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It might seem strange to think of Merida as a showcase city of contemporary art. Celebrating nearly 500 years of colonial history and located in the middle of the ancient Mayan empire of the Yucatan, the history-rich city seems an unlikely place for artisans of modern times.

But times are changing, and the month of January marks the time that old and new meet at the crossroads, and modern art is in the spotlight in a city that embraces and honors its past. It is a time when artist from around the world converge on ancient America to shre, to learn and teach, and to appreciate art in Mexico's White City.

Merida, Yucatan will host its 3rd annual arts festival from January 5-23. The event is part of a continuing effort by the citizens and the municipal government of Merida to involve the arts in a variety of activities in the city. In celebration of the city’s founding more than 465 years ago, this festival features music, dance, poetry readings and art exhibitions. A variety of local and international artists will present their art forms in different venues throughout the city of Merida, the capital city of Yucatan state.

Merida or “White City” may be famous for its colonial-era buildings, but there are gigantic, larger-than-life contemporary art sculptures that are located in various parts of the city. The program, “Merida, Yucatan, City of Sculpture” has been developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Ateneo Yucatan (MACAY) in coordination with the municipal government. Paseo de Montejo Avenida, which was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, serves as the open-air museum for the sculpture, which is changed every year. Spain showed in 2006 and Japan will be showing in 2007. Mexican artists are invited to show with each country thus creating an ambiance of creative sharing and unity.

In addition to the fabulous art fair and culture in Merida, it is also a great city to enjoy Mexico’s prehispanic world and Mayan culture. Merida is the gateway to Uxmal and the Puuc Zone, an area known for its indigenous history and extravagant haciendas. The city’s friendly atmosphere, archaeological sites and colonial architecture are only a few of the many reasons to visit.

There is no lack of culture in Merida. Merida is home to four universities and over a dozen museums, including:

MUSEO MACAY
Permanent Exhibitions include the works of Yucatecan artists, including additional paintings by Fernando Castro Pacheco, the painter of murals in the Governor's Palace. Museo MACAY also hosts visiting exhibits from other parts of Mexico. There is also usually a sculpture exhibit just outside the entrance in the walkway between the entrance and the cathedral. This is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art.
Calle 60, Next to Cathedral.
tels: 928 3258 & 928 3236
Open Wednesday-Monday 10:00-5:30

ANTHROPOLOGY & HISTORY MUSEUM
Installed in a completely refurbished mansion is an extensive exhibit of local Mayan history and anthropolgy. Also the museum occasionally hosts traveling exhibits. There is an excellent book and gift shop at the entrance.
Palacio G. Canton, Paseo de Montejo and Calle 43
Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:00-8:00, Sunday 8:00-2:00
Admission $32.00 pesos
PALACIO DE GOBIERNO
The interior arched courtyard, an upstairs gallery and the balcony are the sites for displays of paintings by Merida's local artist, Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals display the history of the Yucatan.
Located on the North East corner of the Zocalo.
Open daily. Admission free
POPULAR ART MUSEUM
Exhibits of Mayan arts and crafts.
Calle 59 x 50, Barrio de Mejorada
Open Tuesday - Saturday 9:00-8:00, Sunday 8:00-2:00
Admission $15.00 pesos
MERIDA CITY MUSEUM
A small but interesting exhibit about the City of Merida includes some maps and pictures of early Merida and information about the Mayan city of T'ho.
Calle 61 between 58 and 60
Telephone: (999)923-6869
Open Tuesday through Friday 10:00-2:00 and 4:00-8:00
Free admission
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Calle 59 x 84
Tuesday - Saturday, 9:00-6:00
Admission $5.00 pesos
MERIDA SCULPTURE WALK
On Paseo de Montejo, going south from the Anthropology Museum (see above), the city of Merida has installed a semi-permanent collection of changing outdoor sculptures. The collection begins with a large sculpture in the circle at Calle 47 and Paseo Montejo, and ends at the corner of Avenida Colón, just beyond the U.S. Embassy. The last sculpture is a permanent installation, a carved tree trunk, killed by Hurricane Isidore and reinvented as a beautiful work of art.
RAILROAD MUSEUM
More than 40 old railroad cars and lots of memorabilia from the bygone days of the railroad are gathered together at Merida's Railroad Museum. For more info, see our story here. The museum is found in a field on Calle 43 between Calle 48 and Calle 50.
PINACOTECA
"Juan Bamboa Guzman"
Offers permanent Exhibitions of Painting and Sculpture from early colonial times, and also houses occasional temporary exhibits. A recent exhibit included documents and artifacts from early Merida railroads.
Calle 59 between 58 and 60.
Open Tuesday - Saturday 8:00-20:00 & Sunday 8:00-2:00
Admission $10.00 pesos
YUCATECAN MUSIC MUSEUM
Features an exhibition of objects and works of Yucatecan music, plus pre-Hispanic and Afro-Cuban instruments, and includes a gift shop. Tel: 01-999-923-7224
Calle 57#464-A near Calle 48 near Plaza Mejorada
Open Tuesday - Saturday 9:00-17:00
Admission $15.00 pesos
MUSEUM PEON CONTRERAS
Offers continually changing art exhibitions from around Mexico. Exhibits are usually of contemporary artists and can include sculpture, photography, painting, fabric, and just about anything else.
Calle 60 between 59 and 57 in the Peon Contreras Theater
Open most days until 9 pm
Admission Free
HACIENDA YAXCOPOIL
This authentically maintained hacienda is just minutes south of downtown Merida. It includes a museum of Mayan artifacts, guest house, gift shop and snack bar.
20 miles (33 km) south of Merida on Highway 261 to Uxmal at the 186 KM marker. See www.yaxcopoil.com for a map and more information.
Monday - Saturday 8:00-18:00
Sunday 9:00-13:00
Admission $40.00 pesos
Children accompanied by parents are free
Discounts for tours and other groups
MUSEO DE PUEBLO MAYA
Displays permanent and extensive exhibits of Mayan artifacts from throughout the Yucatan and local culture up to the present day, including a beautiful huipile exhibit. The museum is air-conditioned and a pleasant addition to visiting the ruins. As you leave the museum to visit the ruins, you can walk through a typical Mayan house.
Dzibilchaltun
Open Tuesday - Sunday 8:00-16:00
Admission $60.00 pesos
MERIDA PLANETARIUM
This relatively new Planetarium is at the Olimpo Cultural Center on the zocalo.
Shows throughout the day from Tuesday through Saturday,
tickets are $30 pesos, $15 for children and students.