Meet Marisa Caichiolo of Building Bridges Art Exchange in Santa Monica
Today we’d like to introduce you to Marisa Caichiolo.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Marisa. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there. I have a degree in Art History, curatorial studies and Psychologist. I moved to LA from Argentina at the end of 1999, to work as an artist for Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures on movies like “Rugrats go Wild” and “The Wild Thornberrys Movie” The animation world was my first introduction to the city of Los Angeles. Simultaneously, I also had my own art studio, to make my own work, which was located in DTLA. I’d spend my mornings working at the animation studios and my evenings in my own art studio, producing artwork. I shared studios with other artists in downtown LA on Figueroa and 8th street. Then I moved to other locations. For a long time, I shared a studio with Courtney Reid before moving to the Santa Fe Art Colony. In 2005 I started building the foundations of my career as a curator and as the founder and director of what today is known as Building Bridges Art Exchange foundation (BBAX), a non-profit art organization based in the LA County.
From the very beginning, Building Bridges’s mission statement was to provide an art platform that would enable artists from all over the world to connect, establish peaceful dialogue and create narratives that would explore political and social movements as well as issues impacting different regions of the world. I want to make sure that my organization is a vehicle for the exploration and examination of socio-political problems in today’s changing world.
When Building Bridges was founded thirteen years ago, (with partners as Mayra Degiovanni & Jaime Enrique Deilfin Villafuerte) we established long-term collaborations with the Mexican government, Mexico’s Ministry of Culture, with Mexican universities and cultural centers in Baja California. Many people were initially involved in the project, including friends that are also involved today. Some of them members of the Board of Directors or the Advisory Board.
Initially, we were located in a very small shared-space in Long Beach. Then we moved DTLA, and from there we moved at the end of 2011 to Bergamot Station, which is still our home. This latter move was made possible thanks to a former member of the Board of Directors who found an empty space in Bergamot before him, regretfully, passed away.
In my heart I am both artist and art curator. And I am aware that I have set very ambitious goals for myself and BBAX. But I believe in everything that the platform stands for, and despite the multiple obstacles that we have encountered throughout the years, we have managed to continue serving the community we represent and stand by our mission.
Additionally, in recent years, we have gone on to expand our mission statement to create an international residency program and an education program. As part of the latter initiative, we have built collaborations with five schools in LA. We invite children and students to visit the gallery, and we have artists come over to the schools to work directly with teachers and students from different ethnic and financial backgrounds. But we also have an internship program that allows college students from different parts of the country to spend time in our gallery and gain deeper insight into the art world.
Our steady growth over the years reflects in the number of collaborations and alliances we have today with more than 35 countries participating in our exchange program. We have created alliances with the Ministry of Culture of certain countries, prestigious museums and art institutions. A key part of this endeavor is to invite artists from other parts of the world to experience LA as a cultural and artistic hub in the West Coast by working in our gallery or bringing their exhibitions here. Similarly, our artists have the opportunity to participate in residency programs, showcase their work in solo or group exhibitions in other parts of the US and other countries via our many partners.
At the local level, we have a long-term partnership with UCLA and The Broad. Some of our national and international partners are Denver-based organization Redline and Guadalajara’s MUSA (Mexico), respectively. As opposed to when we first started, we are now giving several prizes to two or three artists every year. The prizes consist of either solo exhibitions, cash or the opportunity to travel to an art residency program. Prizes are made possible through the generous support of our sponsors, which believe in our ability to detect some of the most talented young artists and art students out there.
For me, as a Latin American immigrant and as a female artist, it was a big dream to create a more unified world of understanding and to have a narrative, a dialogue and an open discussion about the social and political issues in today’s world. And I strongly believe that BBAX is the platform that gave and continues giving that amazing opportunity to artists from all over the world. That, for me, was a dream come true. It is what I wanted the most in my life, and this is exactly what I have due also to the generous support of many individuals and institutions. BBAX would not exist today if it were not for all the people involved (i.e. The volunteers, interns, advisory board, board of directors, the partners and the LA community). It simply would not be possible.
Has it been a smooth road? When I look back and I see how far we have come with BBAX, it really hits me what a long journey it has been! The road has not been easy. Most of the time, it has been an uphill battle full of challenges and obstacles, but I am so proud to see that, despite all of the struggles, our organization keeps moving forward, growing and supporting some of the most talented artists out there today. Running a non-profit organization is as hard a task as you can imagine. But it has been such a beautiful journey, and I am so grateful for all the support that we have received on so many fronts throughout all these years.
Even tough moving to Bergamot station made things better for BBAX, it was an extremely complex process. When we first moved here, the area was undergoing changes, and construction work for the train station had just begun. The demolition and construction process was not easy to deal with, but we managed to survive through it, and it made us stronger. We currently have new landlords at Bergamot, and with that new challenges have come. We do not know for how long BBAX will be housed here, but we have developed such a strong organization with a clear mission that we are confident in our ability to continue growing no matter where life will take us or where our new home will be.
We have a relatively small Board of Directors and Advisory Board, and we are looking to expand it by welcoming new members with fresh and stimulating ideas. We also understand that those who become part of our organization must fully believe in and stand by our mission. And this implies willingness to face and overcome what at times are seemingly insurmountable obstacles. All the individuals behind BBAX strongly believe that within us resides the power and capacity to overcome any difficulty. You have to have faith in every curatorial project and every emerging artist that you work with.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Building Bridges Art Exchange – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others. BBAX is a non-profit organization, a 501(c) (3), committed to the promotion of art through different programs. As part of our education initiative, we have an internship program that enables students from all over the country to develop a deeper understanding of the art world by spending time in our gallery with us. We also have students from several LA-based schools come to the gallery to meet our artists, get exposed and learn about the latest art trends. Artists, too, visit local schools and share their perspectives, ideas and artwork to children.
Additionally, we have a travelling exhibitions program executed through partnerships with organizations, museums and cultural institutions across the world. Our exhibitions are showcased in other cities and countries, and we also have our partners’ exhibitions featured in our gallery.
Just as the travelling exhibitions program, the exchange program relies on our partners to send our artists or their artwork to other institutions and vice versa. That we have been up and running for 13 years and that our growth has been steady throughout this time speaks to the level of dedication on the part of every member of our organization. The quality of our work has improved every year, the number of partners, sponsors and supporters has increased, and so has the quality of the featured artists. One of our most recent accomplishments is sealing a long-term partnership with The Broad, which will start this month. As part of the museum’s Diversity Program, DAP Program. In the past, we have trained preparators that have gone on to work at The Broad, so the fact that we are now officially part of its Diversity Program is a clear sign that BBAX is moving in the right direction and delivering quality work. We are honored to be one of the small non-profit organizations chosen by The Broad to receive financial aid that other top institutions such as LACMA are also receiving. Compared to other art organizations, BBAX has a very unique approach, for it is fully focused and committed to building bridges across cultures, communities and countries. Not only are we the voice of local artists, but we also bring in those of internationally-based artists working out of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Morocco, Iran, Spain and other parts of the world.
At the moment, we are hosting a Seattle-born artist who lives and works out of Mexico (Davis Birks), an Austrian artist (Doris Schamp) and an Argentinean artist (Luciana Abait). The criteria to select and admit artists into our program is based on both the quality and the narrative or meaning of their artwork. We choose artists whose work falls within our mission statement, which is political and socially oriented. Therefore, we are always on the lookout for artists whose works create socio-political dialogues and narratives.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least? If something characterizes LA is its diverse population, and this is one of the things that I love the most about this city. Pretty much every single community is represented in LA, and it shows when we host our exhibitions.