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Instituto Allende Arts and Crafts Fair Marks 20 Years of Promoting Local Artists

Entertainer, Myrna Erlichman and Professor Agapito Jimanez

By Will Wilson

Twenty years ago, the Fernández family, who operated the Instituto Allende, wanted our town’s seventeenth-century landmark and learning center to be more accessible to the San Miguel de Allende community. Jaime and Rudi Fernandez recruited then Atención reporter, Lou Christine. His mission: to create and promote additional interest and orchestrate diverse, nonacademic activities for the public at large to visit and use the campus of the famed arts and language school.

Weekly music concerts, informative lectures expanding the already ongoing Mexican-oriented field trips and other special events at the Instituto—including the advent of the Arts and Crafts Fair—began to manifest year-round. With some brainstorming, organizers noted that San Miguel is a hotbed for talented artists, many who couldn’t afford studio rents or shops to showcase their work. The Instituto would provide an appropriate setting, they decided.

During the school’s storied history, only students were afforded periodic opportunities to show and market their finished work. An idea was struck to invite scores of accomplished artists who make San Miguel their home. Long-time Sanmiguelense Kris Rudolph, who in those days had handled a number of small local fairs, was brought in to advise and then jury items.

Only original arts and crafts would be featured, with emphasis on Mexican folklorica. Mass-manufactured goods have always been discouraged at the fair unless they possess antique, vintage, or ephemeral value. Rudolph and Christine designed the layout. Rudolph signed up dealers, assigning them spots while working closely with the Instituto’s personnel.

Certain principles that are now constants were set in stone at that time. Full-coverage advertising, including newspaper ads; nifty posters; and informative bilingual handouts were aimed at tourists and locals alike. Initially, local sponsors such as Hecho en México, MegaCable, and Re/Max Colonial Real Estate chipped in for advertising. The fair would emulate our town’s amicable nature, remaining easygoing and with no archaic rules. Admission was free, the fair was child-welcoming and pet friendly, and the premises had clean restrooms. Table rentals would be offered at a modest price. Secure rooms were set aside so that dealers could store their goods overnight during multiday fairs.

After 150 Arts and Crafts fairs, thousands of locals and tourists have attended the event enthusiastically over the past 20 years. It’s been coined by many as San Miguel’s best.

Six to eight fairs take place yearly. The Instituto never envisioned the fair to be a cash cow or a serious moneymaker. Artist exposure and community inclusion have always been the primary focus. The goal has been to cover expenses, with leftovers going toward campus improvements.

The school moved next door to the main building some 15 years ago. Since then, wedding receptions have become the main building’s core business. Still, Instituto Allende remains eager and proud to provide arts and craftspeople such an appropriate venue.

Upbeat music is a must, with live acts at the fair featuring many of the town’s favorite musicians. Miguel Hernandez, along with his hardworking family and trusty sound system, pumps out tasty tunes. Hernandez, the sound engineer, has been at the controls during every fair for 20 years.

Instituto’s rock-solid man for any season is Martin Villafranco, another 20-year veteran. He and his team are the relied-upon muscle, readying the venue, erecting the overhead coverage, hoisting signs, setting up tables, assisting dealers, and when it’s over, breaking it all down; and then there’s the extensive cleanup.

The Instituto’s general manager and everyday boss, Higinio Arana, with his efficient office staff, reserve vendor space, allocate tables, collect and keep track of fees, and, at times if necessary, put out fires.

Some years back, the fair hosted a large food court on the back patio. Despite its success, such a large-scale food operation proved to be too much work for a couple of days. The permanent and everyday operating café and a few other food vendors now feed fairgoers.

“I can’t begin to express what a pleasure it has been to be associated with this team,” says Christine, recognized as the founder and producer of the fair. “In the beginning, I would have never dreamed that Higinio, Martin, Miguel, and I would still be working together after 20 years.”

Creative items displayed at the fair can be just about everything under the sun, and there is a large contingent of San Miguel artists that participate. Some from as far away as Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Chiapas, and México City have faithfully shown for the entire 20 years. To a certain degree, we are an ad-hoc family. The Fernández family, as it has been for 70 years, remains dedicated, assuming that this town’s legacy is built on the reputation of artists and craftspeople and, hopefully, the Instituto will always be able to provide the historical spot as an artistic showplace.

“Our next fair is this weekend,” says Christine. “We’re ready to rock and continue to share the exciting, diverse and beautiful items our town’s people and México produces. Let’s do it another 20 years!” says Christine.Viva México!


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