One of the things I love about Mexico is the talent of transforming and reinventing old buildings. Amazing buildings, many built during the colonial era, architectural wonders that often lay abandoned awaiting rescue.
All it takes is someone with a vision and the means to reinvent and create a new future for it. That is the case of the San Agustin Arts Center in Etla, a community located in the beautiful Central Valleys region of the state of Oaxaca.
Spanish in origin, a textile factory and hacienda dating from 1883, it ceased its operations in the 80’s after a strike that led to bankruptcy. It lay abandoned and empty except for a few remnants of its past that still pay homage to its origin today:
It was rescued in 2000 by Francisco Toledo, a brilliant Mexican artist, highly regarded internationally with a very successful career that comprises painting, sculpture, graphic arts, pottery and weaving. He had always been a patron and protector of the arts and crafts of his home state, Oaxaca, through different projects. He participated in the establishment of several libraries and also the establishment of the museum of Contemporary Art in Oaxaca to name a few of his projects. When he bought the old factory he had a vision and the dream of restoring the buildings and reinventing their purpose as the first ecological Arts Center of Latin America.
The restoration took six years and is now the most beautiful and inspiring place for aspiring artists who have access to the best workshops given by experts in many different fields like painting, graphic design, architecture, photography, sculpture, handmade paper making, dance, just to name a few. It is also inspiring for established artists, who can work on their projects and stay in residency for the duration as well as for the public, who has free access to special temporary exhibitions, concerts and a Cinema club where they can watch cultural movies.
As you will see, great care was put into the restoration, always by respecting the environment to make this Arts Center almost entirely ecological.
The paints used in the facade of the buildings for example are entirely natural dyes, most of them provided by insects like for example the cochinilla, an insect found in cactus plants and used also in the dyeing of fabrics and carpets.
The water supply to the Arts Center comes from nature as well. They managed to deviate a river stream to pass through the center and then continue on its natural journey. There are beautiful water pools throughout the center, part of the gravity-powered water system. You can also see how elements of the old textile factory were kept and brilliantly integrated in the project.
The vegetation all around is impressive and the trees enchant you. There are parts that make you wish you could linger there forever…
On the right you can see the rooms for the resident artists. This is the view they have when they wake up in the morning, very inspiring and peaceful…
Inside, the main exhibition, concert and conference hall is beautiful, it used to be the textile factory’s main production hall. There is a lower hall for temporary exhibitions as well. This is another example how space can be reinvented.
During our guided tour we also had the opportunity to enter a few workshops and witness some of the artwork being created
This particular workshop was focused on fabric and weaving creations
And this is the graphic design workshop
Although most of the artists are Mexicans, there have been exchanges with international artists who have made projects in the San Agustin Arts Center and even taught workshops.
You leave feeling inspired and in peace with the world
Before leaving Etla you can stop by the beautiful church next door.
The San Agustin Arts Center is just about a half hour drive (13 km/8 miles) from the city of Oaxaca and definitely worth a visit.
If you want to know more about the Arts center you can consult their facebook page: