“Are they turning Cubao Expo into a mall?” I’ve heard this question over and over these last few weeks. I do happen to know the answer, but there is a lot more nuance to it then can be discussed in an editorial like this one. However, I can tell you this: Cubao has changed a lot in the almost four years that I’ve been running Kendo Creative there.
But before we get into that, it is with a heavy heart that we must announce that both Kendo and our independently run subsidiary, Hidden Space are closing and leaving Cubao Expo at the end of September 2019. That’s today.
I understand that this does probably come as a shock to many of you, as it did to us when found out about this via an anti-dated letter for which there was no previous notice whether in writing or verbally. The decision was made unilaterally by the Cubao Expo Admin and they did not state a reason for not renewing our lease this time, as they have done many times over our over three and a half year run in this location. While they did not state a reason as to why we are not being renewed, we do have our very informed guesses as to why.
There are probably two or three possible factors that may have contributed to the situation. But if you ask me, this ultimately came down to one incident where a younger member of the owners’ family was inappropriate to our guests over some period of time and to myself on one particular Saturday night at around 10PM, while the shop was full of customers. I politely but firmly asked that he stop doing that and that we set a meeting on a weekday, during work hours to discuss business. He stormed out. I later found out that the Aquinos believed that I should have let this younger gentleman behave however inappropriately he wanted to behave, simply because “he’s a billionaire.”
Either way, since they only gave us 24 days’ notice, we see this as a betrayal of the friendship and trust that we’ve built up with them over the years and as such, we do not wish to be in business with them anymore either. The truth is that it has always been difficult to deal with the admin, but new changes that they made over the last year strained our relationship with them to its limits.
We would be celebrating our fourth anniversary if we had made it to December of this year. It’s been a total of 45 months of operation. That’s longer than a lot of people spend in college. And perhaps the Shop 33 experience has been just that: a place to learn new things and build new friendships.
Last Saturday, over 500 people came to say goodbye to our little 72 square meter home. Inside, regular guests and members of the Kendo family broke into tears. Meanwhile, dozens of art lovers chanted “Hidden Space! Hidden Space!” in the streets until the guards came with their whistles and tried to silence them.
These were signs of what made Kendo special and why the final art show, “Farewell Shop 33” was so fitting. Upstairs in Hidden Space, 6X6” art works covered the walls. Almost all disciplines were represented: traditional acrylic and oil painting, graffiti, graphic design, collage, tattoo art, and even sculptural works. It showed how diverse the Shop 33 community is and has been over the years. The small 6X6” format came to be symbolic of how each contributed in their own way and came to own a small part of the space themselves. Downstairs, over 300 photographs lined the walls in a gallery showing our history and the good times we spent in this space. It showed art, connection, family, and shop 33 as a home.
I think that this is ultimately why letting go of Kendo and Hidden Space is so difficult for all of us. After the re-branding of The Appraisery and the closing of Gold Digger, The Reading Room, Russ, and Cosmic gorgons all within the span of just a few months, what this particular closure seems to mark is the end of an era for Cubao Expo.
I remember a Cubao where artists were free. Free to be themselves. Free to play music on the streets. Where rap battles were welcome and drum lines broke out spontaneously. Graffiti artists would line the gutters, gearing up before hitting the streets to bomb at midnight. And while artists have still chosen to make Cubao Expo their haven, there has been a crackdown on such freedoms by the administration of the Cubao Expo property who have told me that their desire is to have the property become a mall one day.
So I dream of a new place that is similar to Cubao Expo, but where the owners actively desire to support artists and the arts. Kind of like a giant Kendo. A place that exists for the sake of the art and the culture. One that is not driven by the ego of the Aquino family. A place that is truly artist-run. An Arts Center with solid economics and business strategy to make this lifestyle possible for decades to come. You know I can do it.
Kayo Cosio is the Editor in Chief at Adjima Magazine, Daily Drink Magazine, and Next Action Phase. Over the years, he has spearheaded over 50 urban public art projects, including the ArtBGC Mural Festival. He is also the Master Planner at HoneycombManila Collaborative Studios at DoubleDragon Plaza, a 1200 square meter coworking space where Kendo partner Ynna and Hidden Space founder, Miggy are members of the board of directors. Kayo together with his wife, Nica have run Kendo Creative since day one.