The story of Coyote begins with a horse. A Trojan horse. The year is 1997. A ten-year-old Daniel Espinosa weaves through traffic at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to get a closer look at the giant wooden horse straddling the border. Years later, he would learn that the installation, called Toy An-Horse, was the work of Tijuana artist Marcos “ERRE” Ramirez.
“It had two heads,” Espinosa recalls over a cup of coffee in Tijuana’s Pasaje Rodríguez, the new home of the Coyote collective. “One was watching north and the other was watching south. The body was transparent so you could see there was nobody in it. And it was explained to me that communication between the nations was the answer, but there they were, on opposite sides, not looking at each other. When I heard that, I was shocked. I always remembered that horse, and that’s a good example from my experience of how art can show you really good information. I sometimes ask people, ‘What do you remember about advertising that year?’ Who was the politician running for president or whatever? You don’t remember. You don’t even catch it. But when it’s about art or interventions, eventually it will make sense.”
Inspired by the potential for unexpected art to make a lasting and wide-reaching impact, Espinosa put out an open call to create public art leading up to the 2012 presidential election. About 20 artists of all ages — from teenage alleyway painters to tenured university professors — convened at the Zona Norte apartment of muralist Panca to devise a plan.
“Some friends and I believed that art could be a really powerful vehicle to give information,” says Espinosa, who works as an architect, graphic designer, and teacher at the Escuela Libre de Arquitectura. “Our friends didn’t want to vote because they didn’t believe in democracy… sometimes it’s really obvious why. Other generations already have their vote. They don’t care about the candidate; it’s about the party. So we realized that we couldn’t just say, ‘Hey, vote, because it’s important…democracy and stuff,’ because people just get bored.”
Instead, the collective staged an intervention at the downtown hub from which the route taxis deliver commuters to all points of the city. About 40 participants wearing political messages painted in blood-red over white T-shirts marched to the cathedral on Plaza Bicentenario, where they lay prostrate on the cement as onlookers gawked and argued.
“One person can get a ring of people around them, and that’s really cool,” Espinosa says. “If you try to hand out fliers, people pass right by. But when something surprises you, physically, you turn your attention to it. We had a political scene on the street and one person started screaming, ‘You shouldn’t do that,’ and someone else shouted, ‘No, you should do that. We have to fight back.’ People were speaking about something that maybe they wouldn’t have, and they’ll talk about it at home, and so on. So that was our philosophy. For us it was all about voting, how it’s important to be involved. Tijuana was an important location to give information in real time about what was happening in Mexico City.”
Coyote has gone on to stage 86 (and counting) multimedia interventions, pop-up galleries, and events from Playas to Otay in collaboration with over 100 artists and supporters.
“Everyone brought their skills,” Espinosa relates. “There are visual artists, sociologists, philosophers, communications, and public relations. Whatever the problem is, we can approach it from different perspectives. Friends with bars let us do whatever we wanted, so we had murals, performances. Artists do whatever they want, but it has to be positive. Try to make people think.”
After the elections, Coyote redoubled its efforts to reach populations that have limited access to culture. One approach was to organize and promote local artists via a roving showcase called Murmuren. Espinosa calls it “our kind of PR event, our cultural cocktail.” Last April, Coyote hosted their fourth annual installment of Murmuren at coworking space Estación Federal with live music and 18 artists, including Celeste Byers, Ruin, and David Peña. The name Murmuren comes from a provocation between taxis and bus drivers. It’s a challenge to speak up and talk shit, but Coyote flips it into a positive entreaty along the lines of: “say something, talk about us, let’s do shit.”
Another outreach is Public Transit Intervention, a set of six buses that have gotten free interior makeovers from local artists. The collective first runs the proposed art by the bus driver and owner. Once it’s approved, they pay the driver a full day’s wage in order to keep the bus empty for the painting process. Once it’s done, the bus returns to its normal route.
“Sometimes people are afraid of each other,” Espinosa says. “They won’t speak to each other. Then someone will say something about the art and people start to chat. We never know what to expect.”
The collective’s third outreach is the Coyote Cultural Module, a mobile gallery in a shipping container that is slated to be outfitted with solar panels and ventilation. That project has been delayed by the founding of Coyote’s first permanent headquarters at Nett Nett, a creative space in Pasaje Rodríguez managed by cultural curator Haydeé Jiménez. The space is also home to Haydeé’s Vibroacústica sonic therapy lounge, a coworking office, a live-music venue, and a rare and exotic bookstore called El Murciélago. Located on the pasaje’s second level in the historic Foreign Club, Coyote’s office will host meetings, workshops, films, exhibitions, and a workspace for Espinosa’s architecture and graphic design business. They are working on a residency program for visiting artists and plan to experiment with the locale’s commercial potential by selling prints of featured artists at accessible prices to help keep the collective sustainable.
Get caught in Nett Nett on Saturday, February 11, for the third annual Because We Love You Fest, featuring over 20 musical acts from borderland and beyond.