There is a vibrant creative community in Oaxaca that spans all of the arts. In addition to food, Oaxaca is well known for its traditional crafts and print art. You can spend hours wandering the city stopping to look at crafts or popping in to the seemingly endless galleries and print shops. You’ll also find music everywhere you go, from the street accordion players to marching bands to classical and jazz concerts.
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There are many art galleries in Oaxaca and you can spend entire days just visiting those. Oaxaca is well known for two particular kinds of visual art though, print and street art.
There are a lot of print shops/galleries which have an incredible range of work. Many of them harken from the deep history of protest and revolution in the area and still have very political and activist themes. There is also just an abundance of beautiful art in this format. You can get a map called Pasaporte Gráfico, which highlights 12 workshop/galleries and you get a stamp from each when you visit.
The street art is everywhere, not just in the center or certain areas of the city. It has a huge range as well, from political to fantastical, and we never tire of the beautiful full murals or small graffitis.
Like all of Mexico artisans make beautiful things in the full range of crafts. Oaxaca has some very special regional handicrafts that are known throughout Mexico, namely textiles (rugs and clothing), ceramics (certain styles of pottery), and the carved and painted alebrijes.
The zócalo in Oaxaca city always has mariachi bands and marimba players rotating around. (If you like 8-bit or chiptune music, you’re going to love marimbas.) A truly Oaxacan form of music though is the banda.
Calendas and bandas
The sound I most associate with Oaxaca is the banda. It’s all exuberant horns and they often play tons of classic Mexican songs. Oaxaca likes to celebrate and you can see a parade on any given day of the week, which always includes a banda. These parades are called calendas and I can’t imagine Oaxaca without them. They are always a fun public event that passersby can follow along with and children will gather around in the event that free candy is thrown out to the crowd.
Everyone seems to dance here. When a banda plays music, they are often well-known songs and everyone knows the dance that goes with it. You’ll often see people practicing various traditional dances in the parks around Oaxaca, and it is most often groups of teenagers.
Every July is a huge indigenous culture event called Guelaguetza, which is mostly focused on traditional dance. People gather from all over the region to show their best dancing in traditional dress.