TIJUANA — While the chattering crowd of shoppers and fun-seekers clogged Avenida Revolucion one recent Thursday, a different kind of Mexican cultural scene unfolded about a mile away.
It was 9:30 p.m., and on a hill overlooking the city, 150 Tijuanans had gathered at the patio of the Casa de la Cultura to hear a dramatization of Franz Kafka's "Letter to His Father."
A rousing performance by 18-year-old Edward Coward Garcia, who slowly scaled a three-story fire escape as he railed and ranted against the repressions of Hermann Kafka, drew cheers and long applause from the audience.
Later they laughed at "Sirena del Corazon," a comic, ribald revue written by Coward, performed with three singing actors, who joined him on the fire escape.
Like the teen-age Coward, the cultural arts in this bustling border city are young, energetic and developing in interesting directions. True, there is no symphony, opera, art museum, major ballet or theater company. But interviews conducted during several visits to Tijuana with artists, arts administrators and patrons show there is a growing appreciation of the need for the cultural amenities.
Although few artists and no arts organizations here are financially self-sustaining, Tijuanans have access to an increasing variety of art forms, from visiting performances, exhibits and the traditional Mexican costumes and artifacts on exhibit at the Centro Cultural Tijuana, to the classical string ensemble Camerata, the grass-roots street theater troupe Los Desarraigados, at least seven folk dance companies, and the avant garde multimedia performances of artist Gerardo Navarro.
Most serious artists, including musicians, actors, dancers and painters, support themselves through teaching or "day jobs" working as clerks in shops. From their point of view, the audience for the arts is improving, the support better than ever before.
"Generally speaking, I am very content, really happy with the arts scene here because of the variety of people involved in it," actor Cesar Dominguez said.
DisArte Gallery director Cecilia Garcia de Deffis noted a growth in the appreciation for the visual arts. "Six years ago, people didn't have much art--Mexican art or any art--on their walls," said Garcia. "Now they're buying art for their homes and for their offices."
The evolving arts scene parallels the city's recent population and economic growth.
Tijuana, in a way, has always mirrored San Diego. As San Diego became a military and vacation city, Tijuana became an unofficial R & R center for U.S. servicemen. In the early part of the century, it was a gambling resort, featuring casinos and horse racing for the Hollywood crowd.
Today, government arts administrators acknowledge that Tijuana, founded 98 years ago, lacks the cultural heritage of older Mexican cities such as Veracruz, Guadalajara and Monterrey. But with their city's burgeoning economy the envy of other Mexican cities, actors, musicians, visual artists and dancers are finding more opportunities to practice their craft.
A key to this growth is the active role played by the federal and state governments in the arts, artists and government officials acknowledge. The city's primary focus for the arts is the 5-year-old federally funded Centro Cultural Tijuana, a complex of buildings in the city's Rio Tijuana district containing a giant-screen theater, anthropological museum, six art galleries, a 1,000-seat performing arts theater, a restaurant and retail shops.
Another principal arts facility is the Casa de la Cultura, formed by the state government of Baja California 10 years ago. Today the Casa, in a three-story, red-brick former schoolhouse perched on a hill above the city, offers children and adults courses ranging from painting, drama, classical guitar and choir to English, piano, ballet, tap, jazz and folk dance.
Close to 1,000 students, mostly children, are enrolled in the program. The kids pay about $3 a month for most classes, which they take two or three days a week. Similar lessons for adults run about $7 a month.
Besides the classes, the Casa supports the arts in more tangible ways with free rehearsal space, which most of Tijuana's theater companies take advantage of, and with a gallery for art exhibitions and a literary cafe for poetry recitals.
The director of the Casa de la Cultura, Elsa Arnaiz de Toledo, says she expects to raise the class enrollment to 1,500.
"We're a very young city compared to Veracruz, Guadalajara or Morelia, which have centuries of tradition," Arnaiz said. "The university (of Baja California) is just 25 years old. Now there are five universities. Twenty-seven years ago we didn't have one.
"Tijuana has really, really flourished (recently). It was so hard to go to plays or to see an exhibit. Before this, there was maybe a lecture from Mexico City or a play and everyone went. And that was it. You had to go 3,000 kilometers, or go to San Diego for classical music.