The Brand New Caribbean Art Initiative: an Interview with Albertine Kopp

August 7, 2018

We have recently learned that the Davidoff Art Initiative will end the program by the 31st of December 2018. Albertine Kopp, who has been for the past six years the head of this extremely valuable program, is now committing to continue the work of the initiative, seeking new partners, under a new format and a new name of Caribbean Art Initiative believing the best is yet to come. We have met Albertine to ask her about her experience and her future plans.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about your experience of the past five years working with Caribbean artists and in particular could you describe the cultural situation in the region?

Albertine Kopp: The cultural scene in the Caribbean is extremely rich and flourishing. Unfortunately this scene is still underestimated, certainly outside the region but even locally, I think, as if it is not operating at its true potential. This is due to a number of factors. There is no real ecosystem for the arts across the Caribbean that could coalesce the individual efforts in each location and better connect with each respective nation and territory there. There are some very good institutions throughout, but there is a lack of governmental support and hence a lack of visibility for the Caribbean art scene.
With the Davidoff Art Initiative (DAI) we created a platform that helped to grow the interest for the entire region over the past five years. The residency program was the cornerstone of this engagement, and the exchanges that were made possible through this residency, as well as in meeting and working with myriad professionals throughout the Caribbean and internationally, were extremely rich and inspiring.
I am excited to see how many great events and exchanges are happening, even as DAI winds down, and how many new formats for inter- and intra-cultural dialogue, such as Tilting Axis , Curando Caribe or the latest residency for Puerto Rican artitst by Artists Alliance Inc., and Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, in collaboration with Embajada

Mara Sartore: The centerpiece of the Davidoff Art Initiative was the residency program, why are they so important?

Albertine Kopp: From the beginning we wanted to address the lack of visibility. The idea is to offer an opportunity for professional mobility in a different cultural zone while connecting to other artists who could spread the word about the Caribbean region.
To leave one Caribbean island for another one, or even another country, is logistically and financially challenging. With DAI we partnered with different places: with the idea to connect the artists with different local and global cultural networks; providing exposure for research and practice as well as to share creative and critical expertise with peers from around the world.
The experience can be crucial for the artists’ respective practices and make a lot of sense, as they are forced to leave their comfort zone and get encouraged in their development. But think about it, arriving to a place, where you don’t yet know anyone. It forces you to be open-minded, to discover, connect, and create links that one can nurture later through the advancements of social media and technology. I am still dreaming of doing a residency one day myself, I believe the residency is the best possibility to grow without leaving one’s origin forever.

Mara Sartore: In your view what was the most important achievement of the Davidoff Art Initiative (DAI) program?

Albertine Kopp: It has been an extraordinary human adventure. We are a big family, if you want to see it that way. This is also how we call it between artists and friends: the Davidoff Family. There is always a door open and someone within DAI around to support and give advice. Through our global platform, we were able to enhance visibility to the Caribbean art scene and provide a trusted network to all participants and partners. I think we demonstrated how a successful corporate sponsorship programs looks like. In that sense, Davidoff Art Initiative was a proof of concept that demonstrated the successful CSR implementation with mutual benefit to arts as well as the brand. For that, you need to find the right balance between business requirements, the needs of the art program and the human being. Long term it was very important to be credible and build from the beginning a solid program otherwise it would have not been taken seriously by the established arts scene and it would have been only a marketing initiative.
The strength of DAI is that it is centered on the art and artists and that it is open. I’m not sure if it helps to be Swiss and so what we like to say neutral, but the program is neutral within the Caribbean. It belongs to all at the same time. It is about facilitating access, building visibility, and it is open to everyone.

Mara Sartore: Could you mention Caribbean artists that have benefited from the Initiative and started off a successful international career?

Albertine Kopp: The personal engagement behind the program is super important. Without this human engagement, projects like Transeúnte by Jimmy Robert, which occurred both at Altos de Chavón in the Dominican Republic and at Universität der Künste in Berlin, would have never happened.
Also, we were really proud to see Tessa Mars, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, and Christopher Cozier engaging with the Berlin Biennale this year, as well as Engel Leonardo entering the Reina Sofia Permanent Collection in Madrid, and Jesus “Bubu” Negron with Brigada PdT, presenting this community project at the Serpentine in London.
These are only a few example of great success that followed Davidoff resident artists. I could go on for hours, detailing each artist’s activities now… I think the most important memory to recall are all the wonderful and unique friendships and networks that we were able to create over the past years. Without this unique network of over 150 people, all over the world, we would not have built such an initiative.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about your new venture: the Caribbean Art Initiative? In which way this will continue your past activities and in what it will be different?

Albertine Kopp: We want to build on previous successes given the huge cultural potential of the entire region. The initiative’s primary focus is on Caribbean arts and artists, including the Caribbean Diaspora. We aim to create an open and active dialogue with artists and institutions around the world.
We want to create opportunities for artists, writers, and curators from the Caribbean region to engage with the world, and for international artists, writers, and curators to engage with the rich and diverse cultural context of the Caribbean. Even more than in the past we would like to promote educational development and community building. In an ideal world a program encompasses residencies, research trips, and platforms for cultural discourse.
We will work with arts institutions and not-for-profits that exhibit and support artists in the Caribbean region, while also participating in international events that foster an interplay between regional and global arts scenes. Not being tied to only one brand will allow us to collaborate with more partners and act truly independent; clearly, this also allows us to be more flexible and address various needs. This is essential, the program should be a long term community oriented venture accessible for everyone.

Mara Sartore: In your vision which is the role the Caribbean can play in the contemporary art scene and how it can grow?

Albertine Kopp: The scene is already growing, if you look at the past exhibitions at the Perez Museum in Miami, or the growing profiles of Caribbean artists in Latin American shows. And of course, there is an interest towards the past as well, such as the latest show at the MASP, “Afro-Atlantic Histories”, with over 20 works on loan from museums across the Caribbean region or from Caribbean artists. International art fairs start to recognize the region too, such as ARCO Madrid inviting last year Sindicato from the Dominican Republic and we look forward this fall to see the program by Sara Hermann for ArtBo.

Mara Sartore: What is the contribution that international initiatives and institutions can bring to the region?

Albertine Kopp: A difficulty in the Caribbean is that support is oftentimes ephemeral, and this is why we are looking with the Caribbean Art Initiative to make this support concrete, evolving, and ultimately long-lasting.
We hope to foster and grow the global network we established over the past five years to achieve something fruitful and reciprocal, and ultimately durable, for the entire region that builds on the potential of all islands. Many international actors are doing business in or with this region. We are starting the discussions and are actively looking at this stage for potential sponsors.
Our concept of collaboration is that is not about the amount of dollars pledged, but much more about committing one-self for the long-term. We understand that business requires adjustment and refocus on sponsoring activities from time to time. But the most successful partnerships are ultimately not short-term. Just think of BMW, Deutsche Bank, LVMH or Migros in Switzerland. Some might want to dismiss it as naïve but our vision is to create a network of new partners and sponsors that share the same goal of supporting the region. We are convinced that the potential for engagement and exchange is huge and can be fruitful.
With the knowhow won over the past five years, we hope to create as we did with the artists’ community, a new sponsor family that shares a similar, long-term interest in the Caribbean and also business activities. We are convinced that the potential for engagement and exchange is huge and can be fruitful. Once we are up and running, we are very open to discuss and incubate new formats of exchange for everyone involved: artists, corporate sponsors, institutions, and everyone individually interested in the Caribbean arts scene.

Keep up to date with My Art Guides
Sign up to our newsletter and stay in the know with all worldwide contemporary art events