The Instituto Cultural de México is the permanent cultural representation of the Mexican government in San Antonio and has existed at Hemisfair Park since 1972.
Its location at 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way, adjacent to the Tower of the Americas and sandwiched in between the Federal Courthouse Building and the Henry B. González Convention Center, hasn’t exactly made it stand out or easy to find. Current construction due to the Hesmisfair Park revitalization plan, which could endanger its future existence in the area, has limited accessibility even further.
(Read more: Rivard: Hemisfair ’18 Key to Transforming Downtown)
For the last two years there hasn’t been real structural leadership at the Instituto, and during that time, the Mexican Consulate has spearheaded cultural events and exhibits there. But this year, the Mexican government is aiming to change that and breathe new life into the Instituto to have a strong cultural presence during San Antonio’s 2018 Tricentennial celebrations. That’s why they recently appointed Mónica del Arenal as the new director, to reaffirm and shed light on the important cultural ties that link Mexico and San Antonio.
A native of Pachuca, Mexico, Del Arenal fills the vacancy left by Patricia González Maass and comes at a pivotal moment to create continuos programming at the Instituto and expand its reach in the city.
Del Arenal recieved her architecture degree from ITESO in Guadalajara (1995), has a master’s degree in monument restoration from the UPC of Barcelona (2001), and took a specialty course on Historic Buildings, Collections, and Sites: Strategies for Conservation, Management, and Use by the University College London (2013). She also lived in Seville, Spain and collaborated with Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos as a part of the restoration team for the new Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and its Atelier Building.
In addition, Del Arenal was invited by the The Getty Conservation Institute to present the Via Recreactiva: Architecture and Heritage for Everyone project at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. She participated in Conservation of Built Heritage Training for the ICCROM in Rome, Italy, where she also collaborated on the Herculaneum Conservation project in 2007 by developing a proposal for the interpretation and presentation of the archeological site based on routes that would provide a new interpretation of the Roman city.
She has published several works and participated in expositions in Italy, Spain, Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Del Arenal has won several awards for her research, social impact projects in the sciences and the arts, and for promoting projects on urban and architectural heritage. Before being appointed director of the Instituto Cultural de México in San Antonio, she was the museum director for the Museo de la Ciudad de Guadalajara from 2012-2015.
Del Arenal told the Rivard Report Friday that the Instituto aims to have direct and active participation with the San Antonio community to enhance cultural life and awareness of the city’s strong ties to Mexican history and culture.
Her ample experience abroad brings exciting momentum to an overlooked area.
The Instituto’s wide range of events, such as lectures, concerts, workshops, films, and exhibits highlight contemporary Mexican and San Antonio artists and are designed to show the many faces of the Mexican culture.
The Instituto has three galleries, a multiple purpose room and an auditorium that can hold up to 250 people. Galleries are open Monday–Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday– Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Instituto has direct ties to the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio as it is under the direction of the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1958, the Mexican government started a cultural effort through the creation of the “Galería de Arte México” in the Consulate, and a variety of Mexican art was exhibited during the 1968 World’s Fair.
In 1972, then San Antonio mayor John Gatti delivered to the President of Mexico the current facility that houses the Instituto Cultural de México in San Antonio. The Instituto’s building is owned by the City and they pay a nominal $1 a year rent.
The UNAM campus, visible from the back entrance of the Instituto in the Plaza México area, hosts several workshops and language classes.
An Uncertain Future
The staff at the Instituto is uncertain as to what lies ahead and how they will fit into the larger plans for the Hemisfair redevelopment project.
“We’re scared, I don’t know If they’ll allow us to keep this place,” said Melissa Leyva, who works at the Instituto. “We are doing our best to keep it. It’s a great location (and) we don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Last year, the Instituto and the UNAM campus in the Plaza México area had access to a free and public parking lot, but now Yanaguana Garden sits in its place. The best way to get to the Instituto today is to park in the Tower of the Americas, which charges $11 for parking, and walk to the building from there.
“That’s the problem right now,” del Arenal said. “That we don’t have accessibility (or parking).”
“From there we can see what the vision is for 2018,” Del Arenal said. “For us it’s important to make it clear that the institute is working, that it will have continuous programming, that the exhibitions and expositions will be coming one after another.”
Omar Gonzalez, director of Real Estate for Hemisfair, told the Rivard Report Friday that Hemisfair enjoys having the Instituto as a neighbor and tenant, and that “in the short term,” once construction ends, paved streets and greenery will provide easy access and guide traffic to the Instituto and Plaza México.
“The long term part of the issue is that it’s in an area where the three parks of Hemisfair will meet, so maybe we need to find a better facility and location for them,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the part that is uncertain at this point. We’ll help figure out where they fit, but at the end of the day that decision comes from the City.”
Gonzalez said that “phase two” of the redevelopment plan is the Civic Park, and that they currently have one option of the plan with the Instituto there and one without it.
“We can do it either way as master planners,” he said. “We can design around the Instituto or design as if the building wasn’t there, but we have a plan either way.”
Del Arenal and the staff at the Instituto don’t think it’s necessary to demolish and rebuild all of the downtown area to create revitalization.
“Yes there are some very depressing zones downtown that are dead after five in the afternoon, but I think that we can revive Hemisfair not necessarily destroying everything or changing the use of everything,” Del Arenal said. “There are other ways.”
For now, Del Arenal and her team are focused on putting the Instituto back on the map. The new director said that they are really placing special care on bringing a high level of expositions for city audiences.
“We’re going to have a collection from General Motors in October,” she said. “It’s an incredible collection of paintings and prints from the most important Mexican artists of the 20th century.”
Strategically, due to construction inhibiting easy access to the building, the new director plans to hold several public exhibitions in collaboration with other museums, associations, and cultural institutions. The Instituto’s most recent exhibit, in collaboration with the San Antonio Museum of Art, Mi Casa, Your Casa, drew more than 900 people on the opening day alone.
“These collaborations that have to do with public spaces are (very successful), and in Mexico that is the most normal thing…playing or manifesting on the street, the market, the tianguis, the altars for the day of the dead..a lot of things in Mexico happen outdoors,” Del Arenal said. “There’s also a tradition of monumental urban sculpture at a grand scale on the streets, that’s something very akin to the indigenous tradition, to do things in big open spaces.”
She hopes to test the limits of sculpture installations in urban spaces.
The Instituto wants to be the place of reference for any cultural activity with a link to Mexico, but they also want to highlight the tremendous cultural and artistic diversity in Mexico.
“We are not in a fight with the traditions or icons that we Mexicans are known for, such as Frida Kahlo, tequila, and mariachi, but we do want to show that there are other things, other artists, and other themes,” she said. “Mexico is a very diverse, complex, and varied country with a very profound culture, and sometimes Mexicans are linked to very a colorful and stereotypical surface, but we are much more than that.”
Mundos Posibles Exhibition
On Friday, July 29, the Instituto Cultural de Mexico, with the support of the Consulate of Mexico in San Antonio, will kick off it’s newest exhibition “Mundos Posibles | Possible Worlds,” which showcases contemporary photography from young, Mexican artists who give their photography a fictional or surreal twist. The exhibit will run from July 29- Oct. 2.
Admission to the opening reception on July 29, which is from 7-9:30 p.m., is free and includes frozen margaritas for guests. DJ Jason Martínez will provide music for the evening.
The exhibit includes the work of nine photographers: Mauricio Alejo, Katya Brailovsky, Ricardo Alzati, Alex Dorfsman, Daniela Edburg, Rubén Gutiérrez, Fernando Montiel, Kenia Nárez, and Damián Siqueiros. It’s curated by Marisol Argüelles, an art historian who is assistant director at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, who placed the photographers into five groups: Fables and Myths, Science and Fiction, Apocalypse, Ordinary Worlds, and Erasure.
“This contemporary photography exhibition with young Mexican photographers doesn’t have any relation to the photojournalistic tradition or well-known Mexican photo tradition from artists like Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Guillermo Kahlo (Frida Kahlo’s father), or Nacho López,” Del Arenal said. “The curator decided to do something more fantastical, (to put together) a more surrealist type of photography that doesn’t document reality, but fiction.”
Del Arenal gave the example of the black and white series by Ricardo Alzati, where “it might seem like documentary photography and urban landscapes, but when you get closer you see that it’s also fiction.
“Today a lot of museums are making contemporary Mexican art a part of their permanent collections. People are really investing in Mexican artists,” she said. “The intention of our program is to show another Mexico.”
Top image: The Instituto Cultural de México is located in Hemisphere Park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.