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Public Art with a Social Impact: A Corridor of Art in Mexico City’s Buena Vista Neighborhood

Frida mural at the Guerrero Neighborhood | Marlene Vizuet
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Brightly colored murals, between three and four stories high, line both sides of the main thoroughfare, Eje Mosqueta, that cuts through the Buena Vista neighborhood in the north part of Mexico City. Where once there were indiscriminate scrawls of graffiti and signs of neglect, bright murals now celebrate aspects of Mexican culture and history: a profile of a beautiful Sonoran woman, crowned with purple flowers; an ear of corn transforming into a statue of an ancient god of maiz; a woman heaving a broken chunk of cement with the date of the Mexico City earthquake written across it; agave leaves wrapping around an entire building. All are brilliantly colored and styled and make use of contemporary and ancient symbols. This is Buena Vista's Corridor of Art.

Members of Liberalia Collectivo | Michelle Marie Wallace
Members of Liberalia Colectivo Itinerante | Michelle Marie Wallace

Passersby commonly pause and take photos of the images. The Turibus now detours from Paseo de la Reforma, a large thoroughfare that cuts through the heart of the city, to drive down Eje Mosqueta. In the short time that they have been up, these murals have changed the once-overlooked neighborhood in myriad ways, inspiring its residents to take pride in their culture and surroundings in the same way Angelenos have benefited from community-minded muralistas. Isabel Rojas-Williams managed to collaborate with the community, local government and artists to restore the murals along the 101 freeway. And Levi Fonz Ponce brought his painting skills to Van Nuys Boulevard to create massive murals in a “part of the Valley that’s ignored.”

Mural of maiz god | Marlene Vizuet
Mural of maiz god | Marlene Vizuet

The people behind this project in Mexico, Liberalia Colectivo Itinerante (which translates to Itinerant Liberty Collective), worked with the community, the local government and artists to bring it into being. The founding members of Liberalia Colectivo Itinerante are a family who dedicated themselves to bringing change to their neighborhood. Claudia Barajas, Deyanira Garduño, Julio César Barajas are siblings and the children of Juana Garduño, all of whom grew up in Buena Vista, right on Eje Mosqueta. They wanted to contribute to their community “by bringing art and culture here, to this neighborhood,” says Claudia Barajas, “because we knew that this neighborhood has a lot of delinquency, violence and conflict.” “It has been known as one of the most dangerous barrios in the city,” she adds.

They formed the collective six years ago and initially had expositions for artists and worked with individual artists and writers, but last year, Deyanira Garduño had the idea to start the mural project. To begin the project, the collective planned for a pilot mural knowing that they needed to get the community on board to move forward. To do that, Garduño organized meetings with neighbors to discuss the idea. At the start, many of them were against it, worrying that what she was proposing would be ugly and not much more than graffiti that was already on many of their walls. In the end, the neighbors not only agreed to starting with one mural along the half-block length of an apartment building on Eje Mosqueta, but to also split the costs of the materials for it. Claudia notes that, because “the neighbors have seen us grow up, and they knew us, it made it easier” to bring them around to supporting the project. It also helped that Liberalia wanted to have the pilot mural painted on a wall of the apartment complex where they live.  

The pilot mural, finished this past December, depicts an indigenous man with ceremonial garb and then a panther, a snake and an eagle — each part of important Mexican history and culture — along the length of the wall. Once the pilot mural was finished, and the neighborhood was eager to continue the project,

Liberalia approached their delegation, Cuauhtémoc. (Mexico City is divided into several delegations, each which have their own government and function a bit like a city within a city.) The delegation agreed to fund the cost of the materials for the project and Liberalia put out a call for artists. They selected only Mexican artists, and once the artists were selected, set up meetings between each artist and the people who lived in the building that artist would paint. In this way, the neighbors had full say in what would be painted on the buildings that they live in.

Guillermo Espinoza Gomez is one of the artists who painted a mural for Corridor of Art. The people in the building requested “lots of flowers that grow in Mexico with a folkloric style.” In turn, he suggested using the mural to honor the Ayotzinapa 43, the Normalista student and teachers — government-labeled radicals who were murdered by the state in 2014. When everyone agreed, he selected 43 Mexican flowers to paint, added in a sea turtle — the symbol of the Normalistas — among other details. It was his first experience working with so many people to get direction and feedback on the theme and, he says, “It was an amazing experience,” which is the neighborhood’s general opinion of the project.

Maria de Lourdes Ontiveros Flora, who works at El 28 Del Sabor, a café on the bottom floor of the building with the agave mural wrapping around it, has lived in the neighborhood all her life. She says that she likes the murals and how they have changed the neighborhood. “It’s better now, happier and cleaner.” Her co-worker, Miguel Ángel Fuentes agrees with her. “Art animates people,” he says, “to see something beautiful, it lifts you. This was money well spent.”

Mural to commemorate the 43 murdered students | Michelle Marie Wallace
Mural to honor the Ayotzinapa 43  | Michelle Marie Wallace

Claudia points out that the Corridor of Art has garnered much attention: the Turibus now includes the neighborhood on its route and an iPhone ad filmed in front of the eagle of the pilot mural. There is now enough support from the neighborhood and delegation that they will be continuing it in 2018. The project has affected the neighborhood from within as well. The most obvious difference, according to Claudia, is that the sidewalks are much cleaner and there’s less graffiti. The neighborhood is “brighter now, and they’ve taken back some public spaces. The local playground used to be filled with indigent people but now children can play there.”

Raymundo Coyoc, who has worked in a small store on Eje Mosqueta for many years, notices subtle changes. “It’s positive, how the murals have changed the neighborhood. The neighbors are outside and on the street more, and we are proud of the murals so we work to maintain them.”

Street scenes along mural filled walls | Marlene Vizuet
Street scenes along mural filled walls | Marlene Vizuet

Liberalia Colectivo Itinerante has received the go-ahead to continue with their Corridor of Art project. With one mural left, the current project will be completed in December of this year, marking the one-year anniversary of Corridor de Arte. Before then, at the end of July of this year, Liberalia looks forward to expanding their project with another mural project, Transmuta (or Transmutes) into two neighboring barrios: Nonoalco Tlalteloco and Morelos, as well as more work in Guerrero. With Transmuta, many murals will be as tall as 70 meters and the project will extend four blocks west of the current project on Calle Mosqueta past where it becomes Eje 1 Norte and another nearly 2 kilometer stretch along Paseo de la Reforma, between Avenida Manuel González and Calle Pedro Moreno.

Liberalia is continuing with the neighborhood murals because they want to “lift up our neighborhoods and to say to the world that the people that live here are people who want to live well: that we have history and culture and we are not neighborhoods filled with delinquencies. By reclaiming our public spaces with art we are able to change the environment.”

Murals in Mexico City | Marlene Vizuet
Murals in Mexico City | Marlene Vizuet

Top Image: Frida mural at the Buena Vista Neighborhood | Marlene Vizuet

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