Davidoff Art Initiative Gives Back to the Dominican Republic

How Davidoff is becoming a 21st century Mecene.

Monica Ferreras De la Maza has just started a three­ month residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. The visual artist from the Dominican Republic is planning to create a body of work focusing on painting and drawing, in addition to gathering ideas for installations.

“I’m looking forward to being able to take advantage of the facilities that ISCP has to offer, as well as integrating with an array of artists, curators, and art critics,” she says.

Her residency at ISCP is the first in a new international program created by the Davidoff Art Initiative, an outreach project sponsored by the luxury tobacco brand. Another Dominican artist, Jorge Pineda, will start his residency under the Davidoff program at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin next April. The installation artist and stage director is well established in his home country and took part in the 2007 Venice Biennale, but this new residency will give him, in his words, “the chance to experience a different contemporary situation” and “open up new dialogues.”

The aim is to provide opportunities for Caribbean artists to participate in internationally recognized artist­-in­-residence programs while also bringing artists from around the world to the Dominican Republic to take up residencies at the Altos de Chavón School of Design, the country’s leading institution for art and design education.

For Hans­Kristian Hoejsgaard, president and CEO of Oettinger Davidoff Group, this is a chance for the company to give back to the Dominican Republic, where all its cigars are handcrafted.

When fully rolled out, the annual program will enable five Caribbean artists to spend time abroad—in addition to New York, Berlin, and China, Davidoff is looking to extend the program to Brazil and either Spain or Switzerland, where the company has its headquarters—and bring five artists from outside the region to Altos de Chavón to share their knowledge with students and also develop their own creative practices.

“When I joined the company in 2011, it was already reviewing its sponsoring strategy,” Hoejsgaard recalls. “We were a little bit spread out in different categories, like sports and music, and we were looking at an opportunity to consolidate our sponsoring efforts.” He adds that the residency program recognizes that “there is a lot of great talent and emerging artists in the region, and we thought it would be an interesting and different way to give back to the community.”

For the participants, the program is crucial. “We have artists who have the talent and body of work to be on the international circuits,” says Ferreras De la Maza, “but the lack of financial support and the structure around us makes it difficult for us to fight for those places that I know for sure we are worthy of. The Davidoff Art Initiative is a welcome and much needed contribution in providing visibility for our artists, particularly in a country such as the Dominican Republic, where we are faced with isolation and other day­-to-­day problems.”

Along with the residency program, Davidoff has also announced plans to organize a series of art events around the world, starting with a two­part series held in Hong Kong this fall and Beijing in the spring, in collaboration with Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. “We know that we have a lot of customers interested in art, and what we want to do is organize small art dialogues in the cigar lounges that we have in our stores,” Hoejsgaard explains. “We even have the space to have exhibitions.”

He is quick to stress that the company has no intention of using the residencies to build an art collection and that the initiative is independent from the business. “We have no aspiration to be the owner of a collection,” he says. “We genuinely want to support young and upcoming artists who might have a difficult time getting a chance,” he insists, adding that the company has already secured exhibition opportunities for the participating artists, months before their residencies have begun.

“As a brand you need to align yourself with something of substance, something that makes sense for the brand and at the same time appeals to a younger generation,” he says. “This is a major shift and a major commitment, so we have made a five-year plan for this initiative, and it’s very clear that we see this could expand to encompass more artists over time.”

This article was first published in BlouinARTINFO.com magazine in September