For a city that’s hardly changed in hundreds of years, San Miguel de Allende certainly has a modern approach to art. This colonial jewel of a town that welcomes a strong and constantly evolving community of creative types has become a haven for artists and art lovers from around the world. Inspiration is seen at every turn – there are more than 100 fine art galleries in San Miguel, plus folk art museums, two art schools, and a revolving door of music, opera and dance festivals.
You could say the animated art scene was launched in 1927 when a Peruvian artist and diplomat-in-exile visited San Miguel and fell in love with the quality of light. Ten years later he started the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes on the premises of a former convent. The art school is still in operation today, and music and dance performances, gallery exhibitions, a concert hall, art classes and other arts-related activities go on all year. When you visit, make a special effort to see the murals of Pedro Martínez and to spend time in the Siqueiros Room, which features an extraordinary unfinished mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
After WWII when a young American artist, Stirling Dickinson, advertised Bellas Artes’s school as a place where veterans on the GI Bill could study (and live inexpensively), increasing numbers of Americans settled in the town. Dickinson went on to cofound another art school, the Instituto Allende in 1951, which drew international students well into the 1970’s and 80’s and still offers art and Spanish instruction to students and lifelong learners. These days it’s split into two buildings – one for classes and another with art galleries, patios, and gardens.
Today’s epicenter of artistic activity is concentrated in Fábrica La Aurora, about a 15-minute walk from the center of town and a required stop for anyone interested in visual arts. A former turn-of-the-century textile mill making fine cottons, it has been restored and turned into a vast art and design center housing some 40 art galleries, working artist’s studios, and stores that sell home furnishings and decor, textiles, fashions, jewelry and antiques.
Countless other art galleries are found throughout the town and you could spend days wandering through them all. Here are a handful of our favorites that specialize in Mexican artists:
NOEL CAYETANO ARTE CONTEMPORANEO
A well-known and highly respected Oaxacan gallery owner with decades in the art business has opened a branch in San Miguel. Noel Cayetano Arte Contemporaneo features large scale paintings and works by well known Oaxacan artists and has a small outdoor sculpture garden. One side of the gallery features the artists of San Miguel.
Arte Contemporaneo is worth a stop to explore its light-filled courtyard filled with edgy sculptures and stark white rooms containing vibrant abstracts and quirky paintings. You can visit them at street Ignacio Hernandez Macias #68.
High on the art collector’s hit list, Galeria Nudo showcases the works of nationally and internationally acclaimed Mexican artists whose paintings and works on paper are contemporary and extremely collectable. Sollano 20 Recreo 10 Recreo 36
GALERIA CASA DIANA
Galeria Casa Diana has been featured in Architectural Digest magazine and is the former home of surrealist artist Pedro Friedeberg, whose work is showcased throughout the house and who created much of the furniture and design elements. This gallery has both a permanent collection and a rotating exhibition Recreo #48
ANA JULIA AGUADO GALLERY
Artist and gallery owner Ana Julia Aguado can help you discover the vibrant creative art scene in San Miguel de Allende through educational art talks, personalized art tours, painting lessons, and art consulting. Her new gallery ANA JULIA AGUADO GALLERY showcases art by Mexican Masters, such as Rufino Tamayo and Leonora Carrington. Mesones 101.
Often overlooked are the town’s two folk art museums: the Mask Museum with its 500 rare and historic ceremonial masks; and the four-floor La Esquina Toy Museum with more than 1,000 fanciful handcrafted toys on display — dolls and dollhouses, trucks, horses, Ferris wheels, musical instruments and more.
About 15 minutes outside of town is the village of Atotonilco, which houses Galeria Atotonilco, one of the largest and most impressive collections of quality Mexican folk art anywhere. Owner and collector Mayer Shacter requests that visitors call to arrange a visit. He has developed relationships with the best artists throughout the country and purchases their finest works, so the gallery is a mind-blowing treasure trove of religious paintings, ex-votos, paper maché, masks, Huichol art, Mexican pottery, vintage serapes, fanciful Oaxacan animals, and Jalisco pottery. This is a must see, so make sure you reserve in advance.
The performing arts are especially well represented in San Miguel. Pro Musica’s international classical music series is the most extensive in Latin America and runs October through March. Opera, chamber music, and piano recitals take place at St. Paul’s Church and the grand finale is a garden concert held in a beautiful private home.
The Chamber Music Festival San Miguel in August is Mexico’s largest chamber music festival, and professional musicians from Latin America and beyond perform in the series of concerts, with special slots dedicated to young artists. All concerts are in the Teatro Angela Peralta, a neoclassical jewel box of a theater named after the 19th-century opera singer once called “the Mexican nightingale.” Saturday night concerts are followed by festive house parties to meet the musicians, patrons and sponsors. In order to promote new national artists, the organization also puts on a free concert called Music Under the Trees every month.
Every spring, undiscovered young opera singers come to San Miguel to compete in Concurso San Miguel Opera, a contest now referred to as the American Idol for Mexican Opera Singers. Now in its second decade, Opera San Miguel produces this competition and awards grants for advanced operatic studies and more to the winners. The grand finale concert is a glittering gala that features a dazzling array of new talent.
SAN MIGUEL JAZZ AND BLUES FESTIVAL
Every November, top jazz musicians travel to San Miguel to perform over a weekend at the Teatro Angela Peralta a few blocks off the historic town center. Now in its third decade, there are other associated music activities and occasional impromptu jam sessions in various restaurants and bars around town. It is considered one of the most popular jazz music festivals in Latin America and traditionally hosts a good mixture of international and Mexican talent.
Laura Sutherland is a travel writer based in California who travels regularly to Mexico. You can follow her at WanderandTaste.