Arteria: Showcasing Emerging Artists in San Cristobal

Arteria: Showcasing Emerging Artists in San Cristobal

San Cristobal Cathedral

Posted May 27, 2024

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I found myself in Mexico in 2021 and after some wandering in the Yucatan Peninsula, I stumbled upon San Cristobal de las Casas – somewhat of an inevitable feat for a curious traveler. Located in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, San Cristobal serves as the cultural and tourist capital of the region. On top of being the gateway to Guatemala and the wonders of Central America, 30% of the state’s population are indigenous, primarily of Mayan decent.

All roads seem to intertwine here in San Cristobal, making this destination a booming town for emerging artists from all over the world. It’s the type of place where you can sit back and stay awhile taking in the sights, sounds, and colors passing through the bustling Andador Real de Guadalupe – perhaps over tapas and a cheap glass of Malbec at La Viña de Bacco, a long-time favorite.

Arteria: A Shining Star Amid the Art of San Cristobal

Walk  up the Andador, towards the Iglesia de Guadalupe and you’ll find the Arteria art gallery. In a colonial sea of independently run cafes, bars, vintage shops, tiendas, museums, and street art, Arteria stands out in a destination where arts and expression takes the driver’s seat. Breaking with convention, it is part art gallery, part arts and crafts space, event space, and artist-in-residence studio.

Adrian Ibelles, who moved to San Cristobal back in 2017 from the northern city of San Luis Potosi, and Masha Gruntovskaya, a Ukrainian-born Canadian who moved to the town in 2021, now own the gallery. I met Masha and Adrian on an earlier visit to San Cristobal when Adrian worked at Arteria full-time as staff. Flash forward to 2024, Masha and Adrian are now married and have taken over the management of Arteria. The gallery became their full-time passion project.

On my most recent visit to San Cristobal de las Casas, I revisited Arteria to see what my friends had done with the space. Adrian sat down with me to share his thoughts on commercial art, the state of Chiapas in Mexico, and how Arteria became their family business.

Arteria in San Cristobal

Art on Sale at Arteria Photo: Jennifer Richardson

Selling Art with a Purpose

“When you are managing a gallery, you want to showcase the talent of artists you know you can sell, and that are aligned with your commercial vision. You have to feel that the right person (customer) is here because you can share the story behind a particular painting from the artists on display,” says Adrian. “The way I see it though, is that sometimes you have to take a risk because some of these artists aren’t necessarily selling their art just for commercial reasons. And that’s when I like to go for the risk of maybe not selling that artwork or maybe not having the right crowd to sell the art, but instead to give an impression about what’s happening in the world – at this particular time and place, or just in the life of the artist in general.”

Adrian believes in offering a space where not everything is “money first”, but rather an experience. He believes every customer has potential to find artwork that moves them, that really belongs to them.

Adrian also likes to get to the heart of the story behind the artwork. “Because we sell such a different type of artwork here at Arteria, we like to ask the artist, ‘Where did this come from? What’s the story behind it?’ I think these stories can really connect with people. Our job is to give the customer access to connect with the artists represented at the gallery, and to find the commonalities between customer and artist. As the main art curator, this is a big opportunity to participate in this process,” he explains.

Assuming Management of Arteria  

Adrian started working at Arteria in 2017. He gave up his sales position there in May of 2022. It had always been his dream to run a gallery, and after falling in love with San Cristobal and the alternative art scene there, he knew there was more work to be done. So, in April of 2023, he and Masha seized the opportunity to take over management of Arteria. They put their vision to work to build on the foundation already in place.

When I quit, I found myself missing the artists, the ambiance, and the people who came into the gallery. I’d gotten really close to everything about it and everyone involved,” recalls Adrian. “After Masha and I were able to start managing the gallery ourselves, we just needed to focus on our personal vision (for Arteria) in order to help the community who were part of it before, the artists, the customers, and even the neighbors”

San Cristobal Arteria

Adrian and Masha at Arteria Photo: Jennifer Richardson

The Art of Curating a Gallery

Adrian typically invites artists to Arteria who don’t necessarily have a profit-focused or money-oriented approach to their work. As an independently run art gallery, he wants to show art that connects with the space.

“We are a gallery in one of the poorest states in Mexico, yet it is rich in resources, talent, and culture,” explains Adrian. “We aren’t located in a commercial capital like Mexico City. That’s why we focus on emerging artists and local artists not as well-known who may not get a shot at having an exhibit in a bigger city.”

While Arteria displays pieces made by artists from other states in Mexico and other countries, 80% of the artists reside in Chiapas. “We also feature pieces from some international traveling artists that decide to stay here, so we get to know them and will display some of their art at the gallery as well,” adds Adrian.

 What Makes Arteria Stand Out From Other Galleries

 In Adrian’s experience, he notes that tourists often come to towns like San Cristobal with no idea what they will find. And that is especially true for the local art scene. “We’re not Oaxaca or Mexico City, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be inspired by all the art and culture you find when you come here,” he explains. “You can come to San Cristobal for the art, not just for the Mayan ruins and churches.” Adrian also notes that, through art, travelers gain insight into the current stage of local life.

 “Despite being a tourist destination, we have regular customers who come to the town every year to visit the gallery. They know us by name, and they even know my kid’s name,” he adds.

San Cristobal Arteria

Clay Sculptures at Arteria Photo: Jennifer Richardson

Arteria’s Weekly Events

 Traveling to San Cristobal and want to find something unique to do? Arteria hosts weekly events, such as clay making and live drawing. Clay classes are on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and live drawing classes are on Fridays.

“Our clay classes were inspired by the times when we’d play with clay at home as a family,” shares Adrian. “We had so much fun together that we brought the idea to Arteria. Even if there are not a lot of tourists in town during the low season, we have regulars who come every week to play with clay.”

In addition to weekly classes, the gallery currently hosts two exhibitions: Abraham Huerta’s Poesia de lo Banal (Painting) and Selin Cay‘s Mexico Magico (Painting). Adrian and Masha also occasionally host an artist in residence at the gallery, who can use the studio free of charge.

You can find out the latest events and exhibitions at Arteria on their Instagram and Facebook page.


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  • Jennifer Richardson's made a life for herself on the road. She spent years teaching English in countries like China, South Korea, and Thailand, in between her solo backpacking trips. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she is currently living her dream of traveling while she works as a freelance writer and editor. Her first book, Arrival Stories: Tales of Finding New Direction in Strange Places, is a collection of personal essays documenting almost ten years of travel. It's available for purchase on Amazon. You can find her in coffee shops around the world, working on her latest travel piece.