idiomART's New Bigger, Bolder Creative Center

idiomART’s New Bigger, Bolder Creative Center

idiomART has been a mainstay of the expat creative scene for many years now. Recent growth has forced a decision to move to larger premises to better serve the expanding number of artists, events & workshops that call idiomART home.

Whilst the move might seem like an obvious one given their increased offerings, it’s equally obvious that idiomART’s new director, Sarah HB, is careful to ensure the original essence of idiomART lives on at the new premises.

We had a chat with the bubbly Sarah HB to dig into some of the key questions surrounding their impending move, what to expect from the new location & their launch plans for June 8th.

A quick disclaimer – this article is unashamedly biased. idiomART is a member of YapaTree’s Discount Card program because we really like what they bring to the Cuenca community. Now, we’re taking this one step further by having our headquarters located at idiomART’s new location – but more on this later.

Right! Let’s do this.

The need for a bigger home

Packed Garden Session at the old idiomART
A packed Garden Session at the old idiomART

Packing up the memories created at the ‘old’ idiomART was not an easy decision. In particular, moving away from the popular outdoor garden setting is tough for some of idiomART’s long-term members.

For Sarah, the move really came down to two core issues:

1. Más espacio

Sarah told us, “Since I’ve taken over in August, I’ve expanded the programming. And we’ve just gotten to a point where there were too many activities happening at once or there wasn’t enough room for the things we were doing.

Also, some of the things I’d like to do in the space we’ve been in just weren’t adequate for it. It just didn’t work. So I needed to find a place that was bigger, more open, and would be better for the different things I’d like to do.

The newer location certainly has a lot more usable space and includes several larger rooms for workshops & other group activities. This should help ease the congestion that would sometimes occur due to having overlapping events (ie Spanish lessons, workshops & art exhibits all happening at once).

2. Ubicación Céntrica

Tranvia right outside the new idiomART
The Tranvia stops right out the front of the new idiomART

idiomART was previously located to the east of El Centro in an area best known for buying car parts & accessories (we know this area too well…). It was just that bit too far for some visitors to make the effort:

The other reason is the location. A lot of people have made comments about how our older place is just too far away or hard to find any parking.

So I started looking in the area where we’re moving to because first of all, it’s a good location and it’s also a place that’s kind of up and coming in the art scene. So it feels like it’s got a hip art vibe going on.

It’s still very local, but there’s also a nice diversity of people in the area. So it’s just a really cool place. And of course, with the tram right there, it just makes it super accessible for a lot of people.

The new location is certainly much better poised for those living in El Centro, Zona Rosa, Gringolandia etc. Being directly on the tram line with more foot traffic should also increase the number of walk-ins that enter out of pure curiosity.

The large wooden door at the entrance will be open during idiomART’s core business hours:

  • Tues – Thurs: 11:00am – 3:00pm
  • Fri – Sat: 11:00am – 5:00pm
  • Sun – Mon: Closed

Outside of these hours, guests of individual painters & businesses (such as our clients etc) are still welcome to visit, but you’ll need to organize access directly with the person/business you’re visiting.

What to expect from the new space?

“This new space feels like a catapult that’s going to launch us into the next chapter of idiomART” 

Capture Joseph’s interview with Sarah HB – taken in the new location

Sarah describes the new location, “The new idiomART is this beautiful colonial home. You walk in the door and you can just feel the history in the place. It has a really cool energy, a cool vibe.

It’s open, it’s airy, and it’s light with vaulted ceilings. It just feels spacious. So we’re gonna have great gallery spaces.

idiomART’s new creative center offers several different spaces:

  • Large open foyer space as you enter. Great for social gatherings such as bands & dances.
  • 11 rooms that have been converted into artist studios & offices. YapaTree shares one of these offices with Centerline.
  • 1 large room that overlooks the street. This will be used for larger groups such as Spanish classes and workshops.
  • 1 room to rent to traveling artists via Airbnb.
  • The kitchen is stocked with tea and coffee for guests to just enjoy the space and hang with us.

There is one significant omission; the garden. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for the new location as the garden at the older location was pure bliss and provided an ideal backdrop for events such as the popular Sunday Sessions where bands would play.

Sarah is very aware of how special the garden was and that it will likely be missed by some community members. I also love a good garden and yes, I will miss seeing those beautiful hummingbirds darting around the giant basil bush. But, I also love that this provides idiomART with an opportunity to grow new green spaces inside the patrimonial house. Sarah has been very quick to get these green spaces started:

I have two incredible women helping with idiomART’s new green spaces. One woman is a retired garden designer, and with her friend, they have essentially taken on this wonderful project of creating green spaces within this house. So we’re not going to have the garden as we saw in the old place with the fountain and trees and hummingbirds, but we are going to have very nice green spaces. Lively, energetic & really fun.

“It’s close to so many things that resonate with us”

Sarah HB on the new location

The new location isn’t just more practical for visitors, it’s also in a neighborhood that has a lot in common with idiomART’s core vision of creating an inclusive, cross-cultural community.

You can find the following close by:

  • La Guarida Restaurant
  • El Oasis Restaurant
  • La Casa del Alfarero
  • Eduardo Segovia’s studio (master ceramacist)
  • Eduardo Cervino’s studio
  • Macondo & Suka street art
  • Parque San Sebastián (including Cafe San Sebas, Casa Azul & Cuenca Shop)
  • Mercado 3 de Noviembre
  • Tranvia (both directions)

“The goal with this place is just to continue to expand on what we’ve already been doing”

Alberto Soriano - Resident Artist at idiomART
Resident artist Alberto Soriano giving a live painting performance

There’s no significant shift in the types of events & workshops that idiomART will be offering. It’s really just about offering more. Plus, the new location is covered, meaning you no longer need to dance in the rain!

Now that we have a place that’s under a roof, we don’t have to fight with the weather. For our last two garden session concerts, it rained the entire time. I’m grateful to the people who came and everyone had a good time, but you can only do that so often before people stop coming. So we can have more concerts.

They are also considering expanding the types of events. Sarah HB continued, “I really want to start to do more events, maybe start to do more things at night. I’d love to get more spoken word in there. We can do dance performances, even some small theater performances. There are just so many options of things that we can do.”

“I am just really looking forward to getting more creative. I’m looking for more collaboration.”

Knowing that idiomART is actively pursuing more collaborations is music to my ears. You’ve probably noticed that YapaTree also loves collaborations. Whether it’s creating a discount card program with 40+ businesses, teaming up with YouTubers like Capture Joseph, or just helping to amplify the message for some of Cuenca’s non-profits, we simply love joint initiatives. We believe we’re stronger together than apart.

So naturally, we can’t wait to see what additional collaborations idiomART is cooking. Sarah gave some good hints, “We’re gonna be working with PaintourArt. They’re gonna be doing their Tullpuna Nights, every 3rd Thursday of the month with Christian who also has an art studio with us.

Sarah’s ambitions aren’t confined to the walls of idiomART; “I really want to sit down and talk with the different cultural centers and art galleries in the area and find out how we can create a creative network in the neighborhood and work together to support one another.

They’ve also been branching out into more cultural activities like their recent road trip to Oña that was organized by Centerline – also headquartered at idiomART. Centerline is a co-operative that focuses on creating sustainable homes & communities.

They’re [Centerline] the ones who organized our most recent road trip to Oña where we went to the Barrio San Francisco and painted some buildings with earth paint.

This is not just a place for artists

If I’m being completely honest, our biggest trepidation towards moving the YapaTree office into the idiomART collective space was the self-imposed expectation that we wouldn’t fit in because Michelle and I are not artists.

In hindsight, this feels a little silly because we’ve been made to feel very welcome. Whilst I’ll never be able to evoke emotion from a paintbrush like Alberto Soriano can, I am creative in my own right and that is enough.

idiomART is a place for everyone to enjoy and practice their creativity. There’s no judgment aimed at beginners. You are welcome to just sit and read, listen to music, practice your poetry or whatever else moves you. Obviously, keep in mind that it’s a shared space, but that’s really your only limitation.

“Memberships are another way to support the arts and artists”

idiomART will be launching memberships at the opening on June 8th. Sarah explains, “Although the arts are starting to grow again, they’ve taken a huge hit with COVID. To support the arts and artists, we’re launching a membership program with a tiered system. So there are different categories of memberships and people are welcome to join. It’s a monthly or yearly payment and depending on what membership category you enter into, you get different benefits.”

“The goal is to embed yourself in the local culture and to learn the language”

Spanish Classes at idiomART
Spanish class with Profesor Fausto

CCC Spanish language school that calls idiomART home is also now able to expand its offerings to include a month-long summer course during July & August. This course is offered with two options:

  1. School plus home stay: 5 days of Spanish classes each week & you’ll live with the family (including meals & weekend excursions).
  2. School plus volunteer: 5 days of Spanish classes plus volunteering at various organizations (including idiomART). This program also includes weekend excursions.

You can hear Sarah’s enthusiasm shining through, “I think it’ll be fun for tourists. It’s a different way to experience the culture of Cuenca and Ecuador and get something real and tangible out of it. People will walk away not only with really cool memories and experiences, but they will be learning the language and practicing it. What better way than having your class and then going home to a Cuencano family and just speaking with them? It’s really cool.”

What do the next 12 months look like for idiomART?

Road trip to a fireworks muesum
Sarah HB providing the sparks on a road trip to a fireworks museum

Sarah HB took over the administration of idiomART around August 2021. So, it will be less than 12 months since taking over that this move is taking place. The first 12 months for any new business owner are extremely challenging. Many businesses don’t make it. But, with the energy, expanded activity roster & support of loyal idiomARTers, I can only see growth and positivity for this much-needed creative center.

“I think we’re going to see more locals mingling with the expats.”

During the 1st internal meeting we had at idiomART’s new house with all the resident artists and other members, there was one part of Sarah’s vision that really resonated with me. Sarah explained, “I don’t want language to be a barrier to participation.” All too often I hear people limit themselves to certain activities because of the real or perceived language barrier.

You can expect to hear a lot of Spanglish at idiomART. Locals are very much encouraged to participate in the events & workshops. There are long-term plans to offer English classes to further decrease this divide.

For a mixed Ecuadorian / Expat family like ours, this is exactly the type of community that we want to belong to and I believe many of you do too.

Chaotic but educational first few months

Sarah is expecting some growing pains whilst everyone comes to grips with the move and the house (which is over 100 years old), “I see the first month or two working out kinks in the new place. I see us with an influx of people just moving in and out of the doors and appreciating the art and participating.

Then sustained, controlled growth

The payback for all this effort is expected to come once they settle into their new routine. But, the plan is to grow without losing touch with their roots & purpose. Sarah explained, “I think in the next 12 months, we’re just going to see idiomART continue to be a success. And, and that it’s just going to continue to grow without losing that essence of being a place where you walk in the door and you feel welcome. You feel comfortable, you get your cup of coffee, and you check it out.

I’d like to see idiomART become a place where people come and just hang out. You don’t have to come to an event to be at idiomART. You could come and hang out in the green spaces and bring a book or bring a sketchbook, bring your watercolors, whatever, and just hang out. Walk in the doors, visit the resident artists, get to know them, and watch them paint a little bit.

So really what I see in the next 12 months is all the groundwork that’s been laid for this expansion. We’re just going to see it coming to fruition more and more.

Launch plans

“This event is for people to just come and see what the space has to offer”

Ready to check out the new house? Your first chance is by coming along to the open house on June 8th from 6:00 – 8:00pm at C. Mariscal Lamar 14-25 and Estevez de Toral.

Sarah elaborates, “The whole house is going to be open. Everyone is going to be in their space. The artists are gonna be in their studios. The teachers of CCC Spanish will be in their classroom. I believe Martha and another woman are going to be doing a traditional dance. Claudia will be doing a live art demonstration of weaving a mandala, which is also a workshop she’s giving in June. We’re going to have live music downstairs on the main floor from a couple of young musicians; one on the piano and the other on the guitar.

So the idea is to have a cool vibe and, but mainly get together and see everyone. I want you to see the space. I want you to walk through the house, check it out, talk to the people and see the gallery spaces. We’re going to be featuring three different artists and this is actually going be the opening of their art exhibits as well.”

In the office of Centerline & YapaTree, we’re going to be painting our logos onto the wall using earth paints with assistance from the same person that recently led a similar workshop in Oña. We won’t be doing a dry run, so I’m really hoping the logos turn out ok!

I’m going to leave you with one final thought from Sarah, “Once you walk into the building, first of all, you feel the energy. But then when you see it alive with activity, I think people are going to walk away thinking, wow, there’s a lot of cool things we can do together here.

Connect with idiomART on Facebook or Instagram. Contact Sarah via email [email protected].

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