Paola Cortes walks by the soon-to-be inaugurated art studio of neighbor Claudia Ramirez at the Pasaje Rodriguez in the Centro de Tijuana (MFB)
TIJUANA - Between the parallel avenues of Revolution and Constitución is a network of passages where in past decades vendors sold Mexican curios and bric-à-brac. But in recent years, the maze of shops known as Pasaje Rodriguez has devolved into an empty corridor of cellular spaces covered by slatted sheet metal.
Under notoriety for drug related crime, Tijuana is facing major losses in tourism, a once-vital industry in the Baja Californian city. Tijuana-based artist Paola Cortes points out that Americans, including army personnel based in nearby San Diego, no longer perceive of Tijuana as an ideal vacation spot or weekend getaway.
“That was the kind of tourism that Tijuana relied on,” Paola says in reference to the US Army’s discouragement of its soldiers holidaying in Tijuana, a policy set since the years of the Bush administration. “Ever since September 11, these merchants started closing shop and business as a whole was down for Tijuana tourism. It was dead.”
In an effort to revitalize the passage and other parts of the city affected by the withdrawal, city officials have offered subsidies for art and cultural spaces hoping to spur movement and ultimately, revenue.
A mural in Pasaje Rodriguez by Gabriel Hernandez of La Revuelta Gráfica, Tijuana (MFB)
But for “Tijuanese” artists like Claudia Ramirez, it is more than just a commercial revitalization. The reactivation of Pasaje Rodriguez is about the preserving of local history and culture while reinventing community.
After some disagreement with an idea to the change the name of the district to better situate an art scene, the collective decided to keep the name of the pasaje.
The importance of name and place strikes a chord in the debate of historic preservation and communal sustainability. Sometimes the name of a place can better withstand the tests of urban deterioration and renovation than the structures themselves. In this case, the utilitarian forms from the modern era like the pasaje’s corrugated plastic awnings can overshadow the colonial embellishments of iron balconies and plastered molding.
Artists such as Claudia and Paola have been vocal in the redevelopment and the preservation of Pasaje Rodriguez. So far, they have been successful in initiating contracts and maintaining affordable costs for a host of spaces.
Scheduled to be complete by the end of March, the studios will be geared towards creative workshops and exhibitions and the maintenance of the pasaje as an architectural and historical repository.