Although Cuenca enjoys a well-earned reputation as Ecuador’s arts capital, Sonia Punin sees a problem.
“We are home to an international art biennale and have several artists with international reputations, but we also have many other talented artists who are struggling to get their work in front of the public,” she says. “It is a simple fact that it is impossible for undiscovered artists to make a living.”
On the other hand, she says, the public is deprived of seeing and supporting excellent art.
Punin’s solution? Bring the artists and art lovers together.
Last August, Punin and her husband, Danilo Suput, created Art Cuenca to connect artists and the public. They built a website and began offering group and individual tours, introducing the public to artists and providing visits to artist workshops and galleries.
The tours have been especially popular with the expat community, much of which was attracted to Cuenca because of the city’s strong artistic reputation. “There is great support for the arts among foreign residents and I enjoy offering a service that gives them to chance to meet and support some of our fabulous artists,” says Punin.
Cuenca resident and former U.S. newspaper art critic Sylvan Hardy says Art Cuenca provides a valuable service. “Cuenca is a great art market and the tours give art lovers the opportunity to build a collection that they might not otherwise have,” he says. “You find high quality artwork here that costs a fraction of what a collector would pay for similar quality in the U.S. or Europe.” He adds: “Besides this, the tours provide an educational service.”
The centerpiece of Art Cuenca´s tours, according to Punin, is showing artists at work.
“It´s fascinating to observe artists in their workshops and to see the process they use,” says Punin. “It’s one thing to see paintings on the wall or sculptures on shelves but to watch the artist actually create with paint, metal, wood or clay gives the art special meaning.”
The artists Punin showcases on her tours represent a range of styles and mediums and include painters, sculptors, jewelers and potters. Featured artists have been Miguel Illescas, Eduardo Segovia, Manuel Tarqui, Pablo Cordero, Miriam Carpio, Tania Francisca, Miriam Drake, José and Ivan Encalada and Hernan Illescas. Of these, Miguel Illescas, known as the “Iguana Man,” for the lizards he fashions out of metal, and Segovia, one of Ecuador’s most famous ceramicists, are probably the best known of the group.
Above all, Punin wants the tours to be fun, and it shows, say those who have participated. “She has done a fabulous job of mixing different mediums but also, in picking artists who enjoying meeting the public and showing off their work,” says Hardy. “These are artists who take genuine joy in their work and this makes the tours a pleasure.”
Punin describes herself as being more of a promoter than a creator. “I’m really not an artist although I grew up in the artistic tradition,” she says. From the time she was 12, she started directing her own theater plays and later, studied drama a Jacksonville State University in Alabama in the early 1990s, minoring in fine arts. Since then, she has worked as a drama teacher with one of Cuenca’s “Casa de la Cultura” drama companies, and has been a tour guide, hotel manager and Spanish teacher.
She credits her husband, a native of Serbia, for providing much of the inspiration behind Art Cuenca. “Danilo not only handles the website but comes up with great ideas for the tours, exhibitions and promotions,” Punin says. “He’s been an artist all of his life. He started playing piano when he was five, sang in a choir and played in a jazz band in the U.S.” Currently, Suput is a member of the Cuenca band La Doble.
On Thursday, March 22, Arts Cuenca is planning its biggest event yet, a party built around an art exhibition. The event, to be held at a local social club, will feature 15 artists and their work and will include food, drink and music. “We want people to have fun but also to have the opportunity to mingle with the artists.” Punin hopes to sell 120 tickets for the gala, which includes prize drawings for work contributed by the artists.
“We hope this is the first of many arts exhibitions organized around a party,” says Punin. “It’s a great way to support local artists and have fun at the same time.”
For more information about Art Cuenca, see www.ArtCuenca.com, or write Sonia Punin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 09 540 7853.
Credit: Reposted from the Miami Herald International Edition, March 14; photo captions: Cuenca’s Iguana Man, Miguel Illescas, entertains a tour group; Danilo Suput, Milan and Sonia Punin at a recent event.