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Art & Social Space
The Flight of Culture: Creating a Cultural Economy at the Border
by Susana Bautista

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Crossing the border into Mexico

Map of the border region

Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)

Armando Gonzalez, owner of Galeria del Mar, Rosarito Beach

The "flight of culture" is one of the lesser-discussed border concerns of recent years. Much has been written about how culture is created in border cities, resulting in border art, border poetry and border politics, just to name a few. Border cities regularly develop cultural exchange and collaboration in the spirit of good relations, yet does this merely imply good-willed interaction between neighboring cities, or does it also affect the commercial art market? Culture is inextricably tied to commerce, and even more so in our postmodern society, as numerous scholars have asserted. It is an economic reality that if artists cannot sell their work in Tijuana - a city with a growing population and economy - they will eventually leave to seek stronger markets north of the border and beyond.

With a plethora of cultural spaces funded by state and federal governments, there are numerous opportunities for artists to exhibit in Baja Norte (including the cities Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito, Tecate, and Mexicali, the state capitol), but once they reach a high level of public recognition, it is only natural for them to expect the economic benefits of that recognition through private collectors and galleries, and the credibility and respect that often comes only through private collecting in our capitalist society. If a commercial art market in Tijuana cannot be sustained by the free market, or by national and international events that bring increased visibility and tourism to the area, then what will happen to the new generation of young artists? Even worse, what will happen to this dynamic border city that depends on the artistic community to reshape its modern identity as a destination for cultural and high-end tourism? Almost 115,000 Mexicans in Tijuana cross into the United States daily for economic and social reasons, and then return home at night to their families. But what happens to a community when its artists also start to leave because there are not enough reasons to return home? Will the few galleries in the region suffice the growing number of artists? Does the government have a responsibility to subsidize the private art market in Tijuana, or is it the responsibility of the private sector, including maquiladoras, local businesses, and wealthy art patrons? Although the answers may be a long time coming, these are some of the many questions that need to start being asked in border cities with a growing cultural sector such as Tijuana.

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