Friday, July 31, 2009

Casa del Tunel, Tijuana

I haven't been so inspired as I was by Casa del Tunel and its founder, Luis Ituarte, in a long time. Casa del Tunel: Art Center sits just feet away from the border, in a neighborhood of Tijuana called Colonia Federal and is so named for the the tunnel that inhabitants of the building had dug from one corner of the building, under the border and up into the U.S. The tunnel is now filled with cement and the building has be renovated and turned into an art gallery.

Ituarte, a third generation Tijuanese, splits his time between Pasadena, CA and Tijuana. Ituarte took the time last Friday to show me around la Casa, and the neighborhood. He has the most positive understanding of Tijuana that I've yet encounted: "We're living in a really very exciting time. We're really moving from one era into another right now. Tijuana. We have no mother culture to protect; no mother tradition that says you can't do this, you can't do that. There are so many nationalities here, so many people from all over; we can do anything. We have all the potential to create anything."With a perception such as this, no wonder Ituarte aims to do so much with Casa del Tunel.

Casa del Tunel is part of Consejo Fronteriza de Arte y Cultura/the Border Council of Arts and Culture, which has its base in Pasadena. In terms of culture and artistic production, Ituarte sees the entire area of southern California and Baja California Norte as one great, raw region that defies the political border. For this, COFAC aims to support greater cultural and artisitc integration in the area. Casa del Tunel's committments are to support the community at large and the immediate community of Colonia Federal; to address border issues and to be environmentally responisble.

Ituarte would like to see Colonia Federal, an eight block area partitioned off by the Rio Tijuana, the border and by a plaza, become the artistic center of Tijuana and the Casa del Tunel to be its flagship. To this end, he has grafitti artists working with home owners in the area to paint the houses with murals and hosts parties on the soon to be green roof.

Already, Casa del Tunel has hosted cross-border fandangos. From the roof, you can see a parking lot on the U.S. side. Bands or performers set up on the roof of the Casa and play to people on both sides of the border, or play a call and response style to a band on the U.S. side.

Leaving Ituarte and the Casa del Tunel behind as I returned to San Diego, I wished that I lived closer to the border so that I could watch this artist community sprout up. With the raw enery of the city and Ituarte's focus and drive, I have no doubt that in a few years, Tijuana will be more broadly recognized as an artistic center.

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