Being an archipelago, not merely islands. An overview of art spaces in Acapulco.
by Antonio Lozano
In Acapulco, more than a lack of spaces, the main issue resides in their functionality, whether institutional or independent. Let us take a look…
Prior to the pandemic, the Museum of the Seven Regions, one of several existing exhibition spaces in Acapulco administered by the Culture Secretariat for the State of Guerrero, held four exhibitions in just over two years in operation. The Secretariat, instead of venturing into creating new shows, has opted to recycle proposals that are hung, taken down, and rehung for very brief periods in order to plug the gaps in its program schedule. Not one of the four galleries under its management located in the Port is used to its best possible advantage. The current reality of this public institution is that it has no idea what to do with its spaces, and is a clear example of the futility of managing spaces without crucial guidelines for executing this process.
In the independent sphere, the immense efforts of artists and local arts managers to open and maintain spaces are undeniable: The question is whether all of those efforts are well directed. The spaces open with no outline of a solid work program, few activities, and little planning, but above all, with little clarity regarding ways to maintain and sustain the spaces. The low volume of activity at some of these throws doubt on the relevance of their very existence. If we consider other fields such as medicine, for example, it is not uncommon for several colleagues to share a consulting space, dividing operational and service costs equally to reduce the financial burden on the doctors or psychologists involved, and scheduling to optimize use of the space. This example is not being used to imply art managers and other creative agents should close their spaces, but to openly suggest there is a need to rethink the current subsistence and usage strategies, in favor of their viability and functionality.
Another problem facing independent spaces in the Port is the lack of attention to creating an audience. The absence of strategies to identify and promote the intended public’s participation is mirrored in the low attendance and unwillingness to pay the entrance fee for some events, and although this is a countrywide issue, it is particularly evident in Acapulco, where everyone wants everything for free.
These factors stunt the development of activity in independent spaces, as they are constantly battling to capture the minimum audience needed to carry out their functions. That the public does not want to pay for a workshop, the Institution considers is should not have to, the artist does not demand it, all reveal there has been a complete devaluation of artistic work. We must try to transform these dynamics; it is a long and hard process, but it will eventually give rise to a healthier cultural environment. To this end, and first and foremost, we must value ourselves, and value our artworks, knowledge, and skills.
One of the main tasks to undertake is creating memory; there is little documentation of artistic activity that has occurred in Acapulco, few articles, interviews, texts, photographs, and videos… The little information that does exist is dispersed. It needs to be organized, made sense of, conferred a narrative, and given an outlet through diverse platforms (publications, blogs, etc.). In this respect, the work carried out in recent years by ADN Cultura, or ‘Culture DNA’, has been unquestionable. However, in addition to this more in-depth research needs to be conducted, essays written, and critical and historiographical exercises done to review and analyze the Port’s artistic production.
Another pending matter is the creation of a cultural corridor, something several Acapulco artists and art managers have been working on but have yet to consolidate. The central Port was and still remains the area with the greatest concentration of cultural spaces. It is currently home to Municipal Library #22, Bar del Puerto, Pinzona 109, La Quebrada, Espacio de Arte, The San Diego Fort, the Museum of the Seven Regions, and the Domingo Soler Cultural Center, and some years ago also housed Raya y línea, Casona de Juárez, Demina, and Punto Centro. Not far away are Hotel Flamingos, Casa de los Vientos and the Fortín Álvarez. Considering the number of spaces in the area, a cultural corridor could foster a common activities program; at a most basic, background level it would allow for the start of the weaving of collaborative networks between different initiatives, a return to collective organization practices and mutual support, leaving thoughts of oneself / one’s own space behind in favor of collectivity. Thinking the public will visit and get to know my space and also that of my companions allows us to offer the public more dynamic and diverse options. Working individually and in isolation (each in their own space) has so far borne little fruit. Perhaps we should change our strategy and try others, such as collaboration and collective intelligence.
Dynamics such as these could lead to the creation of a space where points of view come face to face; where proposals are enriched through critique and dialogue; where a series of actions (assemblies?) in which agents, art managers, and spaces and initiatives in Acapulco could discuss and collectively dialogue around themes of shared problems and their possible solutions. We must cease to be islands among ourselves, like a trade, in the Port, and we must also cease to be an island in the national arts circuit. Curiously, in its golden era this city was a ‘meeting point’—everyone wanted to come to Acapulco… And even now, during its decay, it still sparks attraction. Yet in the realm of the arts, Acapulco has been somehow isolated. We must break free of that isolation and create bridges and exchanges with agents from other latitudes, bringing other states’ cultural diversity to Acapulco, and also taking Acapulco’s cultural riches to other places; import and export. Just as once we were the center for tourism, we could also be a center for the arts. From our place here in the Port, we must design better-structured training spaces, where our practices can be professionalized (production, teaching, management, curating, marketing, and sales). There have been several efforts over the space of fifteen years, both independent and institutional, offering training spaces, courses, workshops, and diplomas. However, many have lacked continuity and well-structured study programs. In that sense, it is important to stress that education should be one of the key aspects developed immediately, as it is the basis for professionalization of the abovementioned fields.
This diagram includes some of Acapulco’s independent and institutional spaces and initiatives that have both persisted and disappeared over the last 15 years. Although there has been little collaboration between initiatives, the diagram aims to show points of contact, as well as connections that could possibly be created between them.
The Acapulco cultural scene has changed greatly since I started out in the visual arts (2004). At that time it was strange for someone to study this subject at higher education level, or it was almost impossible to conceive of studying a degree in art. Nowadays, however, the number of available programs has skyrocketed, and many agents even have postgraduate-level studies. More and more Acapulco artists have been awarded national and international prizes and have exhibited their work in other parts of Mexico and abroad. It has been a long process. Change is slow, and when I think about it, I recall Cuando la fe mueve montañas (‘When faith moves mountains’) by Francis Alÿs (2002), in which a group of hundreds of people, in a line, attempt to move a mountain of sand by just a few meters, shoveling all at once; utopia points to the factual movement of a whole mountain, yet in reality they only manage to move it by a few meters.
Art management is in itself a utopia. Alÿs’ piece demonstrates a landscape can only be transformed through collective effort. Acapulco’s artists and art managers have in some way incarnated the Belgian artist’s utopian wager; each of us has contributed, with our shovel, to moving the sand, and—in that sense—to moving the mountain by a few centimeters, transforming, through that action, the cultural landscape of our city. But we have done it without working collectively or as a community; if we did, we could spark an even greater transformation.
As of years ago, Acapulco art managers have known how to detect the requirements of their contexts, and have thrown themselves into proposing, acting, opening spaces, creating projects, navigating—on many occasions without a compass—, learning as they go. They have given life, in practice, to Antonio Machado’s poem, walking, making the path by walking. They have advanced with a strong desire to transform their surroundings. Today, I have realized my experience in cultural management has been built under the veil of that mystique, but I have understood that if we navigate with a compass the journey can be even more worthwhile. For me that compass is education, and I believe it is what has been missing on our journey: Knowing how to use the stars to guide us, knowing how to read the wind, knowing how to read the clouds.
There is no visual arts school in Acapulco, and this has significantly shaped the Port’s cultural panorama. Like a few others, I had the chance to study away from home; logic dictates it is best not to return to Acapulco, but rather remain in a different city that affords better opportunities. This logic perpetuates the system and does not break it, strengthening it instead. Over time I have come to understand I decided to leave Acapulco not only to educate myself, but also in order to learn and then share that knowledge with my city.
Like my fellow art managers, I jumped into the adventure of management, learning as I went. I began collaborating in a multidisciplinary independent space that allowed me to get to know Acapulco’s art production in greater depth. When working with some local artists, I noticed they found it hard to put together their exhibition proposals, and they lacked a basic knowledge of how to structure and develop their projects. It was clear to me it was essential to concentrate on training processes, and that creating a focused and specialized space for these was a necessity. This is how the Acapulco Contemporary Art Education Program (Programa Educativo de Arte Contemporáneo en Acapulco) was born. This teaching program aims to contribute to the training development and professionalization of artists in Acapulco and other areas of Guerrero state. The main objective of the program is to modify the imaginary construct regarding the impossibility of having professionalizing, specialized training spaces in and from Acapulco. In that sense, we hope to insert ourselves in the current education model, and in order to do so we have established a horizontal practice with the students: our activities program is based on attending to the training needs we detect, or those mentioned by the group in question, through listening and constant dialogue as an elemental exercise. We are an education community in which everyone—teachers and students—actively participate in the training process.
Antonio Lozano (Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico).
Lozano studied a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos (UAEM) and the Contemporary Photography Seminar at the Centro de la Imagen (Center for the Image) and the Photo-essay Program. They worked as exhibitions and educational activities coordinator at La Quebrada Espacio de Arte, and currently direct the Contemporary Art Education Program (Acapulco, Mexico).
Their work has been exhibited at the First Contemporary Art Encounter (Oaxaca, Mexico), the Second Acapulco Contemporary Art Festival (FARCA), the PHotoEspaña Festival, Zona MACO Photography, the Casa de América (Spain), the Art Museum of the Americas (Washington, USA), ArtexArte Gallery (Argentina), and The Light Factory (Charlotte, USA). Lozano has received grants from the National Endowment for Culture and Arts (Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, or FONCA) and Fundación Jumex (Mexico).