Meet Latin America's First Eco-Friendly Cultural Center

Artist Francisco Toledo integrates Oaxaca’s tradition for arts and crafts to new art audiences.

by Rodrigo Campuzano
May 21 2016, 11:50am

CaSa’s main entrance overlooks the valley of Etla, a small village located 30 minutes away from the City of Oaxaca. All images courtesy of CaSa.

Pushing the concept of self-sustainable platforms, the Center of the Arts of San Agustin (CaSa), in the town of Etla, Oaxaca in Mexico, is a unique cultural center for incorporating traditional craft workshops that use environment-friendly techniques towards international artist residencies and exhibitions. Housed in textile factories that date back to the late 1800’s, CaSa was conceived by renowned artist and activist Francisco Toledo to become the first sustainable and environmentally conscious cultural center in Latin America.

Established in 2006, CaSa hosts interdisciplinary workshops and events that range from performing arts such as dancing and theater to graphic and textile arts. The production process involved in each of the workshops is free of any chemical use. The coloring process for the textile and paper workshops, for example, comes from natural dyes. Toledo tells The Creators Project, "CaSa doesn’t depend only on me, I can say that the CaSa needs to have a bigger impact outside of San Agustin but it’s necessary to have a solid team, a timeline, and financial benefactors to keep things moving forward.”

The area overlooking the artist’s residency facilities incorporates a modern water installation with the original machinery from the late 1800’s

Throughout its short but promising trajectory, CaSa has hosted over 280 artist residencies, 270 conferences, 90 exhibitions and more than 1,000 film screenings, becoming a prominent platform for Oaxaca’s diverse cultural scene. Notable artists that have collaborated within the program’s workshops and exhibition spaces include Raqs Media Collective, Antoine D’Agata, Carlos Amorales, and Graciela Iturbide, to name but a few. Mixing traditional crafts with contemporary perspectives, CaSa’s workshops employ several people from rural communities to develop the projects alongside the artists in residence. CaSa not only employs the community but also gives back to it by offering workshops and lectures that are free of charge.

This hand-felted wool textile work is a collaboration between the CaSa and the Oaxacan artist Sabino Guisu (measurements 180 x 220 cms)

Celebrating a prosperous 10-year anniversary, CaSa has solidified its status as one of the most diverse production centers for arts and crafts in Latin America. Now that environmentally-conscious workshops are becoming a worldwide trend in art and design, it is important to share technological breakthroughs with the local communities to further increase the communities' output and impact on society.

Luis Equihua Zamora from UNAM presents one of the products created in the first industrial design course imparted by CaSa

Apart from the main facilities, which include a gift shop and research center, CaSa built a recycling center for paper just a hundred meters away. This ambitious project was supported by Finnish artists and has become one of the steadiest sources of income for the cultural center’s workers who receive most of the percentage generated from the sales of the material produced in the workshops. Some of the most notable editions that are produced in CaSa’s workshops are Toledo’s well-known paper kites and jewelry featuring his characteristic animal characters.

Using a special technique called electro etch, the CaSa’s graphic workshops teach students how to produce etchings and lithographs without the use of toxic materials

CaSa’s program welcomes applicants from around the world to participate in its workshops and artist residencies. CaSa is an exciting location to visit within Oaxaca, for its dynamic artistic exchange, impeccable architecture, and respect for local traditions. 

This bracelet features a symmetric fish design made from recycled x-ray sheets that are donated to the workshop by local hospitals

This colonial kiosk features one of the venue’s galleries and a gift shop where you can purchase all of the editions that are produced in the workshops

For more information on the CaSa’s program and open calls for artists, visit their website here


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recycled art
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Francisco Toledo