Written by Antonina Kaiser, CNN
The Centro Ballet Médical (CBM) is in a bit of a bind.
The arts center in Lima, in Peru, is known as a new age conservatory, but as its founder, Robin de Jesús, puts it, it’s “a 20th century institution with a 20th century capital.” Over time the building has become riddled with lead and asbestos and has long been plagued by frequent flooding.
“When I started CBM 12 years ago, we had enough to really get things started on the institutional side. It needed support and cooperation with the whole city. But then we found ourselves operating in a paralyzed capital that was paralyzed,” de Jesús told CNN.
The CBM now hosts 250 dancers each week, as well as theater and artistic workshops for young Peruvians. Many dancers — many of whom hail from poor backgrounds — grew up attending the schools housed at the building. It’s become a sort of home away from home, the new identity of which is illustrated in De Jesús’ latest exhibition, “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” which opens at the CBM on Tuesday.
De Jesús doesn’t run the CBM alone. He opened the facility in 2001, first with a “small charity” of just five artists and artists’ friends. The financial commitment required he become a microfinance consultant, focusing on the precarious finances of children and young people.
Robin de Jesús shows off the latest works in the long-term retrospective. Credit: Courtesy CBM
Since then, his picture has changed. “We began to build on what we had.”
“We became involved in the social problems here in Lima,” de Jesús explained. “I felt very strongly that what we were building was a complement to the real needs of the people. If we were a place that was working with a social agenda, that was trying to solve the problems in society, it would be fitting to center it around a city that we had modeled in our imaginations so that we could help change things.”
It’s a philosophy that’s very much typified in the work of this Uruguayan-born photographer, who is devoted to championing young Latin American artists and emphasizing their potential as leaders.
“I wanted to show them, first of all, how much we aspire to them as individuals. I thought that once I get to them, there was time to work with them,” he said.
The CBM, which last year laid off around 30% of its teaching staff, functions almost entirely on private donations, with the government only being a partner, with the National Institute of Culture and Education “giving us some space to have a show,” de Jesús said.
In the U.S., a trend toward artists incorporating social issues into their work has emerged in recent years. An exhibition de Jesús curated for the APM in Montevideo this year featured artists collaborating on a manifesto for better civic living.
“Our works deal with both the societal, urban context,” he explained. “I think there is a sector of human behavior which needs to be revamped. There are moments where we are having these discussions, particularly when some of the economic crises happened in the country. But that’s just as much a question of family and children. That’s how we see it.”
“Many artists are having more conversations,” he went on. “For them this isn’t only a question of making art, this is a social agenda. They’re bringing a balance to the art that is not only about today, but about the future.”