The Tianguis Cultural is a free cultural political space, an urban youth alternative market and a multidisciplinary cultural forum. Established in 1995, it now draws 360 exhibitors (artisans, poets, photographers, dancers, theatre artists, musicians, and painters) to a public plaza where over 6,000 visit the market, forums, and performances every Saturday. Their objectives are to defend plurality and freedom of expression; promote formative workshops on art, ecology, human rights; to participate in other social movement forums and activities; to exchange experiences with other like-minded groups, local, national, and international. As part of a non-partisan and global youth counter-cultural protest movement, they see themselves defending ecology, Indigenous rights, sexuality diversity, human rights, and diverse urban identities. They often join broader protests against the war, globalization, and discrimination in alliance with other social movement activists.
The Tianguis also represents a reclaiming of public space, as the terrain where they meet every Saturday is an abandoned and under-utilized public space. Here they organize the following activities of community art practice:
1) an alternative market where they sell books, CDs, food, skateboards, etc;
2) a cultural forum usually featuring a rock or performance group, and art exhibits;
3) an alternative altar to the dead (building on the Day of the Dead traditions in Mexico);
4) ecological campaigns that involve environmental action;
5) promotion of NGO activities;
6) publication of books, articles, and literary expression; and
7) cultural campaigns in other neighbourhoods.
A major contradiction of the project is the fact that it is a both a market (subject to government regulations) and a cultural forum promoting free expression. There are external and internal pressures to commercialize which also degrades the products and processes of the Tianguis. The Administrative Council of the Tianguis is all voluntary, so commitment and resources are a constant concern. The tensions of the VIVA project are revealed in different ways: the process/product tension can be seen in the efforts of the artists to produce saleable goods for the market while also seeking meaningful contact with the visitors; the particular aesthetic/ethic of the counter culture involves a constant reinvention of one's style, clothes, and identity.
Tianguis representatives suggest two other tensions key to their project: consumerism vs. alternative market: the purposes of an alternative market are more than to consume as in the mass market; urban art/academic art: the urban artistic practice of the youth cultural groups is alive and questioning of the formal criteria of the art world. There is personal transformation, both through cultural and economic activities, and social transformation as the Tianguis creates a space where youth can propose alternative ways of thinking, being, and acting. There are still challenges to address equity issues in terms of age and gender, particularly within the Administrative Council.