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San Miguel de Allende was founded in 1542, reached its heyday in the 17th century and underwent a severe economic crisis in the late 18th century. The wealthy moved elsewhere and the destiny of the town sank in a sea of uncertainty.

In 1927, while touring Mexico encouraged by intellectuals Alfonso Reyes and Jose Vasconcelos, Peruvian artist and diplomat in exile, Felipe Cossío del Pomar visited San Miguel de Allende and fell in love qith the quality of light. Some ten years later, following a dream, he started the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes on the premises of a former convent at that time serving as an army barracks.

“San Miguel then began to write a new chapter of its history in which education and art played a major role.”

The school attracted students who meant income for the local merchants. Money began to flow in. A new hotel was built; home windows became showcases filled with merchandise for the new clientele. The town boomed almost overnight.

In 1946, art became a separate entity for the Secretariat of Education and the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes was created.
In 1950, a general assembly announced the foundation of the Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Institutos de Educación Superior (ANUIES)—the national association of universities and schools for higher education— and the subsequent creation of the autonomous universities.

After being away for a few years, Cossío del Pomar returned to San Miguel to find his school of fine arts was practically in ruins thanks to the lawyer he had left in charge, so he embarked in a new and ambitious project. With a new team of associates that included his former PR expert Stirling Dickinson, former Guanajuato governor Enrique Fernández Martínez, and Nell Harris, Fernandez’ wife, Cossío founded a new school.

Since its creation, the Instituto Allende obtained the endorsement of the University of Guanajuato for a Master of Fine Arts program and, thus, international recognition by several universities in the United States. This gave the new school a position of importance and, by 1960, it had grown both in size and scope and was offering a BFA program.

Enticed by the possibility of obtaining academic credit for studies in Mexico, an increasing number of American students found in San Miguel de Allende a place to come back to often, and usually brought a friend or two along, which further strengthened the town’s economy. The Instituto kept moving forward, with a visionary leader at the helm.

“Cossío had great ideas, Dickinson was a fantastic promoter and my father had the necessary political contacts,” says present-day Instituto director Rodolfo Fernández. “But the true success of the school is the result of my mother’s talent and extraordinary administrative vision.”

Presently, the Instituto Allende grows and becomes stronger by establishing links with art and language schools both in Mexico and abroad. Instituto programs are now in the process of being revised to obtain the ISO 9001-2000 certification.

“I am convinced that the only way of achieving social and economic growth is through quality education,”
says Fernández

For many, San Miguel may be a tourist town, but what continues to attract tourists is the atmosphere created by its art schools and cultural events. After all, it was art that awoke the dormant beauty so many people admire today.