Casa Europa May Have to Move From Its Location
By Jesús Aguado
Mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal has announced that the building at San Francisco 23, which currently hosts Casa Europa en México on a rent-free state land grant held by the city, will become the site of a new contemporary art museum the city is attempting to organize. But Casa Europa officials and the local government seem to be at odds about whether or not Casa Europa will be forced to relocate to make way for the museum or not.
The land grant, called a comodato, is held by the local government, meaning that it controls who uses the building and for what purpose. The comodato was held by Casa Europa until last year.
Francisco Nieto Arteaga, vice president of Casa Europa, assured Atención that the organization will cohabitate with the museum, while Secretary of Government and City Council Gonzalo González told Atención that Casa Europa will be relocated to Mesones 71, home of the Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Center). There is an agreement between the city and Casa Europa, he says, that when classes end at Casa Europa in July, the building will close for restoration and that Casa Europa will relocate to Mesones 71.
Meanwhile, cofounder of the Casa Europa project and former San Miguel de Allende mayor Luz María Núñez Flores told Atención that Casa Europa losing its right to occupy the building would be the best decision the government could make since, in her opinion, the people currently running Casa Europa seem to have no idea what the project was originally about.
A dream that lost its way?
In 2010, Núñez Flores was San Miguel’s mayor. “Because San Miguel was very popular at that moment,” she says, Núñez Flores had a dream of opening an entity in town that would promote ties between the European Union and México, using a brick-and-mortar site that would not be an embassy but a cultural center more focused on strengthening educational, cultural, touristic, and economic connections between México and Europe. That would be possible through a nonprofit organization and by using a disused state building, she decided, and got to work.
Two years later, in June 2012, Núñez Flores and Casa Europa President Fernando Balderas received the keys to the building from Interim Governor Héctor López Santillana and began operations with Núñez Flores appointed as the comptroller.
Núñez Flores recently told us, backing up her statements with documents, that Fernando Balderas asked the mayor in 2013 for financial resources to operate Casa Europa, “but never received anything.”
According to Núñez Flores, the mayor agreed to give Balderas resources, but only if Núñez Flores was removed from Casa Europa’s board. Facing imminent expulsion, Núñez resigned her post at Casa Europa, although she registered a complaint about it with the Subprocuraduría de Derechos Humanos de San Miguel de Allende (the San Miguel Commission for Human Rights), which eventually ruled in her favor in 2016. She showed our reporter the letter granting her the right to be reinstated to the Casa Europa board. However, she says she has never received from the board an invitation to do so.
Núñez Flores is pleased with the idea that Casa Europa would be obligated to move, saying it “was not meant to organize tianguis, or to put cafeterias or restaurants,” referring to the fact that Casa Europa has a café and other such amenities.
“How did they legally do that?” she asked philosophically. “It was impossible. The building was not to be rented. They have not read the legal agreements of the foundation of Casa.”
When asked, she said she agrees with the idea of the building sheltering a contemporary art museum.
Fulfilling its mission
Nieto Arteaga disputes Núñez Flores’s perspective: he told Atención that Casa Europa is fulfilling the organization’s founding mission. He cited a list of achievements such as international lectures, workshops, roundtable discussions, cultural exhibitions, cultural, businesses, and technology exhibitions. It has made agreements with other countries, he said, and put on events promoting European cinema. The building has played host to international governmental meetings. Furthermore, it has reinvested the income of the for-profit arm of the association into the majestic historic building, he said. The building was once the property of the prominent Sautto family.
Casa Europa’s activities, he continued, have generated cultural liaisons between México and Europe, but have especially promoted European culture among Mexicans.
Regarding the letter Núñez Flores showed us calling for her reinstatement to the Casa Europa board, Nieto Arteaga said he did not know about it.
The uncertainty about Casa Europa’s future seems to have come into play after Casa Europa decided to undergo renovations. Last year, the organization requested and got 20 million pesos from the state government to renovate the rear and the front areas of the building, renovations that are partially complete. Currently, a restoration of the rear area of the house, which exits onto calle Correo, is in progress. Once those works are done, the restoration will begin in the front—the area currently occupied by the organization with an exit to calle San Francisco.
However, that money seems to have come at the price of autonomy. Since the state government cannot grant financial resources to a for-profit organization, it granted the comodato to the city government instead. In March 2018, after getting the comodato, the city government signed an agreement with Margaretha Abel, president of Casa Europa stating that once the city had the comodato it would hand over a subcomodato to Casa Europa’s nonprofit organization. Furthermore, the document states, the contemporary art museum would be housed in part of the building. However, the local government seems to have changed its mind, and the contract does not prevent the city from limiting how much space Casa Europa can use at the site, which might make it infeasible for Casa Europa to stay there.
Nieto Arteaga believes that both Casa Europa and the museum can cohabitate in the same building, although he did acknowledge that in the past, the city has offered Casa Europa use of the Cultural Center on Mesones 71, where the Universidad Nacional Autonomo de México (National University of México), known as UNAM, has a satellite location providing language classes. Both organizations—the museum and Casa Europa—can coexist, he said, and he hopes that that solution comes to pass.
The contemporary art museum
Mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal declared after the first city council meeting in June that “the city will have control of the building, as well as the restoration, in order to adapt it to a museum, which will be called The Museum of Contemporary Art. When the time comes, a regulation to operate the space has to be generated and approved.”
Besides the cost and complication of building a museum, there is also the cost of maintaining it to consider, Villarreal acknowledged. “If we do not have the participation of the private sector, it will be very expensive to the city to preserve it. There are several sponsors willing to donate or lend important artworks. There is an agreement of intention with the Biennale Venice to bring collections to San Miguel when there is no Biennale.”
The museum will be built in the next two years, he said.
The book Casa de Europa en México by Homero Adame states that the Casa Europa building dates back to the eighteenth century. It belonged to the Sautto family until the end of 1870 and hosted México’s Emperor Maximilian I between September 13 and 14, 1864.
The building was confiscated by the government between 1915 and 1920 and used for governmental offices. In 1957, it became an elementary school, now the Hermanos Aldama elementary school in the San Juan de Dios neighborhood. In 1962, it became a secundaria (middle school) school, which now exists as the Leobino Zavala secundaria school, also in San Juan de Dios.
In 1973, governmental offices occupied the space again until 2010, when it was vacated. According to Adame, Casa Europa en México began operations there in 2011.