The Agency of Mezcal in the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico

The Oaxaca Valley in Southern Mexico is known for its cultural heritage but also for its high levels of poverty and unemployment. Limited access to water, aggravated by urban expansion and deforestation, affect agriculture, which is one of the region´s main economic engines. Every year 30% of the male population is forced to migrate for lack of work, and villages remain inhabited by a women majority with limited influence.

More recently, Oaxaca has become known for its production of mezcal. Several farming villages in the valley are also mezcal producers, which is an intensely laborious and hand-crafted process that takes the pines of agave plants, ferments and distills them into high-proof alcohol. Even though mezcal has been around for five centuries, a newly awakened appreciation for slow, authentic and culturally significant spirits has taken it to global markets. If properly managed, this could represent a valuable opportunity to reinvest economic gains in the community, improving its articulation with local ecology, agriculture production and social inclusion. Studio findings could serve as a thoughtful inquiry to guide the potential agency of mezcal in the region with viable holistic strategies focused on the following objectives:
1. Address the eminent limitations water scarcity has on productivity and living conditions through feasible water harvesting and water catchment infrastructure;
2. Articulate synergies and mitigate conflicts between village growth patterns, rural activity and cultural landscape;
3. Consider the social and environmental challenges a mezcal tourist industry could generate while instilling a sense of stewardship for cultural heritage and natural resources;
4. Explore production and social opportunities associated with mezcal and tourism that could advance inclusion and gender equality;
5. Review current public policy on land tenure and regional development to formulate suggestions for amendments based on studio findings.

Students will begin with an exploratory-research phase. The second phase coincides with the sponsored studio trip to Oaxaca and focuses on observation and analyses of each visited settlement. In the third phase students will work on individual projects. Performance will be evaluated through studio work, pin-ups, a mid-term and final review.

This course has an irregular meeting schedule.

This studio meets weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the exception of the following dates in which the instructor will not be in residence: September 11/13 September 18 October 2/4 November 13/15 To make up for missed studio sessions, the instructor will be available outside of the typical studio meeting times (including Friday, September 21) on weeks that she is in residence.