Known for promoting new artists through simultaneous exhibits, the event has grown into a sustainable, community-wide showcase it’s co-founder and director, Tof Zapanta, can be proud of.
If it is true that you reap what you sow, then the minds behind Bloom Arts Festival must’ve sowed something of value to deserve what they are currently reaping.
I got a taste of that earlier this month. On a Thursday night at Dulo MNL in Poblacion, Makati, I found myself struggling to make an exit and answer a phone call after a dense and lively crowd gathered between me and the door. On my left, Mong Alcaraz had just ripped through the strings of a visibly new guitar while the rest of his bandmates from Sandwich intensely drowned the venue with deafening music. Behind them, posters of Absolut Vodka were sharing a wall with the photography of Cru Camara, and, in front of me, a girl was yelling something inaudible to the male companion leading her to the exit; something both of us only understood when we finally crossed the threshold and stepped into the vastly less crowded Guanzon street.
“Sabi ko hindi ako makahinga [I said couldn’t breathe,”] she repeated, ironically lighting a cigarette soon after. “Ang daming tao [There are a lot of people.]”
I was at Creo 4 that night. It’s a pre-festival gig and fundraiser to support Bloom, a once-a-year affair that promotes new artists by mounting their works at simultaneous exhibits in Metro Manila. It’ll be returning for its fourth year on November 23 to 25 involving 100 artists. And, as I peered through the window of Dulo, as I saw the artworks, the posters of the sponsors, and the packed, receptive crowd surrounding Sandwich, I got what felt like a preview of the festival’s features this year: art, music and rousing communal support. To Tof Zapanta, Bloom’s creative director, and co-founder, this is a sign that the efforts of him and his team are finally bearing fruit.
“Sustainability was a big issue for us,” he said later on after Creo 4 ended. “During the first two years, we had no sponsors and expenses were shouldered by me and my partner. But, this year and last year, it was much easier to get sponsors.” Sales have also been promising, he added. Last year, for example, Zapanta said that about 30 percent of the new artists featured by Bloom had their works bought allowing the festival to earn by way of commissions. Financially speaking, all of this (plus the earnings of the packed house that was Creo 4) meant at least that one thing: “[That] it’s becoming sustainable,” he said. “Now we have enough to put away for next year.” And it’s mostly because of the reception the festival has been getting.
Ever since Bloom launched back in 2012 as an event in Cubao Expo, the festival has become something of a vantage point for the state of local arts. Its decision to promote budding artists while mixing in a few established names allowed the project to have a wide range of aesthetics that has been attracting scores of people hunting either for interesting art or feed-worthy content. Meanwhile, its side-attractions, which in the past have involved local musicians and live painting, turned it into smaller, visual arts-centric equivalent of Fete De La Musique.
Now on its fourth outing, the festival has become popular enough to receive about 200 submissions following its open call for the exhibits this year. And according to Zapanta, not all of them came from the Metro. “There were a lot of submissions from, like, Bacolod,” he said. “Sometimes, from, like, out of the country they really send stuff as well.” For this year, Bloom also earned the support of 10 establishments in Poblacion that will be serving as the galleries. Dulo, for starters, will serve as the main venue by using the open space on its second floor. Supporting that show, meanwhile, are pocket exhibits at Run Rabbit Run, Kapwa, The Workshop, Yoi, Oto, Pineapple Lab, The Social, Lokal, and Commune.
Overall, the project is seeing some much welcome growth. “It’s picking up,” Zapanta said. He admitted that they’re still “working on a few things” to improve it but it has nonetheless evolved significantly from the sapling of an idea that it once was six years ago.
Like a lot of collaborative efforts in the local art scene, the idea for Bloom sprouted during a drinking session. It happened At Cubao’s Today x Future back in 2012. Zapanta along with DJ Sam Samonte and several of their art-loving collaborators thought of putting up an exhibit but the initial plan for it was a far cry from what it has become.
“We were very selfish at first,” Zapanta admitted. “We just thought it would be nice if we can have a big exhibit with all of our favorite artists. It was like that. ”
There was a problem with that plan, however. Like a lot of arts-related ventures in the Philippines, Bloom stumbled upon a shortage of cash. But what the group lacked in funding, they made up for with eagerness.
“We proposed the idea to a lot of creatives,” he said. “We told them we don’t have the budget. ‘We can’t pay you, but if you support the cause, let us know.” And they did. Free of charge, various parties gave their support for this budding art fair. Experienced exhibitors contributed their works to the festival to draw in crowds while establishments in Cubao Expo agreed to host the artworks to make Bloom a compound-wide exhibition. And that’s when it branched out to something less self-serving. With everyone they reached out to willing to help, the group thought about paying it forward.
“We’re doing something really big,” he shared. “So, we thought ‘why don’t we open it up to people like us?” People, he clarified, who have something to offer but do not necessarily have the connections or renown afforded by diplomas from popular fine arts schools. Zapanta, being an artist himself, fell into this category. He knew the struggle people in the local arts scene tend to go through and he wanted to do something to help them out.
“Everything is controlled by, like, galleries and stuff like that,” he said. “You have to have, like, a fine arts degree. So we were, like, ‘oh let’s make it easy for people to get in because we, ourselves, have been lucky enough to get into this scene without having all of those.”
And that soon became the foundation for Bloom’s concept: “a combination of our favorite artists,” he said, “the artists we look up to, and also, the new ones who want to get into the art business.”
Ever since it started, Bloom has experienced a lot of changes. On its second year in 2013, the festival moved from Cubao to Makati when The Collective hosted its second outing. It took a three-year hiatus after that (with the group doing nothing more than a small show in 2014) but it came back in a big way last year when, for its third outing, Zapanta partnered with Dulo’s co-founder Rae Lim Pineda to do shows in Poblacion. All things considered, however, its decision to focus on emerging artists remained intact.
“It’s all about them,” he said. And now that it’s in its fourth year, the festival intends to keep it that way.
“The main gallery will be for young artists,” he said. More specifically, the top 22 artists whose submissions this year stood out from the more than 200 portfolios that they received. Making up this list are five winners for the illustration category, five for photography, four for painting and drawing, three for video, three for new media, and two for toys and sculpture. Previews of such works are already available online and it seems that Dulo, this year, will be hosting an eclectic bunch.
“For paintings, there’s a lot of abstract going on,” he said, “which is really surprising because they’re new artists but they’re already dealing with abstraction which is a very advanced form of art.” There are also documentations, personal photographs expressing the search for peace, illustrations that look fresh out of a children’s book, and an image of a flowery mannequin donning a red crown reminiscent of drag queen Sasha Velour.
“There are a lot of political works also because of the political climate in the Philippines,” Zapanta said. And of course, there are the works from more experienced exhibitors. At Dulo, for instance, Mariano Ching, Kiko Escora and Pin Calacal will be showcasing some of their stuff. There will also be an installation exhibit to be put up by two of the winners of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artist Awards this year. There’s Zeus Bascon whose recent display at the CCP involved a collection of masks and garbs, and Rasel Trinidad, the artist also known as Doktor Karayom who presented at the same venue with a figure resembling a large dissected body.
“As of right now, we have a total of 100 artists [who will be] exhibiting, performing, and painting live during the festival,” he concluded. And there will also be live bands performing at the chosen venues. These include Pedicab, Squid 9, Outerhope, Oh Flamingo, Dayaw x August Wahh, BP Valenzuela, Rice Lucido, Rhxanders, Lustbass, Nathan and Mercury and Bagong Luto ni Enriquez.
“We have a lot going on,” he told me, but he still wishes that more can be done. For instance, Zapanta wanted to make Bloom more helpful to younger artists and in order to do that, he is considering the possibility of incorporating more talks and workshops in the future.
“The vision is to have more of a learning festival rather than just a show festival,” he said. “We’re slowly working towards more of a conference of sorts. Like, we’re inching towards having more workshops, having more talks. We’re still trying to figure it out.”
Apparently, Bloom is still a budding concept. It may have grown larger than it was initially but the minds behind it feel that it still has more potential. Nevertheless, it is an idea that has taken root and because of that, it is blossoming.