Gringo : Touristic Information
Museums, Galleries and
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With the turn of the millennium a buzz from Tijuana has begun to resonate louder and louder across Mexico into the U.S. and around the world. More than a center of crime, tequila partying, or maquiladora sweatshops, this border city of almost two million has gained an international reputation for artistic endeavors.
Institutional and commercial galleries, and, in recent years, the opening of a wave of private cultural centers, have expanded the cultural scene to new heights and breadths. Interested tourists can check out an art exhibit, visit a history museum, kick back with a coffee or other beverage while you take in a cafe concert of trova, jazz, or rock, or just sit and write in your journal.(Sorry we ain't got wi.fi zonelists to tell you bloggers.)
The downtown/centro zone has become a kind of "cultural corridor" of cafes and music/theatrical venues where artists and cultural promoters regularly present concerts and plays. Look over your shoulder: behind the tourist noise, Tijuana is become a metropolis of art.
It always was, of course; now it's just bigger. This art/culture development did not spring from Zeus' brow overnight; no, the Tijuanenses have been working long and hard developing a cultural scene amongst themselves for over a hundred years. But with the recent decades' boom in population, has also come an explosion of art, music, dance, literature, film, radio, in a heady mix of classical tradition and avant-garde experimentation you can sometimes witness in institutional galleries or cultural-center cafes, in theatrical, music or dance performances, in books and magazines, on the internet, in open-air street markets or public festival events.
It used to be when you said "Tijuana art" gringo-people would think of Elvis painted on velvet or Bette Boop modelled in plaster. Well, they are still here, kitsching side by side with Jim Morrison, Spiderman, our Lady of Guadalupe, and SquareBob SpongeHead (or whatever his name is - he can be had both in statues and piñatas).
Also, there have been for years -- and still are -- shops selling living-room quality "Mexican" landscapes, still-lifes, and streetscenes, as well as folk-art from all over la republica mexicana. But, beyond that wide variety of traditional and curio-art of every quality, millennial visitors can also look for contemporary art on exhibition in the city's galleries, cafes and cultural centers.
Tijuana, it seems, thrives not just on the frontier between nations, but also on the cutting edge of art and culture in our rapidly evolving transnational globalized world. Everything and anything can literally happen here, be found here, be bought and sold here. And art is no different than any other profession. In fact, many times art is both ahead of, and behind, the curve. Contemporary theorists, curators, and critics throw around lables like posmoderno y vanguardista y neobarroco, proclaiming that a re-imagination and transformation of traditional techniques and genres is now taking place on this frontier between the so-called 1st and 3rd worlds.
A good set of articles on artists in Tijuana was published in 2002 in the San Diego Onion Triboon. If want to read more, especially on a few individual artists, go check it out. Unless they change their address, you can find them on-line. [PHILIP: get & embed links pleez...OKAY OKAY here it is but it's NOT p.c. heh heh].
If you're in radio range — in San Diego, mostly, and some areas further up the coast — you can catch some of this vibe on Estereo Frontera 102.5 FM — a non-commecial station where la cultura está en el aire the culture is in the air. Depending on when you tune in you'll hear classical, rock, cutting edge, jazz, traditional Mexican tunes as well as international genres, etcetera.
Unlike nearby Los Angeles or even San Diego, there is no large commercial gallery scene here. There are privately owned galleries, yes, some run by artists, some by businesspeople, but "the scene" per se is dominated by government and educational institutions like the state of Baja California Instituto Cultural de Baja California ICBC; the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California UABC has been developing an academic humanities/arts program (they have a splendid gallery space on their Otay campus as well as a theater), the federal government-built Centro Cultural de Tijuana CECUT, and the municipal (Tijuana city) Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura IMAC with its Casa de la Cultura and (temporarily closed) Galeria de la Ciudad.
HEY MIKEY!!! GET SOMETHING ABOUT THE PRIVATE GALLERIES!!!! LIKE THE GERMANS IN CACHO, ETCET....
There are also a cluster of coffeehouses and privately-run "cultural centers" which provide space where artists display and perform, and where visitors can experience -- for a small cover charge or price of a cappucino or cocktail -- the performing or visual arts on this frontier.
El Lugar del Nopal
Arguably or not the most important, but certainly the largest institution in town, is the CECUT -- Centro Cultural de Tijuana (http://www.cecut.gob.mx/) -- known affectionately here as "la Bola" because of the large (five-story high) brown ball (an OMNIMAX theater/planetarium) that anchors its facility in the River Zone (Zona Rio) next to the world's largest scissors monument (two giant sword-like things sticking straight up out of a rounded base – actually the Mexico Monument), across from the Plaza Rio shopping mall (with its cineplexes -- a good bargain for entertainment), Mcdonalds, and the Plaza Fiesta village of bars and cafes (and curious Plaza de Zapato shoe-mall building). This is all just a two block walk from the Mercado Hidalgo (for those who want to explore Zona Rio on foot).But there are many others.
Where were we, Mikey? At the CECUT, Dano. Oh yes. CECUT was constructed twenty-some years ago during the first stage of the oil-boom urban river renewal project which displaced thousands of the bootstrapping poor from "Cartolandia," which (we have heard rumors, but cannot swear to the truth) brought the President (Echeveria de Tlatelolco massacre) and his Mistress and one or more of her infamous white pianos to town (provincially proud Tijuanenses still snarl), and by the way created a new upscale zone full of hotels, offices, stores, and restaurants.
In spite of such a beginning freighted by technocratic power from Tenochtitlan, CECUT and the zona rio have worked their way into the hearts of Tijuana residents old and new, and "la bola" has become an icon of both national and local pride. It is the cultural center par excellence and premier concert/theatrical venue in town. Yours truly felt immensely honored to be asked to read there, once upon a time.
They have a web page http://www.cecut.gob.mx/ .
CECUT boasts multiple gallery spaces, an excellent bookstore, small video theater (sala de video) with regular classic film screenings for 20 pesos, a large theater (sala de espectaculos) where plays and concerts are regularly presented (home to the Baja California symphony orchestra), the aforementioned OMNIMAX dome, a regular series of writer's talks and history conferences (in Spanish in the sala de lectura) as well as a small cafe-bar and luxuriously clean (free!) restrooms.
CECUT almost always has several art exhibitions of national quality up and running, and its opening inaugurations bring out a binational crowd of art fans and patrons who sip L.A. Cetto wines and mix while viewing the latest exhibit.
new exhibition space of three galleries of 1600 square meters is under construction
Its educational programs are diverse and important to its mission. Children and adults study everything from art to history. The archeological garden outdoors (open days, and a few evenings for programs -- ask for directions) displays replicas of important examples of ancient Mexican monuments -- even a large, walk-around book (codex/codice) replete with pictographs (NOTE: 2005: Garden closed during expansion/construction).
This federal institution is also home to the Museo de las Californias (in Spanish) - Museum of Baja California (admission charge), which is a superb venue for reviewing the history of this region. Indians, Missions, Ranchos, and Modern-Day Development. Very beautiful models! Museum signage is in both English and Spanish, most helpful to the cultural tourist from the other side.
Paid underground parking is available (enter from the side street Mina). Every taxi driver in the city knows the name CECUT ("say-koot" -- five or seven dollars from the border/downtown). Most busses labled "Plaza Rio" in the windshield will pass by, as well as several route taxis, including the brown & beige Otay taxis from 3rd (Carrillo Puerto) & Constitución (get off when you see the big brown ball by the gigantic scissors) or make sure the driver understands you want CECUT. Busses are fifty-five cents U.S., and route taxis crammed full of riders cost seventy-five or more depending on the hour.
CECUT also offers a broad series of educational programs with very reasonable registration fees. Spanish is generally necessary to take advantage of these opportunities.
Like most museums in Mexico, CECUT galleries are closed on Mondays. See also the gringo's poem about one (inSITE) event he witnessed 24 Feb 2001.
ICBCThe Instituto Cultural de Baja California (ICBC) sits across the river channel from Plaza Rio shopping mall, next door to the Juárez public library, in the gardens south of the new City Hall aka Palacio Municipal. (See walking routes from downtown or direct from the border.) Not as large a complex as the nearby CECUT across the river, ICBC nevertheless is an important promoter of culture and art, providing a pair of good spaces for exposition: (1) an auditorium where theater, dance, music, film/video screenings, and conferences are hosted; and (2) a gallery space where exhibitions are regularly presented by important local and regional artists.
A small cafe sits in the corner of the building which serves your usual varieties of coffee beverages and snacks. The gardens outside are a pleasant, safe place to picnic and walk, and along with the nearby Palacio plaza, are the site of many public festivals, including outdoor concerts and the Independence Night "grito de libertad" (shout of liberty) on September 15th each year.
Any bus going to "Palacio" will pass by (make sure you get off at the Palacio), and all taxi drivers know where that is ("Pah-LAH-see-oh"). Many people park at the shopping mall and walk over the convenient pedestrian bridge across the river channel. This would allow you to combine shopping or a movie with the gallery visit. This part of town is reasonably safe, but don't throw your wallet around. Get your car out of the mall lot before midnight (when the last movie plex lets out).
PARKING is also available right next door to ICBC itself, in the State Palace lot. Entry is right off the main street.
IMACThe city of Tijuana -- el municipio -- also offers official arts and culture programs, generally administered through el Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura (IMAC). This institution operates the city libraries in various parts of town, the casas de la cultura, outreach programs into neighborhoods, and the galeria de la ciudad (city gallery) downtownCLOSED and other various and sundry programs. IMAC headquarters itself in an historic building at the corner of 2nd & Constitución, which used to be the city hall (palacio municipal) until the new was completed in the river zone.
PLEASE NOTE in December 2003 and January 2004 and until who knows when???? The expalacio IMAC downtown is SHUT DOWN for remodeling and the courtyard is DUG UP. You cannot go there yet....There is, according to the newspapers and people we talk with, a political struggle going on over the very existence of the Municipal Institute. The latest director supposedly resigned in protest. The Mayor, of course, gets the blame. It doesn't help matters that most artists refer to him as an assassin. Maybe he is. His bodyguard was convicted of murdering the editor of Zeta twenty years ago. But that, as they say, is another story, like Henry II of England and Thomas Becket. And gringoes are forbidden to involve ourselves with politics. Culture yes, politics no.
This historic ex-palacio was constructed early in the century on the site of the Mexican Fair which attracted California tourists before the roaring twenties and prohibition. The building is worth visiting for its history alone, and ESPECIALY because its inviting, quiet courtyard is a refreshing spot to rest and take a break from downtown streets, being conveniently located amid bustling street markets and stores, halfway between Revolución and the Cathedral. Enter through the black iron gates under the arches on 2nd (Juárez), to the right of the money changing window and harmonica-playing street beggar.
IMAC administrative offices are upstairs, with some flyers and bulletin board available to inform you on recent and upcoming cultural events. If you speak Spanish you should check out what's happening and maybe plan to catch a concert or play, eh?
Back on the ground floor, the official city archive is located on the right hand side of the first courtyard. They have a collection of newspapers, etc., and a small exhibit space.
La galeria de la ciudad was once straight ahead inside the patio, and a big metal plaque on the wall still proclaims its proud creation. It has been closed for reasons best left untouched here since the federal constitution says foreigners can not and may not involve ourselves in political activities. We are strictly limited to culture but we do miss the presence of a public gallery downtown that used to put on some extremely daring exhibitions, some of which did not permit children to enter because of nudes in art. Ah, art. The ex-gallery space has meanwhile been re-opened (2003) as the downtown library -- sign in at the desk and check your backpacks if you want to study your Spanish in books. There is also a small gallery space in the corner of the library. The library is open most weeknights until six or seven.
Some Saturdays there are concerts, dances and arts/crafts markets in the open courtyard. Even if there's nothing happening in the courtyards, think about going in if it's open. Great spot to set a spell and rest your feet. There's almost always a security guard or two around somewhere to keep things calm and prevent vendors (or beggars) from sticking their hands in your face. Definitely an island of guarded peace in the frantic heart of downtown. Entrance under the arches by 2nd & Constitución. NO no No NO No no....
Casa de la CulturaLa Casa de la Cutura (House of Culture) is an important cultural phenomenon all across Mexico -- most towns have at least one for development and enjoyment of arts by the people (el pueblo). Citizens can take classes in everything from dance and music to language, painting and sculpture, as well as attend exhibitions, readings, concerts and theatrical performances. The main Tijuana casa commands the hilltop above the west end of el centro (downtown), up Fourth Street, in the neighborhood called Altamira. It used to be a big school building -- very impressive architecture.
The Casa features several gallery spaces with multiple exhibitions -- there is always something to see -- a theater, artist studios (sometimes open to visitors but please do not disturb classes), and the café galeria with its capucinos and exhibits and evening performance schedule (Daniel read his poetry there once). Even the hallways are called into service as gallery space. This facility and CECUT are perhaps the two most important exhibition facilities in Tijuana. The Casa building itself is a gem -- a beautiful old school structure with magnificent early 20th-century architecture, ensconced amid towering trees and lawns, with parking lot behind.
The Casa de la Cultura is administered by the IMAC (Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura) which usually posts their schedule/calendar (in Spanish) here BUT that includes ALL CITY EVENTS, not just the Casa.
To get to the Casa on the hill:Take a taxi especial (maybe seven to ten dollars from the border) or from downtown take a blue ALTAMIRA bus from Third between Constitucion and Niños (B & C) or a blue ALTAMIRA/VILLA taxi from Third (Tercera, by the way) between Niños and Miguel Martinez (D Avenue). GET OFF at the TOP of the BIG hill. The Casa is that big old school building surrounded by trees.UABC
For those of you who dare to drive from downtown, go along 3rd past the park and one block more, then turn left on H and next right on Fourth Street (ONLY from H Avenue -- 4ta is one way the other way before then). Driving from the beaches via autopista-Juárez-2nd, turn right on H (at the Calimax supermarket), go two blocks to turn right on 4th and climb the hill. At the top, the Casa is in front of you. Go in that gate and park in the parking lot.
PEDESTRIANS: The truly daring may walk up the outdoor staircase from Fourth before it bends around the hill. Off in the canyon on your left you may hear the zeburros roaring in their corrals at night. Don't step on the human poop on the staircase. At the top of the outdoor staircase (built ages ago for kids to go uphill to the old school), you get to a sidewalk. Go straight ahead briefly, and then the Casa will be first to the right, but then left across the street (NOT in someone's back yard!!!). You usually have to go all the way around to the parking lot to get inside the iron fence -- unless the gate is open.
There is also a beautiful Casa de la Cultura in Playas de Tijuana adjoining the Cortijo San Jose horse ring, just off Paseo del Pedregal on Avenida del Agua. It offers classes, movie screenings, a gallery, and cafe literario. Parking.
The Universidad Autonoma de Baja California has a recently constructed gallery space in a section of the campus back and to the right some distance beyond the Vizcaino Theater (approaching on foot from the big boulevard and pedestrian bridge).
They regularly present exhibitions by local and national artists. The gallery has a series of different spaces large and small, with some area of low ceiling, and others of high ceilings, and is thus suitable for both traditional painting and sculpture both large and small, as well as more contemporary installation exhibits.
HEY: MIKEY: get some kind of linkage info, will ya?
Um... better get Philip working on that, Dano.
Well, until then, the UABC campus is located on Otay Mesa, out in what used to be the middle of nowhere but is now a booming, bustling, developing region of the monstrous city. As the crow flies the university is just south of the international airport. Fortunately the airplanes do NOT take off over the school.
Privately operated "cultural centers"
Recently -- in the past few years -- a new group of small clubs have opened up, generically called centros culturales, a kind of a mix of artist cafe and performance space, where you can usually get a drink, whether coffee-type, alcohol, or fruit or soda, etc., and something tasty to snack on, while you talk and listen to music. Many of these centers also put on alternative theatrical productions or dance, as well as hosting art exhibitions. Local cogniscenti wax nostalgic about one now-defunct great-grandfather of these establishments, the Rio Rita, which sat right on Revolution Avenue -- but it's since been remodeled as a hotel of the same name -- and it doesn't look cheap. Classy, actually.
2006 UPDATE: a "sotano" (basement) cafe/theater/performance space is opening up in the Rio Rita building.
The privately-run centro cultural phenomenon in Tijuana appears to be an alternative to the big institutional spaces like CECUT (the "Centro Cultural de Tijuana" no?). Artistic freedom, without bureaucratic or governmental dominance and direction, seems to be the driving motive behind their existence -- not a new motive, by any means, but now, at the turn of the millennium, Tijuana is experiencing a sudden flourishing of these venues. By patronising these establishments you can experience contemporary Mexican culture and art and music, and help them to succeed in their mission while you enjoy yourself. Other than getting invited to a private party at someone's home or their afterhours place of business, this is maybe the most authentic cultural nightlife experience you can find on short notice.
The centers we have either visited or had recommended to us include
La Casa de la Nueve – an old, converted house behind a tall wooden fence, quite charming, on 9th street somewhere around Quintana Roo. They have a small gallery next door, along with your usual art hanging on the cafe walls, and La Antigua Bodega de Papel – on 11th street right off of Revolution, a converted paper warehouse, with regular music lineups every evening and El Lugar del Nopal – a truly magnificent island of tranquility just six blocks west of Revolution on 6th street, and up from the corner half a block before the outdoor staircase to Independencia neighborhood. La Casa de los Sueños cerca de cental camionera on via rapida oriente 682 2937 El Sortilegio on Sanchez Taboada next door to the big El Dia libreria (bookstore)
We apologize to those centers we have not mentioned here... send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to get by and check you out. Hablamos y leemos español y entonces puedes escribirnos en ese idioma si prefieres para explicar cualquier cosa sobre tu centro o club o café cantante lo que sea. Gracias por tu paciencia.
"The Place of the Nopal-Cactus" -- as its name means -- is old enough to have breathed some of the same air that enlivened the old Rio Rita. About five-and-a-half blocks west of Revolution, el Nopal sits tucked against the south hills at the end of Cinco de Mayo (F avenue) just past 6th street, in the west end of the centro -- downtown. It showcases a variety of musical and artistic performers -- almost all Spanish speaking/singing -- many of national and international reputation. This is an intimate, close-up experience, with a feel very much like a classic small club in Madrid or San Francisco. Very popular with the young and the beautiful. Its Friday and Saturday evening events usually have a cover charge around a hundred pesos, sometimes fifty (ten dollars, five dollars). They provide a delicious menu of food, including sandwiches and snack plates (botanas), as well as a good line of drinks, wine, beer. On busy nights the man down at the corner will help you park your car and watch out for it. It is customary to tip the car-watchers in Mexico.