As you walk down Temple Road in Dharamsala, India – you have a feeling of worlds colliding. To your far right, you see the vast valley and tree-lined hills of the lower Himalayas. On the side of the road, a neat row of tightly-packed vendor stalls (most made of old cots, with shawls draped overhead to shade the sun) are manned by the local Tibetans – forced into exile in the 50′s after China’s illegal occupation of Tibet.
On the left, a series of stores, filled to the brim with gifts and novelties, interspersed with Western-style coffee shops, selling lattes that are cheap by our standards, but are more than most locals make in several hours’ work.
Motorcycles whiz by; monks pass on their way to the temple. Tourists drink in the local culture (and their lattes) and a new generation of young Tibetans in exile talk with foreigners about their experiences, and share their own.
To date, this dialogue has existed in the spoken form – telling and sharing stories, stories often cut short because of language barriers.
That changed this year, when a new door opened on Temple Road – Peak Art Gallery. Almost too long in coming, it is a brilliant social enterprise started by a young American and her Tibetan business partner, and it aims to create a voice for the young Tibetan artists in Dharamsala, who previously had no outlet.
Sarah Mac has an interesting background: only 25, she was schooled in China, visited Tibet, and was intrigued with the rich art this culture is steeped in. She eventually found her way to India, and home of the Tibetan Government-in-exile and spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama. After living and working in the community, she came to meet a young Tibetan café owner, Tashi. Both were anxious to bring something to the community, something new, and one that would benefit others.
It was April of last year when Peak Art opened their doors with a very special mission: to show the art of young artists in the community who previously had no space, nor means, to do so, develop a stable of talented young artists and nurture them, and to create a space and business model that could compete with Western galleries.
To date, Peak Art has had four exhibitions, and is partnering with other galleries. In August, they showed select pieces in New Delhi. Mac has also met with leading New York galleries to develop shows here in the US, and there are rumors of a show in NYC in September.
Through a generous donor, Mac created a unique ‘line of credit’ for the gallery, which allows her artists to work full time, and receive a livable stipend for pieces created, that is eventually deducted from the final sale of each artists’ work.
The space serves a unique role; it is the only gallery in India dedicated to contemporary modern Tibetan art. Young exiled artists are able to show paintings of their memories of their homeland, and create more expressive pieces – a major break from the traditional devotional Tibetan art forms.
Mac and Tashi created a clean, open space, and have worked extensively to create a website to sell art, information on each artist, and beautiful printed materials to augment each show. She notes, “This is a unique opportunity for impact investing. Peak Art enables art sales to help the local artists, and it facilitates a cultural exchange. For investors, their money is going into a community that previously had not had this opportunity, and for true collectors, they are discovering new artists, many of whom have never shown before, they are truly fostering new talent in a market that will be expanding.”
Kudos to young people from different cultures working together to foster cultural understanding.
Photo credit: Peak Art Gallery, 2010