Activating Areté, Ateneo’s New Creative Hub, Through the Work of Student Artists

By having Ateneo’s Fine Arts majors take full advantage of its facilities, the school’s newest building roars to new life.

by Emil Hofileña


Since its opening in 2017, Areté, the Ateneo de Manila University’s new Fine Arts building and creative hub, has allowed the school to relocate several of its facilities to more accommodating locations, and has opened its doors to a whole range of interdisciplinary possibilities. The university’s Fine Arts Department and the Ateneo Art Gallery are now both based here, and various halls and function rooms throughout the four-story structure are used for additional seminars, exhibits, and a culinary institute currently in development. But for everything that has already happened inside Areté, nothing has made the building feel as alive as the recently concluded 2018 Fine Arts Festival. The week and a half-long celebration functioned as a culmination of the senior students’ studies, and as a showcase of how the space itself provides greater room for creativity and artistic expression.


To understand just how much difference Areté makes for the Fine Arts students, one has to remember that this is the first time they have ever had a building to themselves. Formerly based in Ateneo’s Gonzaga Hall, the Fine Arts Program (as it was known then) shared the space with the school cafeteria and another administrative office. Now, Areté serves the students first.


This was perhaps best seen in the Creative Writing (CW) students’ chapbook launch and fair, entitled Tahanan. In previous years, the CW seniors would have to book their own venue on campus where they could sell their self-published collections of fiction, essays, and poetry. However, they would have to vacate the venue after the launch and continue selling independently. This year, Tahanan was held at the lobby of Areté’s Innovation Wing, where the CW students were able to keep their chapbooks on sale until the very end of the festival. They also used the space as a stage on which to hold a series of readings, with every student from the graduating batch reading out excerpts from their respective chapbooks. Notable works included the frank minimalism of Harvey Garcia’s The Walrus and the Dinosaur, and the candid but elegant poetry of Helena Hontiveros Baraquel’s Before It Is Anything.


Tahanan: A collection of self-published chapbooks by CW seniors


Meanwhile, back at the Gonzaga Fine Arts Theater, the CW seniors taking the drama track premiered the one-act plays they had written through a series of stage readings, entitled Bunyi. Again, in previous years, the playwriting students were expected to produce their own full productions, making their theses far more expensive to complete, compared to their coursemates’ chapbooks. But this year, the limited space and resources at the students’ disposal helped place greater focus on the writing itself, brought to life through the assistance of a terrific pool of actors. Particularly memorable works included Kristine Padagdag’s lighthearted romantic comedy Wanted: Best Friend, and Chie de Leon’s emotional family drama Gaps and Borders.


Bunyi: A presentation and live reading of original scripts by CW seniors


Back at Areté, the Information Design (ID) students occupied the top three floors of the Innovation Wing with their own exhibit, Frontiers. While previous ID seniors had always been able to keep their theses on display for the duration of the festival, this was the first time their works had the multi-level space to be grouped into distinct blocks. These blocks were then organized into one large narrative threaded through a series of themes. The students had been tasked with finding design solutions to any local issue in the realms of health, education, culture, communication, politics, literacy, and other fields. The results were as varied: from an interactive guide that aims to improve road safety for children (Ligtas by Stacy King), to a website promoting street basketball leagues (Liga by Poj Gaerlan), to a kit aiding communication for parents of deaf children (Gestures by Dianne Aguas).


Frontiers: ID seniors’ design solutions for real-world problems


Over at the Ben Chan ArtSuite, located in Areté’s Arts Wing, the Art Management (AM) seniors presented their theses during a one-day public conference. The AM students’ papers covered topics ranging from sound art (an online survey by Wax Singson), to Filipiniana attire (an academic inquiry by Tenny Cayco), and women artists in abstraction (an exhibit curated by Alex Tuico). While the AM students’ theses were spread throughout and even outside the campus, several were still able to make use of Areté’s classrooms and computer terminals—specialized facilities that had not been previously available to Fine Arts students in the past.


Finally, the Theater Arts (TA) majors collaborated on Tanghalang Ateneo’s production of Lysistrata ng Bakwit, a comedy adapted from the work of the Greek playwright Aristophanes, translated by two CW majors, Sabrina Basilio and Gerald Manuel. The play also carried the distinction of being the first production to be staged at the Doreen Black Box in Areté’s Arts Wing. Lysistrata made full use of the theater’s 250-seater floor space in telling the story of a group of women seeking to end war in their land by denying all the men of sex—before the story is flipped on its head and held up to the audience as a dark mirror of current events. It’s a deliberately outrageous production that captures the kind of rawness and fervor that most Fine Arts majors can’t help but exhibit through their works. But now that they have a home in Areté, at least that passion has a real, exclusive physical space in which to be molded.


TA seniors and Tanghalang Ateneo’s ‘Lysistrata ng Bakwit’  | Photos by Roxan Cuacoy