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The Casa de la Cultura Project
This Pueblo Magico, Todos Santos… is filled with hidden gems if you know where to look. And one of these treasures are the grand Murals in the lobby of the local Centro Cultural Nestor Agundez. If you can imagine what Todos Santos was like in the 1930s, these murals will surprise you. Todos Santos was a dusty town on the Mexican frontier, far from the centers of culture. And yet it was touched by part of a huge art movement that changed the course of history. The dramatic murals were painted in 1933 during the height of the Mexican Mural Movement and are a source of local pride and a cultural treasure of Baja California Sur.
After the Mexican Revolution of 1910 – which stretched into 10 years of civil war – the country began rebuilding in the 1920s. President Alvaro Obregon’s government began a new socialist-inspired direction. They commissioned public works of art – Murals – to help educate people about their culture & history. Mural painters like Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros & Jose Orozco conceived of a new style of art that celebrated Mexican heritage from early Mesoamerica through the Revolution. Their murals rejected European style and showed New World imagery, full of color and human activity. They glorified contemporary Amerindians and farmers tilling the soil.
The muralists were motivated by the socialist idea that art should be public and accessible to everyone. Like the Aztecs & Mayans who painted on the walls of their temples & tombs, Mexican muralists took on the vast walls of governmental buildings. Government-sponsored murals of the ’20s & ’30s were painted in public buildings in towns & cities across Mexico.
That’s where the Todos Santos murals came in. The building that houses the Centro Cultural was originally one of the new rural schools built by President Obregon to bring education to the farthest reaches of Mexico. And in 1933 an artist came from mainland Mexico to work with the children of the Escuela Normal Rural to create the murals.
The murals were painted during the summer of 1933 and the names of the students appear on each panel. Some of these students, including the mother of current INAH director Jorge Amao M., are still alive today and remember working on the murals in the hot months of July, August & September that year. The west wall shows scenes from Baja’s history, the original Indian inhabitants, a ship of the Conquistadors and the Franciscan monks of the missionary period.
That wall also shows revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata and below him his famous words, “The land belongs to those who work it”. Surrounding Zapata are allegorical female figures representing: La Bandera (the flag), The shield (eagle & snake), Education, the ideals of the French Revolution (Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite) revolutionary fighters and farmers. The North Wall (around the front doors) shows rural values – farming and the importance of education. The East Wall shows the workers of Mexico.
The extreme Baja weather – hurricanes and strong sunlight – have taken their toll on the murals and they need serious restoration to be saved from further water damage and to be brought back to their original vibrant colors.
Two other walls of murals were also painted at that time but are too damaged to be repaired, reminding us how urgent it is to save these in the lobby of the building. The Palapa Society A.C, is a Mexican non-profit group in Todos Santos that is taking on the task. It is chartered as a community service organization to create cultural and educational programs for the benefit of all. Working with the Municipio of La Paz (under which Todos Santos falls) and the National Institute of Art and History (INAH), the Palapa Society is planning to hire a highly-qualified restorer for the project. Through fund-raising and art restoration grants these murals will tell their story again vibrantly, and be preserved for future generations who visit the Centro Cultural.
Meanwhile, come and visit the murals for yourself! The Centro Cultural is a grand brick building on Calle Juarez, across the street from the town’s only bank. And as Professor Nestor Agundez, the Director and guiding spirit of the Centro Cultural, says, “It is open to all persons of good will who wish to visit, because culture and art are universal.”
Written by Lynn Ballen
For more information about the Mural Restoration Project, call 01-612-145- 0219. All donations to The Palapa Society, A.C. are tax deductible in Mexico or the US via our partner, the International Community Foundation
This Pueblo Magico, Todos Santos… is filled with hidden gems if you know where to look. And one of these treasures are the grand Murals in the lobby of the local Centro Cultural Nestor Agundez. If you can imagine what Todos Santos was like in t