As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006

by Bob Brooke

Vying with Tokyo as the largest city in the world, Mexico City offers a myriad of cultural opportunities. But none shows it off more than the annual Festival Centro Histórico. In its 22nd year, the Festival, running from March 25 to April 8, will offer some of the best in international music, art, dance, and theatre to nearly 600,000 enthusiastic fans.

Chick Corea and the flamenco band, Touchstone, head up an all-star line-up of performers, together with Los Aterciopelados (The Velours) from Columbia, who blend the rhythmic sounds of soft rock and punk to create a sound all their own. Noche Ndam gos pa, the encounter of the virtuosos of sung words and dance, brings Latin American and African rhythms together in percussion pieces while Victor Ullate dances a love story, with music composed by Enrique Morente and his daughter Estrella, that shows how love influences life using a mix of traditional dance and flamenco.

The Festival features not only opera, music, and dance performances but visual arts exhibits from more than 1,800 artists from 20 countries in 250 programs performed in 90 venues throughout the hsitoric district, including the Teátro de la Ciudad, Belles Artes, Catédral Metroplitana, and the Palacio Postal. In addition, experts will give lectures and famous writers will share their work in seminars. Visiting performers will also give master classes and workshops to encourage Mexican students to create their own works. In addition, there will also be children's activities including storytelling, museum tours, arts and crafts activities and games.

"Mexico City's Centro Histórico is known as the most important in Latin America," said Jose Arean, the Festival’s director for the last five years. "In this one location, visitors can experience Mexico's history and culture going back to the time of the Aztecs mixed with the vibrant arts of today."

Beginning in 1985 as a non-profit enterprise to help rescue the art of this historic district, the Festival has, over the years, contributed to the cultural awareness of the area by presenting national and international artists of high quality in its beautiful patios, government buildings, palaces, cloisters and churches, with the support of the Mexico City Government and the National Council for Culture and the Arts.

"Because the Festival began as a not-for-profit, that set it apart from the rest of the festivals in Mexico," Arean said. "For us, one of the big challenges every year is that we do not have an assigned budget from the government but, instead, have to find our own means to create the program each year."

"We have sponsors–Telmex, Banamex, Modelo, and Pepsi–that have been with us for many years," he added. "We can count on them because we’ve developed a long-term relationship with them. We know we’re going to have a certain amount of money to spend. On the other hand, we do have government contributions, which, together make up about 35 percent of our budget. The rest comes from ticket sales."

Arean stressed that the concept of privately sponsored events was a radical idea in Mexico when the Festival first started. Today, many festivals and artistic groups have sponsors. Unlike many festivals in the United States where patrons have to pay for every event, only about ten percent of the Festival Centro Histórico events require a ticket. This, according to Arean, draws a much more diverse audience, from older people who like classical music to younger ones who like rock, and even families.

Effects of the Festival
One of the major effects of the Festival has been the change in the use of the Zócalo. "We got together with the Mexico City Government about ten years ago to find better ways of using the Zócalo, the third largest city square in the world," continued Arean. "Formerly, it had only been used for demonstrations or civil parades. It was the idea of the City Government, through the festival, to open up this huge area to cultural events, which now attract hundreds of thousands of people every year."

In addition, the Festival uses many smaller plazas and buildings throughout the historic district, making more people, especially Mexicans, aware of the fantastic cultural heritage that is on their doorstep.

El Centro Historico, the Historic Center, began as the hub of the Aztec Empire in its capital, Tenochtitlán and continues to be the center of the Mexico City's cultural life. The focus of the Centro Histórico is the Plaza de la Constitución or, as it’s popularly known, El Zócalo. Covering nearly 670 blocks, the Centro Historico houses over 400 important cultural sites and monuments. After the Revolution of 1910, the area began to fall into decay. By 1960, Mexico City’s once-proud center had fallen on hard times. It was during this time that an interest arose to recover and preserve the artistic and historic heritage of the area.

While the revitalization of the Centro Histórico is a vital part of a city-wide program to preserve Mexico City’s cultural and historic heritage, the Festival doesn’t raise money for building conservation. Rather it restores oil paintings and other works of art in its churches. "This year, we’re giving back to the Cathedral two large paintings out of a series of four by Miguel Cabrera," said Arean. "During the Festival, a ceremony will be held in the Cathedral with a concert afterwards. Also, there will be a photographic exhibition showing the process of restoration of the paintings."

Unique Characteristics
Another unique characteristic of this arts festival is that, unlike others that feature the same artists from year to year, it showcases different artists in the same categories each year. "We try never to repeat artists," said Arean. "We’re always on the lookout for the extraordinary, the creative, the original. We try to feature artists that are either unknown, have never participated, or have a unique project that we can premiere."

"This is a challenge for our programming," admitted Arean, "but it adds a lot of originality and creativity to the event." Arean noted that the audiences in Mexico are so curious and so interested that they migrate easily between different genres.

Another popular feature of the Festival are the masters classes. In the past, Bobby McFarrin not only conducted the Mexico City Philharmonic, but did solo work and a master’s class. Winton Marsalis turned the Belles Artes into one big classroom, demonstrating techniques with a Mexican band. "We like to have Mexican groups contact each other and work with other artists who come in for the Festival," added Arean. "Sometimes new projects result."

Featured Artists for 2006
This year, the Festival will also pay tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 250th anniversary through a selection of little known and seldom played works for chamber orchestras. A Mexican violinist will be playing with one such group from the Czech Republic, the Skampa Quartet.

Another highlight of this year’s Festival will be the performance of the opera "El Ocaso de Los Dioses," The Twilight of the Gods, one of Mexico’s most important contributions to the genre.

Visual arts exhibits at this year’s Festival will focus on the theme of "Creation." Artists will present their interpretations of the theme in solo and collective exhibitions. Photographer Bob Schalkwijk will show his photos depicting the customs of Mexico’s ethnic groups.

Tickets for Festival events that require them range from under $10 to under $130. For more information, visit the Festival website.



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