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Maury Young Arts Centre to host Philippine Art Gala Night Sept. 7

The event begins at 5 p.m. and is organized by local author Alpha Villanea 
Whistlerite Alpha Villanea looks proudly at her growing collection of Filipino artwork. 

Whistler's first Philippine Art Gala Night is scheduled to take place next Thursday at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Curated by local author Alpha Villanea, the event aims to showcase more than 20 original paintings by Filipino artists such as Joey Labrador and members of his Piskay Art Group. General admission is free, while Mayor Jack Crompton and Resort Municipality of Whistler general manager of community engagement and cultural services Karen Elliott have been invited as guest speakers.

Villanea, who originally hails from Iligan City in the Northern Mindanao region of the Philippines, released her first children’s book Prince Juan in 2018. She wished to have a fellow Filipino do the artwork for her second book, but found it difficult to track down an illustrator.

What she did find were a number of talented painters, whom she quickly grew to admire.

“I was captured by the idea immediately that: why don’t I start collecting art and maybe showcase Filipino talent through art exhibits?” she says. “And that’s how it all began. I started collecting in 2019.”

The turn of the decade was not an easy time for Villanea, and not just because of COVID-19. She divorced her ex-husband and moved to Whistler with her two kids, including a daughter with special needs. Even so, she remained determined to one day realize her goal of putting on some type of exhibition for Philippine art.

Four years later, the dream is about to be realized. 

Villanea’s passion for helping artists in her native country goes beyond her love of what they produce—though that is significant. Unlike in Canada, art materials in the Philippines are often prohibitively expensive, which discourages many aspiring artists from developing their craft before they can even truly start. However, Villanea sees the talent that some of her compatriots possess and is committed to supporting them however possible.

“With this art gala, I wanted to ... raise awareness to, not just Filipinos, but others as well,” she explains. “Being an ordinary person, you don’t need to have tons of money to be able to lend a helping hand to others. You could actually do it in little ways.”

‘Motivate and inspire’

A large portion of Villanea’s personal collection is composed of works by Labrador and one of his top students, Jonathan Benjo Manigo. She plans to have Labrador in virtual attendance on Thursday night, speaking on Zoom about the Piskay Group he founded to mentor fellow artists in the Philippines. 

Many of Labrador’s pupils come from socioeconomically underprivileged backgrounds and families that cannot afford to send them to school. That’s why he came up with the idea to auction their paintings off. Thanks to collectors in Canada, Japan and the United States, a number of Piskay Group artists have thus received funding to continue their careers, and in some cases even to pursue higher education. 

“When I started collecting from the Piskay Group, [Labrador] was actually telling me how great it is that I was able to help these students to, you know, motivate and inspire them to keep going,” Villanea recalls. 

Though caring for her daughter keeps her busy, as does a day job at the BC Liquor Store on Lorimer Road, the 42-year-old is not done. One day, she hopes to invite Labrador and Manigo to Whistler so they can put on an in-person exhibit. Meanwhile, her upcoming book, titled It’s Hard to be a Woman, is a memoir based on her own life. She ended up asking her adult son’s best friend to illustrate. 

Upon her arrival to Canada in 2009, Villanea—like many immigrants—faced difficulty in acclimating to her new home, and not just because of differences in climate. Though hesitating to use the word “discrimination,” she at times felt looked down upon by those who perhaps did not have her best interests in heart. However, she feels that such experiences molded her into a better and wiser person. 

Now, it is her aspiration that next Thursday’s gala will help individuals from all walks of life appreciate Filipino ideas and values in a more authentic way. 

“I am captured by the idea of sharing our culture through the world of art in hopes to be able to gain deeper understanding and connection, regardless of our cultural differences or beliefs,” says Villanea.