some doing it on a monthly basis.

If you happen to see panels filled with artworks, an emcee running a program, and cocktails served at 6 o’clock in the evening while inside a mall, then don’t hesitate to attend an art exhibit opening! The local artists would love to mingle with you.

Second Step: Museums, Art Galleries, and Alternative Exhibition Spaces

Going to museums may be boring to some. But not, I believe, in Iloilo City.

Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art ilomoca
Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art | Photo by Martin Espino

As someone who is always fond of discoveries and new learnings, I immediately looked forward to visiting museums and art exhibitions the first time my feet landed on Iloilo City. While Google helped me a lot in discovering many of these, the connections I made with some people from the art community made it easier. And, of course, discovering them with family and friends made it more meaningful.

Here are few of the museums, art galleries and alternative exhibition spaces that I have managed to explore with a friend or a family member so far:

  • Museo Iloilo at Bonifacio Drive
  • Gallery i at the 2nd Floor of E. Villanueva Building corner J.M. Basa and Aldeguer Street at the City Proper
  • ETNOS Gallery inside the Angelicum School at Tabuc Suba
  • FitStop at Diversion Road
  • Wooden Living Alternative Exhibition Space at Brgy. PHHC, Mandurriao
  • Iloilo City Gallery at the ground floor of Iloilo City Hall
  • BookLatte Alternative Exhibition Space in Festive Walk at Megaworld
  • Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts (ILOMOCA) at Megaworld
  • UPV Gallery in the University of the Philippines – Visayas campus along General Luna Street (this is currently in rehabilitation)

But wait! There’s more!

Third Step: Exploring the Iloilo Streets

Have you noticed how colorful Iloilo City became over the past few years?

A lot of it is because of the different murals decorating the city streets. And these are not just the “street art” you might be thinking of. The themes of these artworks range from the fantastic to realistic, and from the mundane to the political.

Every time I go out of the house, I would always go back to some of these murals because I love being mesmerized by the artists’ handiworks on some of the following sites:

atria iloilo mural
Parking Lot and Highways at Atria | Photo by Althea Villanueva

 

iloilo esplanade 2 mural
Esplanade 2 | Photo by Megan Cortez

As a city that has the “past in the present”, I have been a witness to the history of the City of Love, and I think none displayed it more than when I am walking in Iznart Street.

I find that Sunday mornings are the best time to walk at Iznart. There are lesser vehicles running back-and-forth, and I appreciated the wide road more as I walked along it while glancing at the skies, exploring the Spanish architectural designs of those preserved old buildings and imagining how they were originally envisioned. This mini-adventure would not be complete without a cheap, tasty taho from a hardworking vendor roaming the city.

It’s indeed a privilege and a gift to be an Ilongga living in Iloilo, because the city itself is a living testimony to how the different art scenes grew throughout the years. I have never been this grateful before to witnessing the booming of an art community that contributes so much towards one of the city’s great goals.

I find that Sunday mornings are the best time to walk at Iznart. There are lesser vehicles running back-and-forth, and I appreciated the wide road more as I walked along it while glancing at the skies, exploring the Spanish architectural designs of those preserved old buildings and imagining how they were originally envisioned. This mini-adventure would not be complete without a cheap, tasty taho from a hardworking vendor roaming the city.

It’s indeed a privilege and a gift to be an Ilongga living in Iloilo, because the city itself is a living testimony to how the different art scenes grew throughout the years. I have never been this grateful before to witnessing the booming of an art community that contributes so much towards one of the city’s great goals.

As citizens, we are catalysts of change. So, if you really want to help the Iloilo art community be recognized, it is not enough to just be a mere art enthusiast or a viewer. There are many ways that you can be an active part of said community. Whether you buy an affordable piece at an art sale, join open calls to painting on murals at a public space, engage in a weekend art workshop, or helping your community through an art project, you can contribute to helping the local art scene grow.

The artists, organizers, our private and public leaders, and even we ourselves are charged to realize the fruitful difference we are longing for. My hope and prayer is that every one of us, whether we are of pure Ilonggo descent or not, will be part of the wonderful projects that have been started in our city and our nation. Who knows where the next few years will take us?

But relax. Don’t be pressured. As I have discovered, it’s fine to start without knowing anything.



Althea Villanueva is a staff by weekdays, a volunteer on weekends, and a freelance writer and art-preneur by night.


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