This story appeared on the 19 April, 2009 issue of the Bhutan Times.
The Dreams are Lovely, Deep, and Vast
The Voluntary Artists’ Studio of Thimphu (VAST) is determined to pursue its dreams and promises as it celebrates its 11th anniversary.
His quite demeanor has two shades, one is the simple man and the other is the artist, whose eyes color the complexitites of a Mandala painting. The artist in Dorji Wangchuk, 29, a tutor at VAST, is old as the organization itself.
When VAST was started in 1998 Dorji Wangchuk was just a teenager learning to hold the brush under the love and guidance of Asha Kama.
As VAST celebrated its birthday last week, the teenager who walked up to the attic of this studio acknowledged that VAST has shaped his life.
When VAST was set-up by a group of professional artists as a non profitable and non governmental organization nobody believed it would last this long.
Dorji Wangchuk’s parents felt the same too. His fancy for art was just an infatuation and it would wither away soon, they thought.
Both predictions proved wrong. VAST and Dorji Wangchuk survived the times.
VAST was opened with the aim of providing an opportunity to the youth to develop their potential talents as well as share social responsibilities through artistic explorations.
Dorji Wangchuk was given the wings to dream on the vast emptiness of a cloth canvas on the studio attic. While his paint brush colored it, his vision for life was also being painted by VAST.
He was in Class VIII, when a group of VAST members came to his school announcing about the group, he knew he was interested in art.
After he did not qualify after Class XII, he decided on art as a long term career.
Since VAST’s establishment, there have been more than 1,000 students who have undergone courses through VAST. The VAST program is open to all, young, old and including children with special needs.
This year VAST has 60 students and 20 tutors and volunteers.
Among the 60 students, three of them are hearing impaired.
One of the former students was paralyzed and had to be carried to the studio.
Although the steps climbing up to the studio is not disabled friendly, VAST has given special attention to the differently abled students, who have come to VAST.
For the last 10 years VAST is still not in a position of being financially stable. “We are always thinking ahead of our times but there is lack of funds however, at the end of the day we somehow manage,” said Karma Wangdi (affectionately known as Asha Kama) a founding member of VAST.
Before 1999, there was no studio; there were times when the Changlimithang ground, clock tower and sometimes friend’s offices (whenever it was free) were used for art classes.In 2000, Asha Kama started using half of his apartment as a studio.Then finally in 2003, the Youth Development Fund stepped in and since then has been helping with the studio’s rent.
VAST wants to move forward from just being a local art club.
One of its plans is to hold exhibitions with regional countries in Bhutan, “we have already established connections in different parts of the world and with this strategy it can pave the way for showcasing our talents,” said Asha Kama.
Although VAST has their hands full with the activities, VAST is also involved in various social projects.
At the moment VAST is working on two projects: building a house and forming a rice bank.
During one of the group’s trips to a village in Kabesa, Punakha, VAST came across Khen’s family, who were living in a dilapidated hut.
He was recovering from leprosy, and lived in the hut with his wife and four children between the ages of 4 and 13.
The family has very little land and depends on forest products and crop sharing for subsistence. With their limited means, they have not been able to send any of their children to school.
VAST decided to launch a Build-A-House community programme so that improvised families will be able to have decent living conditions.
VAST volunteers are currently looking for donors who are interested in contributing toward the project.
The Rice Bank project aims to break the vicious cycle of debt of farmers in villages and provide rice to poor households.
VAST has started this project in two villages of Kabji gewog in Punakha: Chorten Nibu and Punlingsum.