Selin Bozkurt speaks to TRT World from her home in Istanbul over Zoom. She is an art lover and CEO of Manifesto, a communications agency she co-founded.
“Art has always been on my radar,” she explains. “But I really took an interest when I started taking painting and art history classes from Ismet Dogan in 2001.” Bozkurt says she has visited 61 countries – in preparation for every one of these visits, the 45 year old made it her business to learn about each art institution native to each country before her arrival.
She eventually decided that she preferred to be on the appreciative side rather than the productive side of art, and on April 15, 2016 – Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday as luck would have it – founded the Art for Good Association.
The association now has 50 members, all female, selected from companies whom Manifesto serves as a consultant. Wives and daughters, women executives – all art lovers – have joined Bozkurt’s vision, constructing a bridge between the business and the art world.
The Art for Good Association started visiting established Turkish artists every Wednesday from noon to 2 pm in order to better understand the development of the Turkish art scene. “We visited up to 200 studios until March 2020,” Bozkurt says, when they had to stop because of the pandemic.
The aim was to see art in its birthplace, “its temple” as Bozkurt puts it, in the midst of paint tubes, brushes, unfinished artworks. There was no financial incentive, no sales taking place, but simply an opportunity to listen to an artist for two hours speak passionately about their work.
“Even for established artists whose works sell for 30-40 thousand TL ($3885-$5180),” Bozkurt says, “survival was a matter of luck, of having the right connections, or of coming from a privileged background.”
Bozkurt and the Art for Good Association set out to help artists. Every year, they select 10 new graduates from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (MSGSU) for their programme ‘A Year in the Passage’. They have been covering the cost of production and providing studio space for young artists for the past three years. Overseeing the graduates and their work are Professor Nedret Sekban, one of the people who first suggested this project, and artist Asli Ozok. The studio is in Tekstilkent, next to Sekban’s own studio.
At the end of the year, the 10 MSGSU graduates hold an exhibition together, and are also taken on all-expenses paid trips to either Art Basel or the Venice Biennale.
‘Impressions from Anatolia’ is another Art for Good Association project. It allows the association to host third-year art students from all around Anatolia – who have limited means – in the city of Istanbul, introducing them to the art milieu and enhancing their education. This project is in its second year, and is led under artist Kadri Akyol’s mentorship.
With the Impressions from Anatolia project, each year three students from 12 cities, a total of 36 students, arrive in Istanbul and stay for four nights and five days, taking in the art scene, visiting Contemporary Istanbul or the Istanbul Biennale.
“If you think about it,” Bozkurt says, “these students from Anatolia are in art school but their only access to art has mostly been following artists on Instagram. They are amazed when they come to Istanbul and rub elbows with the art world.”
These 36 students create artworks for a full year, and display them in Istanbul. “The next year’s students get a chance to see what the previous year’s students have produced,” Bozkurt enthuses.
“They weren’t able to exhibit this year because of the pandemic, but we have reserved their right to display their work,” she smiles.
The third project that the Art for Good Association works on is ‘Atelier Cer’. The real estate company Ege Yapi project in the historic peninsula in Istanbul led the way to ‘Atelier Cer’ within Cer Istanbul. This space, below the sales office for Cer Istanbul, provides workspaces for many contemporary Turkish artists to produce their art.
“We are planning our first exhibition,” says Bozkurt, “and there will be new exhibitions every month, the pandemic allowing.” The purpose is to showcase the artists of ‘Atelier Cer’ and the collections of the Art for Good collectors.
“We are trying to show that art can be affordable, that it needn’t scare art lovers away from galleries,” Bozkurt tells TRT World. “In Turkey, we don’t have a tradition of going to see museums and galleries since we are five-six years old. We are trying to change the perception that art is for a certain group only and that it can be enjoyed by the masses as well.”
Bozkurt announces that after their participation in Step Istanbul, curated by Feride Celik, there will be a show at Uniq Expo in Istanbul, and a show every month at ‘Atelier Cer’ starting in December. She also mentions that the Art for Good Association will also be at Contemporary Istanbul, and adds that they would like to continue their Wednesday visits to artists workspaces.
“Physical or online, we will continue getting to know artists,” she smiles.