Friday, 11 January 2008

Coasting On Legends

Ask anyone remotely knowledgeable about places of interest in Todos Santos and they’ll probably mention the Hotel California, and give you a rendition of part of the Eagles song of that name. Never mind that the owners religiously deny that this is the hotel that the Eagles stayed at and that inspired the song. During the season, and especially at weekends, crowds of tourists gather at the hotel and get their photos taken in front of the façade. Now, it is possible that they come because it is a neat boutique hotel and restaurant. I think, however, that the irrepressible legend is part of the draw.

Another legend that has served Todos Santos well is that it is a thriving artists’ colony, usually referring to painters. There are certainly several ingredients that are still here today – many people that come here refer to themselves as Artists first, the light is magical, and there is generally an air of tolerance for all things artistic that does not choke such delicate gifts.

But let’s look at the supposedly thriving painterly scene in Todos Santos. There are only two independent galleries in Todos Santos (one split across two locations). There are maybe 5 sole artist’s galleries, three of which operate out of their homes. In the past 5 years, only two new galleries have opened, to my knowledge (and one has closed). Compare that to, say, San Jose Del Cabo, which has grown over the same period from having 2 galleries to there being an established Arts district with over 14 galleries, and weekly Arts Walks.

If we extend the arts scene to cover all artistic endeavors, then Todos Santos doesn’t score on theatre (the crown, inexplicably for me, rests with the artificially created sports fishing town of Los Barrilles), dance (non-existent), or music (while Todos Santos has musicians, it does not appear to be a nexus for them more than any other town here). While we do have several drummers here, I noted that at the last drumming class, the Todos Santaneans were outnumbered by people from Pescadero and Cabo Pulmo, and the energy centre for drumming, according to the drum instructor, may now be Los Barrilles. We do have strength in writing, but even then I see that most of the people at the monthly open readings are the same, established old-timers, rather than new blood. And we do have a Latin Film festival each year.

Maybe even as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, I think Todos Santos was seen as the arts centre of Southern Baja. There was a certain excitement in the air, professional artists even painted together, and the atmosphere and the promise certainly drew us to this place.

So what happened? It’s easy to point to the changes in the format of the once famous Arts Festival, where, unlike in Los Barrilles, the organizers decided to exclude non-Mexican citizens in order to promote pure Mexican culture (which has resulted in a strange mixture that includes truly Mexican - and extremely popular - events such as Irish and Polynesian dancing, and sale of tacky Indonesian imports at the crafts fair, but a paucity of fine art in the festival). But I suspect the answer lies deeper.

The generation that founded the arts community in Todos Santos is getting older. They have their closed groups of confidants, their frailties that come with aging. I wonder if the fire in their bellies has been dampened, the drive to create something new diminished.

There’s nothing wrong with the pioneers pulling back. They did their bit. What fascinates me, however, is that no-one has moved in to fill the vacuum. Why is that? Ken MacFarlane ( points to the intrusion of TVs into people’s lives here as a pivotal change and one that diminished the desire for community and caused people to become more self-contained.

I have some other ideas. I wonder if the type of people that Todos Santos attracts has changed. That they are maybe more interested in personal, rather than community development. Maybe they are more drawn by the sea and beach side of Todos Santos than the town itself and the potential for a lively arts scene. I also wonder if the sprawl of the town is taking a toll. I already see signs of balkanization, with El Otro Lado quite distinct from the town, and life revolving locally around each of the spiffy subdivisions.

Given all this, what is the future for Todos Santos? Resting on the laurels of legends doesn’t strike me as a sustainable stance. The path of least resistance, I fear, will be the devolution of Todos Santos into patrolled Carmel-like subdivisions, together with self-contained resort developments, anchored by a content-free, picture-postcard authentic town center.

One person alone can’t make a difference. And I’m still waiting for the crowd to form.

1 comment:

Fina Rosa said...

Waking up to the smell of gas fumes are yeh. Well reading I did and you have found your voice as has Hillary Clinton. I suggest Isaiah for a good read, yes you paid the gardener and I WOULD HOPE YOU GET SOME RESPONSES, NOT JUST FROM THE WIFE OF THE GUY WHO IS WEARING MATCHING TEE SHIRTS. I am going back to reading the latest issue of THE ECONOMIST, pay the housekeeper, figure out what to do with the filo dough I have in the fridge, and maybe even get to musings as well about why I am still so optimistic about the resolution of all the fragging reasons we are as we are.. Coffee anyone...