There are many things to dislike about Mexico City: the smog, the insane traffic, profligate smoking, where 51.2% of all men can be found toking on cancer sticks in every crevice of public space. Add to these issues the congestion of 8 million souls populating a land mass not meant to sustain half that number and you have a recipe for sustained urban planning nightmares.
What is it about this city that continues to attract and inspire people in spite of its many faults? For me it is quite simple. Art.
In this city reside some of the world’s most gifted artists and installations of breathtaking works of art.
While walking through the city I couldn’t help but notice the over abundance of public art and displays. Every corner of the city, the center of every public park, on sidewalks and the walls of buildings are canvases for all mediums of artwork. There are also “traveling” displays, which move from parkways to the larger squares on weekends, allowing people to savor the beauty of Mexico.
In the United States artists struggle to find places to display their art and are often confronted with miles of red tape and bureaucracies if they have the “audacity” to desire a display their work publicly. I am not aware of the process that artists in Mexico have to go through, but upon quick glance it would appear that the process is less then intensive. To the outside observer, artists seem to be welcomed and supported here.
What caught my attention even more is that amidst all of this amazing art are ruin, overcrowding, and poverty. There are still many buildings destroyed in the 1985 earthquake that have been left as though no time had passed. There are signs everywhere to be careful with water consumption because the city has a difficult time getting water to all of its inhabitants. There are large holes in the streets, lead paint peeling openly off of buildings, and many structures leaning precariously due to the city having been built upon a lakebed. The roads are crowded and some streets even reverse directions at certain times during the day to handle congestion. There are problems with infrastructure that would make most engineers shudder. Many of the places that these people call home would be condemned and labeled uninhabitable in the USA.
Despite all these things, the art is still beautifully displayed for everyone, rich or poor, tourist or resident. Some people might wonder why a government would prioritize funding toward public art displays rather than infrastructure. Any ideas?
As a professional artist of more than 20 years, I’ve engaged in this “Either-Or” debate concerning Infrastructure vs. Art in the U.S.
It is difficult to get myopic minds to envision a conversation facilitated by infrastructure “and” art. Poverty manifests itself in more ways than economically. In the U.S. we are currently suffering as much from a poverty of vision as anything else.
Mexico’s public art surrounds and envelopes its citizens and, its beauty, provides a vision of hope for a future that is bright. Mexico City has the potential to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
As an artist, I see art as an ingredient in unification. Art unites people in a way that no other discipline is able to. It promotes identity, self-awareness and a sense of pride. Nations are identified more by their art than reams of pedantic legislation or governmental structures.
Most people I have come into contact with here in Mexico City love and appreciate it despite the obvious issues. I have lived in places with much more in resources and beautifully supported infrastructure where people have less a sense of community and commitment than I experienced during my travels here in Mexico.