DOVER — Last week, Dr. Basilio Bautista added yet another award to his long list of achievements and honors, as he was presented with the 2012 Mayor’s Arts Award for his longtime support of the arts in Dover.
Established in 2007 by then-Mayor Stephen Speed, the city council and the Greater Arts Council, the awards were established to “honor groups and individuals that have made a profound impact on the artistic and cultural life” of the Greater Dover area. Up to three awards may be given annually
This year, the Biggs Museum of American Art also received the honor. Although the award is meant to include individual artists and performers, teachers, instructors, mentors and advocates of the arts, according to Dr. Bautista, he is only the second adult to receive the honor individually.
“This award is very significant to me,” said Dr. Bautista, who retired from his practice as a plastic surgeon in 2002. “It was a boyhood dream of mine to be in the art world. It is also special to me because I received the award not for being an artist, but for what I have done for the (local) art world.”
Civic leader Kay Wood Bailey nominated Dr. Bautista for the award.
“I would have to combine the works of a dozen people or more to equal a part of what this Renaissance man has contributed to Dover and its environs,” she wrote in her nomination letter. “His personal giftings are almost biblical in variety and scope. He has appeared to use one talent and then received 10 more, which he uses to benefit the community at large.”
Frank Fantini first met Dr. Bautista when they worked together on the conversion of the old Capital Theater building to what is now the Schwartz Center of the Arts. Mr. Fantini said that Dr. Bautista made a large, much needed financial donation for the project.
“Dr. Bautista is a unique individual in that he is both an artist and a patron of the arts,” Mr. Fantini said. “He is both an accomplished composer and musician, but also a very generous supporter of the arts. He’s been involved in so many different dimensions of the local art scene. It is hard to think of anyone in this town or anywhere else who has made a bigger contribution to the arts.”
Almost from the day he set up practice in Dover in 1972 as a plastic surgeon, Dr. Bautista began earning a good reputation through his support of the local art scene, as well as through his own abilities as a photographer and a composer — achieving for himself many of the dreams he had as a child growing up in the Philippines.
As a youth he had been persuaded to pursue “loftier” careers by his mother, who raised he and his siblings after his father was captured and executed by the Japanese near the end of World War II.
His father’s final words to him before being taken away by the Japanese have stuck with him throughout his life and have figured in lifetime ambition to excel sat many different areas.
“He told me, ‘Do the best in whatever you do and be the best in whatever you choose to be.’ Those words of my father have always guided me,” Dr. Bautista said.
His high school guidance counselor, also helped set him on course for his lifetime of achievements as a doctor, photographer, composer and community leader.
“My guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to be and I told him ‘a journalist and an artist, a photo journalist’ and my counselor said ‘I’m not surprised. But if I may advise you, take a profession that is more secure, then you can be whatever you want to be,’” related Dr. Bautista.
Dr. Bautista’s first awards as a serious photographer came in a contest for members of an international plastic surgeon’s association attending their annual convention, where he entered five photographs and won three prizes: First and second place in black and white photography and a third place in color photography — two of his photographs being purchased by fellow plastic surgeons from France and Austria.
“That was quite a thrill to think my pictures were being shown internationally, one in a doctor’s office in Paris and another in a doctor’s home in Austria,” he said.
Though Dr. Bautista first came to the United States in 1961, he moved around quite a bit looking for a place to settle down, including Winnipeg, Buffalo and West Virginia, before he opened his own practice in Dover in 1972 where, in his words; “there were no other plastic surgeons, it was a wide open field.”
As soon as Dr. Bautista bought a house, he set up his garage as an art gallery, first for his own works and eventually to display the works of other young photographers. He also bought himself a piano, so he could learn to play.
In 1976, he moved his gallery to downtown Dover, opening Gallery 76 on State Street. He later changed the gallery’s name to Galleria de Artes Internacional. For the next 10 years until the gallery’s closing in 1986, he exhibited the works of young upstart artists, often personally paying for their openings and the musicians who would play at those openings.
In 1987, he converted his art gallery to a surgery center, happily noting that it was the first surgery center in the state that wasn’t located in a hospital.
Over the next 25 years, Dr. Bautista’s influence on the local art scene became so well recognized that in December 2002, the third-floor exhibit hall of the Schwartz Center for the Arts was named for him.
During that time, Dr. Bautista has composed music — writing a special wedding song “All My Love” for his wife Amelia in 1996 as well as a lullaby for his children among other works — and he has had two CDs of his compositions recorded. His compositions have been performed by the Dover Symphony Orchestra and been adapted for a local ballet company, and he produced a special musical show and arranged appearances by musicians for special benefit concerts.
But Dr. Bautista hasn’t concentrated solely on the arts since his retirement.
In 2002, he started the Philippine-American Physicians of Delaware Foundation, which evolved in April 2004 as the HOPE Foundation upon the establishment of the Hope Medical Center. The Hope Medical Center continues to play a major role in offering medical services to the community, having been utilized 52,000 times in 2011.
Once the Hope Medical Center became a reality, the foundation redirected itself to help physically and mentally challenged children and was renamed the Child Help Foundation. The foundation provides humanitarian support for children through financial grants to qualified nonprofit organizations that serve Kent County.
“I want to help children. It is something that has been important to me,” said Dr. Bautista, who in his early years as a plastic surgeon returned to his native country, the Philippines, to care for children with such defects as cleft palates and cleft chins.
Dr. Bautista’s wife, Amelia, wrote and self-published his father’s story in 2010, entitled “The Man, The Martyr and the Hero: the Legacy of Basilio Borja Bautista,” a project she said she wanted to complete while those who knew his father were still alive to give firsthand accounts of his life.
Proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Child Help Foundation.
Dr. Bautista said copies of the book and CD are still available for sale, with the proceeds going to his foundation. He said for $35 or more donors may receive a copy of the book or a one of his CDs. For $100, they may receive the book and both CDs.
Despite the fact that Dr. Bautista, now in his 70s, has accomplished so much, he said he still has two projects he wishes to complete.
“I am currently working on my memoirs, and I dream of one day publishing a book of my own photography,” he added.
John Evans is a freelance writer living in Easton, Md.