“Social impact of cultural access and creativity: Urban Cultural Policies in Mexico City” – Reflections on Ana Rosas Mantecón’s Seminar

The first of two reports on a CMH-MARG seminar by visiting academic Dr. Ana Rosas Mantecón:

Part 1 – Ana’s presentation

At CMH we explore a wide range of home grown and partner arts and cultural projects, which aim to inform pathways to ‘human flourishing’.  We also have links to a wealth of international initiatives working in similar ways, based in Australia, the US, South Africa and Ireland.  Through Ana Rosas Mantecón’s visit to CMH last week we were privileged to gain an insight into related work taking place in Latin America, specifically in Mexico.

Ana Rosas’s fascinating seminar took us on a tour of Mexico City’s diverse initiatives seeking to increase social inclusion using community arts and cultural interventions.  She outlined the socio-political context in Mexico city, and described three initiatives to show the flavour of the work, which set us all frantically discussing challenges, meanings, values, similarities…This brief outline of the three initiatives Ana described in her presentation:  ‘Territorios de Cultura para la Equidad’Spaces for Culture and Equality; Con Arte’ – With Art; Faro de OrienteLighthouse of the East; is followed by a second blog posting, summarising of the flow of the discussion that ensued.

 Territorios de Cultura para la Equidad is a voluntary sector women’s initiative, run by four women artists. Examples of their work include a project bringing together sex workers and policewomen to explore female identities, and a project for street sweepers to reclaim access to cultural venues and spaces. One hallmark of the work is its wry and disarming humour. The pictured poster is for the second of these projects, entitled: ‘Of galleries, women and purses’, using the purse as a female icon as well as a reference to money and power – or lack of access. While big finance is controlled by men, women control the day to day small change carried in purses, and the project played with this symbol to discuss the bigger issues.

Con Arte is a local government initiative using dance to engage children at risk of disaffection. The artists describe their work as, in part, combating ‘aesthetic illiteracy’, helping children and young people develop an appetite for and understanding of creative expression. Dance and music is also used to create intercultural dialogue in fragmented communities. One Con Arte guiding principle is that ‘pleasure is revolutionary’.

Faro de Oriente is one of a chain of Faro projects, based in the most acutely impoverished areas of the city. This municipal government funded initiative aims at increasing opportunities and a sense of entitlement and self determination amongst excluded communities, using a model in which artists take over disused factories and turn them into a ‘cultural centre’, offering arts and crafts workshops, internet access, and community spaces all free for local people. The focus here is not only on enabling participants to express themselves and for example to work across tense (often extremely violent) ethnic and cultural boundaries, but also to equip people with trades and skills, and, through art exhibitions and performances, to enable them to claim and promote an identity beyond the ghettoised quarters of the city in which they live.

For a little context to Ana’s visit, to bring it within the CMH fold: I went to a conference at Bristol University last September entitled ‘Beauty will change the world’, and caught an inspiring presentation by Valentina Rojas, visiting from Mexico City, about a project called ‘Faro de Oriente’.

I was very inspired, both personally and for research purposes, and made contact with Valentina and then, through her, with documentary film maker and musician Vlady Diaz in Mexico City, who is involved in the Faro initiative. We have had Skype contact over the past months, discussing the working practices and motivations of artists involved in such social inclusion projects. Ana is an academic colleague of Valentina, whose research has included a focus on the ‘Faro’ initiative. We’re hoping to establish a link between CMH and the anthropology department at Ana’s university (UAM), where there is also other related research taking place. In the Autumn I will visit Mexico City with the help of a Santander mobility grant, and can explore all this further.

Since her visit, Ana has been invited to join the Critical Mass colloquium with us at CMH in June, so look out for her!

About anniRaw

Anni is a post-doctoral research associate with the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University. Her doctoral thesis (http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/7774/ ) characterises and theorises a core practice amongst artists working in community and participatory arts. The study incorporates an exploration of artists’ current practice in the UK and in Mexico, and suggests that a transnational core practice - conceptualised as an 'assemblage' of six consistent, multidisciplinary elements which together achieve a creative 'workshop ecology' - can be identified in this work. With a background in community music and the voice, and participatory evaluation of community-based arts interventions. An ethnographic anthropologist by approach, her current research interests include the nature and function of creativity, creativity and the arts in participation and activism, and international perspectives on participatory arts practices.
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