At the Jesuit-run academic institution Ateneo de Manila University, all forms of art are held in high regard and are hoped to be significant enough to inspire change in society no matter how minute. In one small theater, a collegiate acting troupe performs a play about young Rizal; in another hall, poets exchange verses about extrajudicial killings; and in a gallery, artworks convey acute observations for us to ponder on. This is the milieu that Ateneo’s newest building, Areté, was born into when it finally opened its doors—well, at least part of it—last September.
Taking its name from the Greek word for excellence or moral virtue, Areté’s operations are overseen by executive director Yael Buencamino-Borromeo, formerly of the Ateneo Art Gallery. The new building consists of two wings—the Innovation Wing and Arts Wing—connected by a bridge, an appropriate metaphor for its mission to combine both disciplines. One side, also known as the George SK Ty Learning Innovation Wing, houses non-traditional classrooms where the most novel ideas will soon be brewed. These rooms have let go of the usual set-up where an elevated teacher’s table is in front, commanding respect from the students seated on armchairs. Instead, trapezoidal tables are spread out within the four corners which the students can mix and match depending on their needs. The Innovation Wing also has a couple of dance studios complete with sprung floors, a painting room that boasts artificial sunlight, the Eduardo J. Aboitiz Sandbox Zone which serves as a function hall, and the Ateneo-Le Cordon Bleu Institute which will soon offer a course on Restaurant Entrepreneurship. (It will be run independently from the university, we are told).
The other side of Areté, the Arts Wing, is yet to be completed, but the opening of the Ateneo Art Gallery this past October at its newest home portends nothing but great things for this future creativity hub. From having a small space in the old Rizal Library Special Collections Building, the new AAG, run by gallery director Victoria “Boots” Herrera, now occupies three whole floors that are perfect to hold its collection of more than a thousand modern art pieces. Three halls are dedicated to a permanent exhibition that surveys the progress of Philippine modern art, which can serve as a visual complement to art history classes. The other galleries are for rotating exhibits, which Ateneo Art Gallery carefully curates to give equal opportunity to both the established Filipino artists and up-and-coming ones in the Philippine art landscape.
To prove this, the gallery debuted with the 2017 Ateneo Art Awards exhibit and “Mutable Truths: Perspectives in Philippine Contemporary Art,” which ran until early in December. The first showcased the talent of this year’s 12 Ateneo Art Award nominees, including the winners of the Fernando Zobel Prizes for Visual Art, Cian Dayrit, Gale Encarnacion, and Costantino Zicarelli. The second exhibit was the product of the artist residency of 10 Filipinos at the La Trobe Art Institute in Bendigo, Australia.
In February 2018, students, artists, and guests will see the Areté in its full glory—complete with a 900-seat proscenium theater, a black box theater, and an outdoor amphitheater. By then, Ateneo de Manila University will fortify its reputation as one of the bastions of Philippine art and innovation in that side of the city. University Road, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City; 426.6001 ext. 5391; @AreteAteneo on Facebook.
This story was originally published in the December 2017 - January 2018 issue of Town&Country.