How The ‘Art With Me’ Festival Fused Burning Man And Art Basel To Create Ecological Change

George Evan

Here’s a little fact you might not know about one of the most Instagrammed places in the world: Tulum is facing an environmental crisis. The local landfill has only four more months before it’s completely full. There is no solid waste management plan for the overdevelopment of this tiny stretch of land. The Yucatan’s sacred underwater Cenotes and the Mesoamerican Reef System, the world’s second largest coral reef, are both in danger of being destroyed.

But while Instagram barely scratches the surface of the situation in Tulum, a group of local hoteliers, environmentalists and artists have come together to raise awareness through the arts, and they kicked off the campaign on May 10 at Art With Me *GNP.

Art With Me *GNP was Tulum’s first Arts & Culture festival, the first to focus on sustainability, and the first festival I’ve ever attended entirely barefoot. It is the brainchild of one of Tulum’s pioneering hoteliers David Graziano of Ahau Group. Early on, David recognized the importance of creating a sustainable footprint in Tulum, and his commitment to environmentally conscious living is apparent. All organic wastes are composted at his properties. Water is treated in accordance with local regulations, a concept many Tulum hotels don’t yet fully grasp. A local Mexican biologist, Juan Canul is part of David’s full-time staff and has helped his hotels become the only properties in Tulum to achieved Green Key International Certification status.

As an artist himself, David recognized the power that art has to trigger an emotion and impact change. Using the creative arts as a catalyst for action, Art With Me *GNP launched on May 10 in bold fashion: international chefs, musicians, artists, hoteliers, activists and spiritual gurus took over the majority of Tulum’s most beloved venues. Four immersive days and nights of programming was comprised of mind-expanding art installations with powerful messages, heart-opening concert events, soul-baring meditations and thought-provoking panel discussions,. All this growth was fueled by tacos, ceviche, raw vegan treats, James Beard chef dinners, and mezcal.

“While I was witnessing the downfall of what was happening in Tulum with waste management, pollution and negative press, I was also witnessing a rise in creativity with a lot of the new galleries, artists and creative projects,” said David Graziano. “It felt like a critical time to launch the festival. We couldn’t wait any longer to address this.”

A refreshing aspect of Art With Me *GNP was the almost non-existence of Instagram influencers and wanna-be festival bloggers. Attendees were noticeably eclectic; Marian Goodell, the CEO of Burning Man, was there. So were Santiago Guggenheim (Peggy’s great-grandson), Ex-Green Beret turned tech entrepreneur Tom Katis, Ben Pundole of EDITION Hotel, and lots of kids. While there was a consistent buzz in the air, the flow of the festival never felt frenetic or forced. For the most part, everyone I encountered seemed extremely… brace yourself… present. The lack of Internet and phone service in Tulum certainly helped.

The Art

George Evan

One of the most powerful installations was by Mexican artist Alejandro Duran. Beautiful and tragic at the same time, Alejandro takes trash he finds on Mexico’s Caribbean coast and transforms it into art. Over the course of his project Durán has identified plastic waste from fifty-eight nations and territories on six continents that have washed ashore along the coast of Sian Ka’an. His “Washed Up” installation is now permanently installed at Nomade Tulum. At Hip Hotel, artist Leo Tezcucano’s similarly-themed messages, “It’s Our Home” and “Take Care of Me” lined the beach, not far from sand sculptures of turtles and whales decorated with plastic bottle tops and trash collected from Sanara Tulum’s 5-minute beach cleanup.