Festivities and local celebrations, archaeological sites such as Monte Albán or Mitla, ex-convents like Santo Domingo, and the most avant-garde of contemporary art coincide in the state of Oaxaca. This coexistence in the south of Mexico undoubtedly puts to rest any doubts regarding 21st century culture. Since there is so much to see and so little time, we are sharing eight unmissable cultural activities in Oaxaca City for your first (or next) visit.
Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO)
The Institute has a library with more than 35 thousand books available for consultation; graphic rooms where pieces of contemporary art by the likes of Dr. Lakra or Jamie Reid, creator of the image of Sex Pistols, are displayed; a conference space open to all kinds of topics, from the arts to social struggles.
Since its opening, the IAGO has promoted a graphic dynamic in Oaxaca. Today this same dynamic is visible in the work of a younger generation of artists who use print as a form of expression.
Where: Macedonio Alcalá 507, Centro
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO)
On the pedestrian corridor of Macedonio Alcalá, there is an imposing quarry stone façade with a detailed carving of the town of Santa María Ixcotel. Around the three inner courtyards of the building, the porticoed spaces give access to the rooms of Oaxaca’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The collection is distributed across the ground floor and first level of a seventeenth-century house. The building has served as part of the neighborhood, a military hospital, guest house, and, finally, museum.
The venue opened its doors thanks to the initiative of painter Francisco Toledo and the Friends of MACO Association. It now shelters the work of Mexican and foreign artists dedicated to disciplines such as painting, sculpture, performance, multimedia, among others.
Where: Macedonio Alcalá 202, Centro
Oaxaca’s Centro Histórico
By including it on the World Heritage list in 1987, UNESCO confirmed that Oaxaca City is home to one of the most beautiful historic centers in Mexico. Its central square, Zócalo, has on one side the former Government Palace along with the beautiful church of la Compañía de Jésus. On its northern side is the formidable cathedral, which overlooks the Alameda de León.
Undoubtedly, Santo Domingo Cathedral is another of the most outstanding churches in Oaxaca, but not the only one. There is also the Basílica de la Soledad, with its beautiful baroque portal, and Preciosa Sangre church. Among the unavoidable buildings of civil character are the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá, the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños (Museum of Oaxacan Painters), the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Art Museum), and the Museo de Filatelia.
Where: Tourist Information Module. Av. Juárez 703, Centro
Centro Cultural San Pablo
This ex-convent (once inhabited by Dominican Friars and now dedicated to culture and the arts) preserves several original mural paintings dating back to 1529. The academic area of the center focuses on the rescue of disappearing languages and preservation of archives and old documents. Courses in Zapotec and Mandarin are available, too. The cultural aspect of the venue promotes concerts, exhibitions, book presentations, and workshops regarding indigenous or contemporary culture.
In the courtyard, the restaurant has excellent Lebanese dishes. Plus, it is a nice place to hang out in the city.
Where: Miguel Hidalgo 907, Centro
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca
The Ethnobotanical Garden is part of the Santo Domingo Cultural Center. In fact, it occupies the space of the ex-convent’s gardens built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It concentrates more than 140 botanical families in a space designed by the artists, Francisco Toledo and Luis Zárate. There are canals that go through the garden as well as ornamental ponds. There is also a nursery, seed bank, herbarium, and library.
Where: Reforma at the corner with Constitución, Centro
Museo Textil de Oaxaca
The purpose of this museum is to unveil the creation of textiles as a form of art by focusing on their designs, textures, techniques, and creative processes. The collection offers a look at these special crafts made in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the world, taking a look at their differences but more importantly their similarities. This sense of universality is a way for visitors to find common threads between cultures, looking beyond the object in front of their eyes. The space finds a way to weave together contrasts such as tradition and actuality, rural and urban, among others.
Where: Miguel Hidalgo 917
Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo
Founded by Francisco Toledo in 1996 and named after one of 20th-century Mexico’s most important photographers, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, this cultural center looks to promote photography in diverse ways: exhibits, workshops, conferences. Worthwhile temporary exhibits can be found in six different rooms throughout the venue’s colonial building. The works of professionals such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Graciela Iturbide have passed through these walls.
Where: M. Bravo 116, corner with García Vigil
Centro de las Artes de San Agustín
While not located within the city limits of Oaxaca, this early 20th-century textile mill turned art center can be found in the charming neighboring town of San Agustín Etla—only about nine miles north of the state’s capital. Founded by Francisco Toledo in the early 2000s, the space consists of two large halls. The lower hall is used as a gallery, while the upper one is often used for concerts or as space for other events.
Be sure to take a look at the mesmerizing pools that contribute to a gravity-powered water system working to cool the roof. This center is specifically oriented towards ecological arts and constantly encourages the use of environmentally friendly processes when creating.
Where: Av. Independencia s/n, Vista Hermosa (San Agustín Etla)
Other articles that may interest you:
Have You Visited the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca?
Five Romantic Destinations in Mexico You Can’t Miss
19 Destinations in Mexico to Visit in 2019