Travel

November 18, 2016

Why Everyone is Moving to Mexico City

The Mexican capital is the new place for international artists, writers and designers

  • Written by Benoît Loiseau
  • Photography by Pia Riverola

Whether you’re fleeing the prospects of post-Brexit Europe, Trump’s America, or just fancy a change, we break down why the Mexican capital could be your next adoptive home.

“Mexican Designer in Paris” read my now boyfriend’s Tinder profile when we first met in the French capital in 2014. I didn’t know much about Mexico City, besides its irritatingly sudden reputation as ‘the new Berlin’. Our first date was at Ave Maria, the frozen-in-time, Latin American-inspired restaurant in Oberkampf. He worked at Saint Laurent, and I was PR’ing museums and arts foundations between Paris and London. Little did I know that 18 months later – and just as many versions of how we met – I would be moving to the land of El Chapo.

After a ‘trial’ visit during the contemporary art fair Zona Maco back in February, which involved far more mezcal than art, I could instantly see myself living in what locals call ‘DF’ (Distrito Federal). For a megacity of 20m+ inhabitants, it felt surprisingly airy, green and walkable. The comparative cheapness of everything and the amazing food were definitely a plus, but not the main appeal. What really struck me was how open and accessible people were, both on professional and personal levels. So, slightly fed-up by the pace of London life and visiting council flats in Leytonstone I couldn’t afford to buy, I handed in my notice and bought a one-way ticket.

My boyfriend and I moved into a one-bed flat in the green neighbourhood of Roma Norte and I signed up for an intensive Spanish course. While cheekily keeping some consulting and writing jobs in Europe, opportunities quickly cropped up here, including one at a design festival. But what’s the fuss really all about? Mexico City has been a hub for artists, writers and dreamers at different periods of the 20th century, mainly in the interwar era in the 1920s, then again at the height of the cold war in the 1950s. Over the past decade, its ever expanding art scene has revived international interest and seen herds of disillusioned creative westerners flocking to the capital in search of new possibilities.

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On my first visit I met Brett, a Chicagoan who relocated from New York in 2007. “It was a temporary plan. We started putting on exhibitions at a friend’s house, quickly I knew I was going to stay,” he told me at his now well-known contemporary art gallery, Yautepec in San Rafael. It’s not until 2013 that he co-founded the alternative art fair Material, which coincides with its more established counterpart Zona Maco. “It felt like a transitional moment. There was a growing excitement for project spaces and curatorial projects”. Now going on its 4th edition, Material has become the city’s key platform for young local and international galleries, non-profits and artist-run spaces. “I don’t know if I would have had the guts or resources to do this in New York,” says Brett. “Obviously Mexico City is a bit more crowded now, but it’s still an exciting place for experimentation.”

Also in 2013, the heir to the Jumex juice fortune, Eugenio López, launched his Museo Jumex in a brand-new David Chipperfield building in the upscale district of Polanco. It serves as the permanent home to one of Latin America’s largest contemporary art collections. At a recent opening I caught up with Carla, a Mexican-born American graphic designer at Museo Jumex. “People will identify you as whatever they find most convenient. Because I came here from London, there was always something putting off employers: they thought I would charge too much, or not speak good enough Spanish,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to go back to the States. You can achieve so much more here. Also the political climate [in America] is horrible, and New York is too saturated. There’s no room to breathe”.

Mexico City’s location makes it a kind of doorway into Latin America. And the whole country is a hub for international journalists and writers. As Diane, a journalist from Paris, said. “I had a nice steady job in Paris but after a while, something was missing.” Diane, now the Mexico correspondent for French newspaper Le Figaro lives with her boyfriend, Gab, a journalist from London. I met them at La Roma’s best tacos restaurant El Parnita. “I moved for the adventure! I could see myself building a life here – it’s cheap, which always helps when you’re freelancing… It’s an incredibly rich place. But don’t tell anyone!” Diane said.

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As the city gears up to its title of World Design Capital in 2018, international architects and designers are finding fertile ground too. “There are less norms and rules here. Clients are quite open to new ideas,” say Christoph and Ingrid from studio Zeller & Moye. The German-Mexican couple worked together at the leading Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron (the firm responsible for the new Tate Modern building in London) and moved to DF in 2012 to set up their own practice. “We try to incorporate craftsmanship to our design, we wouldn’t be able to do that in Europe,” the couple said when I visited their studio filled with architectural models, including their upcoming six-story cultural complex for Archivo, Mexico City’s top architecture and design institution.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all perfect here. Leaving aside the intricacies of long-standing corruption and the daunting prospects of a new “tall, powerful, beautiful” wall along the northern border, some aspects of everyday life can get pretty draining. Pollution is so bad that there’s an app alerting you when to go for a jog, and traffic makes it virtually impossible to get anywhere between 5pm and 9pm (on a good day). But if you’re looking to improve your overall quality of life, start projects you wouldn’t dream of doing elsewhere, while getting involved with a thriving creative community at an exciting time, then Mexico City might be right for you. It certainly was for me.

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