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Capitalism vs Culture in San Miguel

by Viridiana Gutiérrez

How do we address issues of an urgent nature for art and culture in our city, particularly the relationships between cultural policies, cultural tourism and cultural economy in a place like San Miguel de Allende?

Today the fundamental objectives in San Miguel de Allende are directed towards overflowing tourism and first-class real estate. These are transforming the urban landscape without awareness of the ecological balance of the area surrounding the Historic Center. Nor is there a decent urban development plan for the improvement of the city. This makes housing more expensive, pushing the local community to the periphery, leaving it in conditions of poverty, lack of resources, basic services and vulnerable to crime.

That is the condition of San Miguel, a place so recognized and captured in the imagination not only of Mexicans, but of foreigners as a cultural artistic center par excellence in our country. With the city's historical past and its relevance in international cultural relations , as a model of transformation of a place through art, where and how does art play a preponderant role as an active agent of city life?

Clearly, for a few years, the commercial integration and the phenomenon of goods, services and cultural products has been growing rapidly. However, this does not mean that these offerings have been or are of good quality. On the contrary, what can be seen is entirely commercial, spectacle rather than engaged proposal, the banalized and kitsch exploitation of Mexican icons for the rejoicing of the uncultivated eye of self and others. These are crass market strategies, more appropriate to sell objects in Sears or Liverpool than artistic objects with symbolic and transcendental value.

To the surprise of those of us who dedicate ourselves to the management, promotion and production of artistic and cultural goods, this mechanism has worked to attract a consumption of these objects by a wealthy Mexican and foreign class that comes for weekends or short seasons. They are buying apartments and houses in dollars to have them sit empty and then renting them through AirBnB or turning them into five-star boutique hotels. These same people have turned San Miguel into an expensive and fictitious city. All of us who inhabit it and for its integrity see daily how everything that has made it marvelous and for which it has been recognized as world-class is destroyed.

This is not new. We are suffering in the cultural scene of the country. San Miguel is no exception in lacking methodologies to effectively observe, measure, quantify and qualify all supply and demand, the GDP changes generate and their real impact on the community. Still generally it is obvious that the elitist character of the art world in San Miguel distances it deeply from the social reality. In one ne of the poorest municipalities in the country, and the largest in the State of Guanajuato, the social good is far from being relevant in the cultural agents of the city.

However, not everything is so dark. Within that tangle of retired pseudo-artists, galleries of bad taste and carnival festivals, there are independent groups, managers and artists of yesteryear and a new litter - some native and others adopted by San Miguel - that work with strong conviction and pursue objectives that respond to the social and current needs of art. There are mechanisms and strategies that seek dialogue, inter and transdisciplinarity, the exhibition of young artists and mid-career offerings, exchanges, residences, multidisciplinary groups, collaborations and encounters. Such work of enlightened conscience acts as resistance and opposition to the establishment.

The work is arduous and slow, but satisfying. Those involved are often the same people, without greater significance to or integration in the local community. Yet, there are exceptions. There are projects that seek the integration of marginalized communities through artistic instruction, the promotion of reading and the theater of conscience. These communities remain at a distance under the idea that art and culture in San Miguel is by and for gringos. These initiatives advocate maintaining an effervescence and enthusiasm to generate ideas and links that go beyond the curiousity memorializing the heritage of the city and its people.

It must be taken into account that San Miguel is not San Miguel without the participation of the foreign community, those that live here full-time and the floating seasonal population. Many of them are the main promoters of the artistic scene in the city, through the the work of Civil Associations, patronages, groups and mere sociability. It should be said, without sounding malinchista, that somehow they are much more organized than us Mexicans. They quickly relate and carry out actions that have widely affected the city in different areas. For better or worse, it our scene is multicultural and bilingual. Relating to each other for the realization of artistic-cultural proposals is inevitable. By percentage the foreign cultural consumer exceeds the Mexican consumer. Supply and demand is based on the foreign cultural consumer's key existence in the town. Learning to live together, work and collaborate with them is part of living in San Miguel.

To assert now that San Miguel de Allende is an artistic center par excellence would be a mistake. Local, state and federal government agencies lack of interest and commitment to invest in an effective cultural plan, one that will support independent entities in achieving their objectives and will make the reality of Felipe Cossío's dream come true. We need to revitalize the visions of Pomar, Stirling Dickinson, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Gabriela Mistral and many others that made up the cultural San Miguel de Allende in the first half of the 20th century.

While the growing social, economic and objective inequality in San Miguel make it difficult to visualize a prominent future, in recent years a new generation is coming, not only to San Miguel de Allende, but to the Bajío in general, with the aim of transforming cultural dynamics, to stop working in isolation, to work as a region.

The battle against the capitalist monster that overwhelms us and dominates the scene, finds its nemesis in the micro-actions and independent artistic micro-communities that through the interdependent work are acquiring strength. We are taking paths that guarantee their self-management and permanence, with the objective of giving continuity to the projects for the growth, the relevance and the transcendence of the contemporary artistic proposals in the region and in the country in general.

(Editor's note: this is a free translation of the original Spanish.)


Viridiana Gutiérrez is Co Owner/Director in Still House Studio, The business side of the artist's mind, a local resource designed for the success of artists, galleries and cultural businesses: art reproduction, marketing, art gallery and more.

Viridiana is an Art Historian graduated from the Casa Lamm Study Center in Mexico City. Since 2006, she has been working as a promoter of visual arts through collaboration with cultural institutions such as Casa del Lago, UNAM, the Academy of San Carlos and the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana; and with private initiatives such as the Arcaute Gallery in the city of Monterrey, the La Refaccionaria Gallery, Aiieer Arte Objeto, and Klassik Design Galería in Mexico City. From 2009-2011, he studied the Master's in Modern and Contemporary Art, focusing his knowledge towards curatorship and critical theoretical thinking in art. She currently works as Coordinator of Exhibitions and projects, in the Cultural Center "El nigromante" in S.M.A.

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