SOMA is a non-profit experimental arts organization conceived to nurture discussion and exchange in the field of contemporary art and education in Mexico City. SOMA’s mission is to provide a forum for dialog among Mexican and international artists and critics. Its task is to build a platform to collectively investigate art’s possibilities and functions in different contexts. SOMA is a space for reconsideration and reflection, where students and participants have the opportunity to critically analyze their proposals, and where revisiting creative processes is encouraged.
SOMA is not an accredited institution. It maintains an independent status from other cultural institutions, allowing for flexibility with regard to subject matter and event format. Four different programs constitute SOMA’s core activities:
1. Artistic Development Program: SOMA Program
A two-year program offered in Spanish targeted to contemporary artists and cultural producers interested in developing their practices. Students have access to a number of courses taught by leading artists and curators in the field of contemporary art in Mexico. This pedagogical model, directed by Eduardo Abaroa, is designed to stimulate exchange among young artists and professionals in the artistic field through courses, workshops, one-on-one interviews, lectures, and studio visits. Moreover, each student closely works with a mentor, who is in charge of offering specific references and bibliography according to the student’s project. This material is varied and changes according to the preferences on the mentors invited every year. Courses are programmed every trimester prioritizing the needs of the group, which is composed of 24 participants. Courses are scheduled in order to integrate SOMA’s artists in residence, and/or artists working in the city for a limited amount of time, as teachers.
Funded by sponsors (private donors, institutional and governmental grants), SOMA awards grants that cover 80% of every student’s tuition. The tuition that students have to pay at the moment, $500.00 usd per semester, is still relatively high for a young artist living in Mexico City. We are still figuring out if we can actually lower this amount. Most of the students of this program are Mexican. Nevertheless in the last year we have welcomed students from Colombia, Puerto Rico, the United States, Chile, Argentina and Spain. SOMA pays special attention in recruiting young artists living in states across the country where art education is nonexistent.
2. International Summer Program: SOMA Summer
During the months of July and August, SOMA offers an international six-week summer program. The program is conducted in English, and brings together an international group of artists, curators and art historians who lead seminars and workshops. Every year SOMA Summer focuses on the examination and development of a specific topic. Past topics have included: the notion of appropriation, artistic labor, and this coming summer history and performance. In an environment of intense work, participants have the opportunity to evaluate their practice through individual and group critiques, courses and workshops, and visits to relevant artists’ studios. The program culminates with an open studio event. Twenty five participants are accepted yearly. One third of them usually come from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Korea, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, among others.
The cost of the program is $3,250 dollars. SOMA offers a limited number of scholarships secured by money we fundraise through a yearly art auction. SOMA has institutional partnerships with several universities to cover partial scholarships. Our goal is to secure more grants for this program.
3. Residency Program
SOMA welcomes mid-career artists and curators to develop their work in Mexico Cityfor a short term residency. Artists in residence have the opportunity to present their work at Miércoles de SOMA and work closely with students through individual critiques and short workshops through the SOMA Program. Artists in residence interact with the extensive number of people who frequently visit SOMA. Mid-career artists can apply individually or through a SOMA partner institution, such as The Iaspis Foundation and The Iberê Camargo Foundation, among others. The length of these residencies varies from 1 to 3 months.
4. Miércoles de SOMA
This program consists of a series of free lectures and/or presentations open to the public, in which specialists from different disciplines present their practices. The program is comprised of panel discussions, artist talks, book launches, music events and live art projects, among others. Presentations are scheduled every Wednesday at 9:00 pm.
SOMA was founded in Mexico City in November 2009 at the initiative of a group of artists interested in creating a platform for art discussion as opposed to the exhibition or promotion of art work. Spaces for exhibition of art work developed in the city after the Mexican art boom in the nineties. SOMA is a space formed by artists to support other artists, and departs from the interests that, more than a decade ago, motivated its founders to collaborate in founding spaces of contemporary art production and dissemination, such as La Panedería, Temístocles 44.
SOMA responds to the very specific context of Mexico’s art pedagogic institutions. There are two main public schools where artists can study art (both financed by the government and which enroll roughly 120 students per year). There is not a decent masters degree program in any city of the country. SOMA has become one of the only platforms where artists living in Mexico can continue their education (after a BFA) without being forced to leave the country. Moreover, SOMA has attracted many artists from abroad who are not willing to pay the extortionate cost of an MFA education in the US or even in Europe. Now that higher education has become a mandatory step in the development of any contemporary artist, young artists are choosing more dynamic, tailored and affordable options. SOMA places itself as one of these options, where students/participants can get what they need in a concentrated period of time, where students mainly learn how to learn, and where they create a social structure that will support them. SOMA is also an innovative platform for mid-career and successful artists to be able to teach and connect with younger generations. Courses and contracts are planned according to the time frame that professional artists can devote to teach (usually a few months during an academic year). This has transformed the way artists relate to their practice in the context of Mexico City, where before, only a very limited amount of artists (those who hold tenure at the 2 main art schools) could teach. It would be extremely difficult to keep SOMA’s flexibility if we were associated to any of the two main art schools in Mexico City or through accreditation by the Mexican Minister of Education. Nevertheless, we are keeping that door open
On a personal note, I direct SOMA Summer and help in the overall development of SOMA; this work entails writing grants, organizing the yearly auction and collecting funds in general. I am also part of SOMA’s artist council, comprised of twenty artists. Decisions are taken collectively by this group, though the daily operation of SOMA is managed by Eduardo Abaroa, Bárbara Hernández, Yoshua Okon and myself. I receive a salary for this work, and every person working at SOMA (mentor, guest artist, lecturer, etc) is paid. Until now, I have supported myself through my full time job as the Graduate Program Director at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; which I will resign in May to fully devote to the capital campaign of SOMA and my artistic practice. I work collectively as Camel Collective; art pedagogy is a central point of my artistic research. Camel will soon publish a collection of essays on arts education that we have transformed into a three act play: The Second World Congress of Free Artists. Models such as The Public School, readings by Ranciére, in-depth discussions with Mariana Botey and Sande Cohen, as well as my experience studying and teaching in the United States have been crucial shaping SOMA’s strategy.