Beautiful Arts

It’s been called “an oasis of calm and culture” right in the heart of the city of San Miguel de Allende. Since its construction began in 1755, this architectural jewel has been many things – a Catholic convent (home to six dozen nuns), a public elementary school, an army cavalry garrison, a neglected ruin, and, finally, San Miguel’s first private art school.

One view of the courtyard, with the central fountain
The view I chose to sketch

Some two hundred years later, in 1967, this ex-convent became part of Mexico’s federal Fine Arts Institution and was renamed El Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez “El Nigromante,” after one of Mexico’s great intellectuals (sometimes called the Voltaire of Mexico), who was born just a block away. But this magnificent oasis is known to all simply as Bellas Artes (beautiful, or fine, arts). From its original purpose as a place of prayer and contemplation, Bellas Artes has become a sort of church of the arts.

Classes in drawing and painting, ceramics and weaving, photography, printmaking, music and dance, gallery exhibitions, a three-hundred-seat concert hall, and other arts-related activities go on year round. (Due to COVID, the Bellas Artes was closed in March 2020, but it reopened last December and now follows all current health protocols.) There is no entry fee, and their hours are 10 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday and 10 to 2 on Sundays (closed Mondays).

An impressive exhibit on the ground floor going on now is “Los Niños de Diego,” Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s depiction of children in his work. Among the permanent artworks in the Bellas Artes are the large murals at the end of each grand arched hallway. And a glitteringly new bookstore has been installed in the ground-floor space where small readings were once given.

Part of the Diego exhibit going on now
One of several large, permanent murals is at the end of this arched hallway
A section of one of the murals, “Las Lavanderas,” by Eleanor Cohen, 1941
The beautiful new bookstore

This past Wednesday morning, some members of the San Miguel Urban Sketchers group gathered at Bellas Artes to do our thing – fan out and sketch whatever struck our fancy. Here we are, holding up our “beautiful” artwork, in front of the central fountain:

I’m the one in the hat, third from right
And here is my amateurish attempt at sketching the scene

On Saturday morning, August 6th the IWSSMA (International Watercolor Society’s branch in San Miguel) will be doing plein air painting in the courtyard at Bellas Artes as well. Come and see our “beautiful” work if you can!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


18 thoughts on “Beautiful Arts”

  1. You informed me of a few things I didn’t know, including the opening of a bookstore! I will have to check it out! I don’t want to create competition for another bookstore!

    1. Yes, querida, you must go and check it out. It looks very impressive. I didn’t spend much time in it, though — just a quick query on whether they had any books on the history of Bellas Artes. (They didn’t.)

  2. When I first started visiting San Miguel, there was a little cafe in the courtyard. I would order a coffee, sit there for hours reading and imaging the nuns silently making their way through the cloisters. It’s a magical place; thanks for writing about it.

  3. Dear Bon,

    How wonderful to live in a country were the Arts are respected and made available to all to learn without cost. The building itself is an inspiration to creativity. It is truly a beautiful thing.


  4. Hey Bonnie – I don’t think of you as being particularly tall, yet in this photo you look tall! And I love your painting. I continue to be amazed at your natural talent.

    1. Hi, Barb! Maybe I’ve grown taller since you’ve been away! 🙂 Or maybe it’s just the silly hat I was wearing that day. Thanks for your kind words about my sketch, but I have a long, long way to go before I become any good at this art form. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying the process. Miss you! — xx

  5. Nice little piece, Bonnie. Way to weave in your own artistic experiences in with the history and purpose of the current Belles Artes!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.