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History, Locality, and Art Worlds: A Case Study of the Center for the Arts at San Agust�n Etla (CASA), Oaxaca, M�xico


This interdisciplinary case study portrays the Center for the Arts at San Agust�n Etla (CASA). CASA constitutes a micro-universe—a system in scale—dedicated to art production, art education and professionalization, art display, and development of audiences. Established in the restored building of a Porfirian textile industry, in a semi-rural municipality in the central valleys of Oaxaca in Southern M�xico, the center inaugurated in 2006. CASA results from private and public efforts galvanized by the artist Francisco Toledo (1940-2019), who campaigned to recuperate and restore the mill for public uses. In this center, negotiations of cultural, symbolic, artistic, and aesthetic values happen regularly. Such deliberations engage national and international cultural producers, artistic forms, and traditions, as well as the local population, the environment, and the history of the site.

This dissertation argues that the dynamism stimulated by the foundation of the Center for the Arts at San Agust�n plays an active mediating function in the configuration of a heterogeneous culture in which divergent lifeways coincide and coalesce without attempting to resolve or be reduced to a singular one. Art learning, art production, and art dissemination lay at the core of such dynamism. This case study examines how an arts center intercedes in the symbolic and material relationships between individuals, distinct communities, social institutions, and the territory. My investigation draws from thirty months of fieldwork at San Agust�n Etla, extensive interviews with stakeholders, artists, and community members, along with archival research of institutional documents, public records, publications produced at CASA, exhibitions, as well as media and press coverage.

Each of the four chapters comprised in this study offers a distinct vantage point from which considering the Center for the Arts at San Agust�n while also contextualizing it regarding broader historical, social, and cultural phenomena. The first chapter focuses on the cultural history of the site where CASA currently exists, and the process of conversion of a nineteen-century textile mill into an artistic and cultural institution. CASA’s case offers a framework to further ponder the global phenomenon of the revitalization of abandoned manufacturing centers and its adaptation as infrastructures for the cultural and creative industries. Chapter Two positions CASA in relation to other cultural institutions founded by the Juchitecan artist, activist, and philanthropist Francisco Toledo. The chapter links the goals of this arts center with the political, aesthetic, and epistemic concerns and convictions of his founder. The third chapter elaborates on the social and political organization of San Agust�n, and the responses of Sanagustinians to the foundation of CASA. The fourth chapter features the voices of artists that migrated to San Agust�n and decided to establish their studios in this locale. The testimonies of these creators delineate the contours of local art worlds in San Agust�n and Oaxaca.

This research demonstrates that, in order to understand an artistic institution, scholars need to analyze the surrounding spheres touched or disputed by those organizations that intend to expand public participation.

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