Despite the near-perfect climate at 6,200 ft elevation, the fact that San Miguel de Allende has such a large expat community can be mostly attributed to the arts. If the Parroquia and Jardin are the heart of the city, the Instituto Allende is the creative right brain. Housed in what was once an 18th century mansion that was originally a country home, the institute is now in the heart of San Antonio, a main borough of San Miguel.
At the end of World War II, the G.I. Bill was launched offering free education for veterans, which coincided with the launch of the art institute, Instituto Allende, in 1950. Ergo the foundation for so many expats! Many GIs relocated to San Miguel for the climate and low cost of living, while obtaining their Bachelor of Arts degrees at the Instituto Allende.
Many still come to San Miguel for the art lessons, but even more come for the art. Galleries are prolific throughout town, but my favorite place to peruse the art is Benito Juarez Park, just a couple of blocks from the Institute. Weekends find the entire northeast corner of the park filled with rows and rows of local artists displaying their paintings along the benches in the park. As you stroll alongside their displays, the artists love to tell you about the inspiration behind their work.
As one would experience in any city in Mexico, music is a big part of the culture. But this goes way beyond mariachi bands in San Miguel. On any given night, you can find some live music playing in the Instituto, the local cafes, or even the library. The bigger venues play at the Teatro Angela Peralta, the local “wedding cake tiered” theatre built in 1873, and named for the famous opera singer Angela Peralta, known as the “Mexican Nightingale.” Tickets in the nosebleed section can be had for as little as 150 pesos, about $12 USD. I attended a Gershwin piano concert featuring “Rhapsody in Blue” during my visit. And Doc Severinsen played to a packed house. At 87 years old, the man still has one set of lungs! He played with a seven piece band which included locally famous Gil Gutierrez on Guitar. But during intermission, a 10 piece mariachi band took the stage for a battle of the trumpets with Doc, which was the biggest hit of the night.
People often ask what there is to do in San Miguel. There are not a lot of tourist attractions per se, outside the churches, the restaurants, and the people watching. But for me, the pleasure is not in the “doing,” it’s in the “being,” or in the living. Carving out a temporary life amidst a community intent on maintaining a focus on the arts. I find pleasure just strolling around, settling in and soaking up the creative ambiance.