Asanbay Center: What Is It?
Several weeks ago Bishkek got a new place, Asanbay Center. The city has seen no such large-scale projects since LOFT Tseh and ololohaus. The first used to be a favorite place of the Bishkek’s creative community and used to provide office space to designers, video production companies, magazines and etc. Now those days are long gone and ololohaus is the epicenter of the creative class in Bishkek. And luckily it’s not alone now, 1,700-square-meter Asanbay Center has some quite ambitious plans for Bishkek citizens.
Aida Sulova, who played several roles in the development of Asanbay Center starting from designing the place and up to promoting it and working with events, is always presented as an artist, as an activist, as a painter and as a designer. When asked how she would position herself, he says there’s probably no single word for everything she is trying to do and modestly replies that she is just a curious person.
As a graduate of NYU Aida could easily pursue a successful career in New York. And she did — Aida works for HMA2 design firm based in NYC. Still she came to the Kyrgyz Republic to start something new for herself. Having an opportunity to live and work in one of the best cities in the world and coming back to Bishkek might seem strange for some young people in Bishkek. Again, in a very modest way Aida says she sees absolutely nothing heroic in her decision. She feels good and finds lots of interesting in both cities.
An idea of a place for a range of different events in Bishkek came to Aida long time ago and she was expecting such a place to open in Bishkek. But nothing happened and Bishkek kept getting more restaurants and places for ‘toi’, which stands for a feast in Kyrgyz. The only place in Bishkek in recent years, which she was happy about, is the building of the American University of Central Asia. As a part of HMA2 Aida has worked on the AUCA project too — from design and navigation and up to developing public art programs.
When she was approached by a local entrepreneur and looked at the place, she saw a large potential in the project. A transformer is one of the definitions she gives to Asanbay Center, which is often confused with an art center or a gallery. While there is special place for art in this project, Asanbay Center is much more — as Aida says, it’s a pretty flexible place, which can host both contemporary art exhibitions and hackathons. The range is wide and includes commercial presentations like one Samsung recently had — the place if a for-profit project and has to cover its expenses. The concept is realized even in the design of Asanbay Center — it’s mostly monochromic. This was done intentionally to let the organizing parties to use their own decorations and create their own design. Supporting art, education and development is our mission, — says Aida. Still, there are limits and proposals like the recent offer to host an ultimate fighting event are not acceptable.
Asanbay Center was a new experience for Aida — she has never been involved into business projects of this scale — she was more used to cooperate with non-for-profit organizations. After researching the events taking place in Bishkek, Aida saw that lots of great events need a better place. Apart from providing space for events two-story, Asanbay Center also has a gallery, a designer shop, a book shop, a coffee shop and a restaurant upstairs.
Spending most of her time in Asanbay Center Aida has bonded with the team. She even brought a symphonic orchestra once to perform for her construction workers one night. Even now Aida spends most of her day in the center. You can understand how dedicated she is to the project when you learn she has moved to an apartment nearby to save time. No wonder her colleagues from NYC, who visited Asanbay Center, highly appreciated Aida's work.
A Georgian-cuisine restaurant Niko is located on the second floor of Asanbay Center. This led to some controversy with some people stating on social media it was inappropriate. When asked if she is comfortable with such a neighborhood of an art center and a restaurant, Aida says she had to follow the concept, which was agreed from the very beginning. Moreover, she has researched the cases of such a combination in developed countries where art centers also had such neighboring units. Aida says understands such a reaction, but she also sees some sort of snobbery in such comments. She wants art to become more accessible — if we have a Georgian restaurant on the second floor, it doesn't mean it somehow invalidates our art center, — says Aida. She also tells a story about foreign painters, who visited to Bishkek and made paintings particularly for the restaurant and had no problems with that.
Asanbay Center is not a regular space for Bishkek and it's not surprising it got so much publicity. Kazakh media have recently visited the center, complimenting Bishkek by calling it Berlin of Central Asia. Hopefully Bishkek will have more projects of this scale justifying the compliment above.