A conversation with José Galicot Behar the man behind Tijuana Innovadora
Tijuana Innovadora was the two week event that managed to bring the Mexican president, two of the richest men in the world and four Nobel Peace prize winners to Tijuana.
After it ended, talked to businessman and philanthropist José Galicot Behar, the man behind Tijuana Innovadora (TI) talked about his learning experience, the subject of violence in the city and the relationship Tijuana could have with neighboring San Diego.
Q: Now that TI is over, what is your feeling about it?
A: Total gratitude and satisfaction, I would change very little about what we did. What happened is that we added specialists in every field, it was they who where generous enough to bring with them the best they could and it showed in the overall product.
It was a clear example of what can be achieved with care, imagination, discipline and love.
The patchwork of important characters we were able to bring to the table was a true joy; Noble Prize winners, Oxfam, Slim, Azcárraga both so generous with their time. The massive mob dance with 16 thousand people dancing including 200 at Las Americas shopping center at San Ysidro…
Many people came up to us and asked to extend the event one more week but I must confess we were exhausted. What can be done in the future is for the exhibit to stay open after the event so more people can enjoy it.
Now we have a sense of “end of the party,” it’s time to clean up, tidy the place and pay what’s owed, it’s a back-to–reality. But I’m thankful for what we lived.
Q: ¿Will it become a recurring event?
A: I had said this could happen every two years, but now I think I would like to have something of the same magnitude but different spirit. For this year’s event the stars where aligned in our favor in order to show what is being done in Tijuana, but I believe our next endeavor should be with a different focus.
People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have shown interest in coming to Tijuana and as many as 200 businesses that chose not to participate in TI now are first in line for our next effort.
Q: Are you looking for more involvement from the San Diego community?
A: San Diego has long believed it has been living with a toad called Tijuana, but in reality Tijuana is a prince waiting to be discovered. In the mist of the deep financial crisis in the US they would benefit from joining forces with Tijuana when it comes to medical services, cultural life, real state, creating a win/win situation for the region.
The truth is we are sleeping in the same bed, weather they notice or not, so we could be pushing for projects for better water use and environmental provisions.
Q: Are there follow up projects for TI?
A: Well, the idea is to form a few committees so they can be in charge of oversite of a few projects born out of TI; one of them is the creation and administration of an environmental conservation park created in a 60 acre land donated by the federal government.
It will be made into an environmental garden near the water plant and the Water Authority is already working with us to make it happen.
The second committee will be in charge of looking out for the educational software donation from Microsoft, worth 50 million dollars, in the hopes of making the most impact and benefits.
Out of the thousands of volunteers we have chosen 400 teens to take a leadership course so they can reach their full potential.
The idea is that such projects start generating a citizenship conscience and people start thinking twice before littering, passing a red light…we start to ask the authorities to do their job the best they can and we in turn do the same.
Q: Now that you touched on the topic of public safety, president Calderon came to the TI inaugural event and it seems the violence spiked after that with a series of decapitations and the recent massacre of 13 men in a rehab center…
A: I’m convinced 99% of us living in Tijuana are honest, interesting, hard-working people. It is only as small group that insists in terrorizing us.
So I strongly believe those events can only be answered by doing exactly what we have been doing, working from the cultural standpoint and letting the police and military take care of the violence because that’s their job.
Q: In many forums, you have praised the Tijuana artist community, but there is a letter asking the elected mayor not to renew your rental contract for a series of 32 commercial spots in Tijuana owned by the City Culture Institute (IMAC), how do you answer?
A: Well, there is always some bitter-buddy, a fly swimming in the milk, but I want to make it clear that yes, those commercial spots are in fact owned by IMAC, they are in no way mine, but before they where rehabilitated they were used as public toilets and places to get mugged. IMAC had never cared for them or gotten any money from their rental.
That is until my friend architect Jacs showed interest and by his own initiative started to take care of the place, it was only then that IMAC started to collect rent and earn some revenue.
I’m the owner of Viva Tijuana plaza and many times I have offered those spaces to artist to use at reasonable prices. I and a few close friends have paid out of pocket for the Anguiano exhibit and the creation of 87 murals across the city. I helped those expressions be made out of my own initiative and paying for them personally.
So, if they want to shadow what I’ve done, I ask the public to compare the results, who has supported art in the city, me or them?