We are deeply saddened to report that Winnie Hunt, one of the artists interviewed in this article, died suddenly but peacefully on the morning of October 17. Both her passion for art and the important work she did to advance reproductive rights and freedom for women through her work with Women’s Way and Choice in Philadelphia, will be commemorated and honored in an event at her home on November 13.
Lakeside is a magnet for writers and artists and creative people have been coming to the area for decades. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a group of artists are envisioning a multi-cultural art center in Ajijic – an art destination and resource hub for artists and “wannabe artists” to gather, share ideas, study, teach, work and exhibit their work.
Although this vision is still in its infancy stage, four local artists have been meeting with others in the art community to discuss this vision. They’ve included Luis Valui, Lois Schroff, Catherine Stephenson and the late Winnie Hunt—all members of Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA). Sharing in Hunt’s vision, the other three are determined to move this idea into fruition.
“Our idea for an art center didn’t arise out of nowhere,” said Hunt. “We’ve been talking about this for quite some time. Many accomplished artists are living at lakeside but the area lacks a space where local and visiting artists can give workshops, outside of their homes. The limited exhibition space that exists is reserved primarily for Mexican artists.”
Stevenson, a textile artist, added: “Since Ajijic has a reputation for being an artist community for both expats and Mexicans, it only makes sense as part of our growth to establish an official place for artists to gather.”
A Mexican artist who lives in Ajijic with his partner Adriana Perez, Valui said all artists need a place to exhibit and hold classes. “San Miguel de Allende has Fabrica la Aurora and Oaxaca has Centro de las Artes de San Agustin, run by a Mexican artist. Visiting artists can stay at this center’s residence space, exhibit, produce art in their studio and teach classes. To help raise money, the center hires local craftspeople to create handmade paper and kites, which the center sells. This way they are putting local craftspeople to work.”
Traditionally, ASA has been allowed to hold exhibitions at the Ajijic Cultural Center, but that is changing.
“ASA is finding it increasingly difficult to continue booking exhibitions which, for years, we’ve been able to do,” said Hunt. “The cultural center is dedicated to Mexican artists, and many are not even locals. Even if ASA was granted use of the center, much of their wall space has been drastically reduced due to permanent collections and artifacts.”
Although the four artists spearheading the concept have no specific ideas as to where to house an art center, they all agree that it needs to be in central Ajijic, accessible to everyone.
“An art center ought to be at the heart of the community,” said Hunt.
Stevenson shared a suggestion she heard from another artist. “Rather than look for a commercial building, we could rent or buy a private home, or even take over a home that someone has donated. Ideally, what we’re looking for are benefactors who have the vision, means and desire to support and help create an art center.”
Hunt offered up another suggestion, made by a notary, that the group approach a U.S.-based non-profit art center, asking them to help fund a similar facility in Ajijic.
We want to get the ball rolling,” said Stevenson, “and our dream is to have a center up and running in a few years. Lakeside’s need for an art center is going to become more apparent as the area gains in population.”
A concern all have is how to keep the art culture alive in Ajijic.
“We don’t want to see local artists pushed out of lakeside due to rising costs. If we can create a strong artist community with a strong voice, more artists will want to come. That’s exactly how San Miguel de Allende became the art haven that it is,” said Stevenson.
“Visiting artists often request studio space,” added Hunt. “If we had a center, we could generate income to help offset expenses by charging a fee for use of the space. We could also create membership opportunities with dues-paying members.”
Schroff, president of the Lake Chapala Painting Guild, said a visual art center would be “the missing piece” in Ajijic. “I’d like to see a place where we could invite new and current artists to become both members and participants.”
“We are motivated but also realistic,” said Stephenson. “Unless a path opens up to fund this, we can’t go down that path.”
Hunt concluded on this note: “Retirement, for many, is the time in life when our inner creative spirit can finally begin to evolve. In a supportive environment, with opportunity for learning new skills, this spirit can thrive.”