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Cultural Center “El Nigromante” reopens

By Jade Arroyo

The emblematic building commonly known as “Bellas Artes” houses one of the most important cultural centers in the city. It reopened its doors to the public on November 23, after being closed since 2011 for remodeling and renovation. To celebrate the renovation and the resumption of operations, in addition to celebrating 50 years as part of the INBA (National Institute of Fine Arts), the reopening was commemorated with an inauguration ceremony attended by well-known national and local personalities from the cultural, educational and political arenas.

Opening ceremony
At 9am in the morning, within walls decorated with the immortal murals of David Alfaro Siqueiros in the room that bears his name, around 200 attendees heard speeches by Teresa Vicencio Alvarez, general director of the INBA; José Ángel Córdova Villalobos, Public Education Secretary; Miguel Márquez, governor of Guanjuato; Mauricio Trejo, San Miguel’s mayor; and Juan Alcocer, from the State Institute of Culture. The INBA director, Vicencio Álvarez, outlined a brief story about the building’s history and the importance of the artistic work that it holds and the gains the community will obtain from the changes at “El Nigromante.” She also thanked the community for its patience during the restoration process.
Mayor Mauricio Trejo offered a welcome speech. “We are going to put forth our best effort to preserve this jewel in the city, one of the most relevant places when it comes to culture, and make San Miguel a prettier city every day,” he said.

The governor of Guanajuato, Miguel Márquez, said, “The essence of art cannot be measured in price. You can appreciate it while seeing it reflected in the quality of life of the people. To be a World Heritage City is a great responsibility that the San Miguel people carry with pride.”
The INBA director quoted the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, saying, “We must look up to the stars, but while keeping our feet grounded on the earth,” and finished: “The calling of the Cultural Center El Nigromante has been thought as a projection of the individual, local and regional toward the international and universal.”

She also gave her opinion about the town. “I think San Miguel de Allende is an endearing city. The breaking point between the tradition of local talent and the avant-garde, combining the best of the local and the international. The San Miguel community is a very active and participative one.”

After offering their respective speeches, the group went for a tour thought the renovated spaces and the two current art exhibitions, which include pieces from the Modern Art Museum. The theme is contemporary Mexican abstract art, featuring pieces by outstanding names such as Tamayo and Sebastian.

Restoration and improvement
Remodeling of the facility was started in 2011. It included restoring façades, ceilings, roofs and vaults; floors, halls and stairs; and workrooms, auditoriums and galleries. The cantera (quarry stone) was completely cleaned and the patio and garden renovated. All the electric and plumbing systems were likewise overhauled. In addition, six murals were cleaned and restored: “Las Lavanderas” (Eleanor Cohen); “Tejedores,” “Fanatismo del Pueblo,” “La Cantina,” “Guanajuato, Almacigo de Patriotas” (Pedro Martínez), and “Alegoría de la Agricultura” (Herman Zimmerman). The mural by Siqueiros was previously restored in 2008, so it didn’t need much work beyond a routine cleaning. These murals were painted between 1939 and 1949.
Besides the infrastructure, the place also has a renovated cafeteria and a bookstore, “Arte y Libros” (Art and Books), run by CONACULTA.
In sum, this was a complete and total restoration, and the work has been completely finished. The cost of this project was 28 million pesos.
Another change was the redistribution of spaces, to optimize them. For example, the rooms for teaching painting and engraving are large and have wide windows to ensure proper ventilation, and the smaller rooms were designated for music and theoretical studies.
Along with the physical makeover, the building was reengineered to make the school stronger and more functional. Bellas Artes will now offer an expanded curriculum that includes such areas as scenic direction, curatorship, intercultural project designing, and integration and design of projects between contemporary and traditional art.
A more structured and academic program of artistic education will be set up, along with a school of art instruction for children and young people, supervised closely by the INBA.
Bellas Artes over time
This space, located at Hernandez Macias 75, is the former Real de la Concepción Convent, built in the year 1755. Over the years it passed from being a religious cloister (functioning until the Reforma times) to a college for ladies run by Spanish nuns. In 1914, when the Mexican Revolution began, the building was occupied by troops, who were garrisoned there until 1936. In 1938, the Hacienda Secretary rented the building to found a fine arts school that functioned through 1948.
The building became part of the INBA in 1950, ceded by the National Secretary of Property. By that time the building was half in ruins. A few years later, in 1962, it was rebuilt and the spaces remodeled to be classrooms and galleries. Only then was it given the name of the intellectual, poet, journalist and freethinker that it bears to this day, Ignacio Ramirez “El Nigromante.” This year it turns 50 years old in this current incarnation.
Very important cultural events have been held at Bellas Artes, including the Festival en Corto (now GIFF Guanajuato International Film Festival), the Chamber Music Festival  and the Cervantino, in addition to quality art exhibitions by local and international artists.

Future projects

This cultural space will now offer more options for art education and production. The school will be increasing its level of professionalism and support for young people who want to continue their art studies. They will be working along with other teachers from cities such as Querétaro and Guanajuato, trading knowledge and offering workshops.

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