Delfina Entrecanales CBE and Aaron Cezear.
LONDON - Petite and immaculately dressed, Delfina Entrecanales CBE cuts an unlikely figure as the giant philanthropist she really is. I first met her on the arm of her founding Director Aaron Cezar as she was entering an event in London. I had no idea that I was about to be introduced to one of the most dynamic women in the art world, listed amongst the Power 50 of the Middle East by Canvas Magazine in March 2012. As with many truly instrumental people, it is impossible to list the extent of her achievements and influence. Suffice it to say that the recent honour bestowed upon her was more than well-deserved.
It all started out in 1988 in an old jeans factory where Delfina first set up the Delfina Studios Trust, helping artists at post-graduate and/or early crucial stages of their career. Before long the Stratford space was outgrown and a chocolate factory provided 34 studios, a gallery and a restaurant. Over the years, an estimated 400 artists in residence from across the world benefitted from this scheme, at least 13 of whom became Turner Prize nominees. The list of these artists reads like the who’s who of the art world as we know it. But more importantly, this remarkable ‘artist colony’ welcomed a significant number of artists from the MENA region: Susan Hefuna, Bita Fayyazi, Farhad Moshiri, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Khalil Rabah to name but a few.
In 2007 at the age of 80, having travelled extensively to Jordan and Syria, Delfina set up a Foundation whose mission is promote cultural exchange between cultural practitioners in MENA and the UK. Aaron Cezar, the experienced CEO-figure of the Foundation, oversees the mutual artistic exchanges between the two regions via residencies and public programmes. By now, 100 regional artists have engaged in these residencies, visits and programmes, whilst British and other international artists have participated in residencies in Damascus, Beirut, Bethlehem, Muscat, Dubai, and Halabja. Activities are expanding as we speak, via partnerships and exchanges, receiving awards and commendations for its work.
At the centre of it remains Delfina herself, making decisions, tending to the daily life of the artists. Now no 31 Catherine Place has been added to the property portfolio (next to the existing no 29), doubling the work capacity of the Foundation in the UK. The sky seems to be the limit for this inspirational organization and its praiseworthy mission.