Manzana Uno literally means "city block number one" dating back to a time when city blocks were called "manzanas" which, in Spanish, also means "apples".
The Manzana Uno Art Gallery is the brainchild of
Valia Carvalho, and Ejti Stih, three well-known local artists who in 2005 convinced the municipal government to allow them to convert an abandoned building into what is now the newest, hippest art gallery in Santa Cruz. In just three years of existence it has become the number one art venue, registering well over 100,000 visitors per year.
Manzana Uno is the city block on which the San Lorenzo Cathedral is located, just off the main square
Plaza 24 de Septiembre
around which the entire city has been built in concentric circles. Adjacent to the cathedral is a blue and white colonial-style building and between the two (at the foot of the cathedral steps) there is a narrow alley which leads to the back of the church and the other half of the city block where a very pretty plaza has been built, now called Plaza Manzana Uno.
This building used to be a police station. Interpol was also housed here until about 10 years ago when a new Police Command station was built. The building was abandoned and became problemmatic as over the years it became a hang out and haven for drug users, and was dangerous and crumbling from disuse.
Juan, Ejti and Valia, three visionary artists compelled the city government to include city block number one in a 2005 city beautification campaign that included completely remodeling Plaza 24 de Septiembre and convinced city council to give them permission to refurbish and remodel the "west wing" portion of the abandoned police station and convert it into an art gallery. The city gave them leeway and even added building a second smaller plaza behind the church at what is now the entrance to the Manzana Uno Art Gallery.
Several months, many meetings and much effort later, city block number one, with a shiny new plaza covering the entire rear part of the block (behind the cathedral) was proudly renamed Manzana Uno in honor of its past glory as the city's first and most important block, and the art gallery (which was given the same name), partly out of fun included a green apple as part of its logo.
Locals and visitors alike have been thrilled at the improvements made to the city's center and once again the main plaza and its extension, the second smaller plaza, are filled with people enjoying a stroll, relaxing in the shade, people-watching, walking to work, taking pictures, and even playing chess on built-in chess tables. The plazas have truly become a social gathering place again and both are always busy from early morning until late at night. The city government provides round-the-clock security and lots of illumination.
Periodically, both plazas are used for concerts, outdoor art exhibits, cultural fairs, and other events, many in coordination with the Casa de la Cultura Raul Otero Reiche, the city's "house of culture" located on the west-facing block, where many artistic and cultural events are held and planned.
Partly due to is privileged location just half a block from the city's main square, but mostly because it is an incredibly well run gallery that attracts amazing national and international artists, Manzana Uno very quickly has become the most visited art gallery in the nation, registering over 120,000 visitors in 2007 alone.
Thanks to the incredible dedication that Juan Bustillos, Ejti Stih, Valia Carvalho, and other Bolivian artists have shown, new art galleries and venues are breathing life into the Santa Cruz art scene, which until just a few years ago left much to be desired.
Manzana Uno is actively and continuously supported by several large local companies and foundations that have taken an interest in ensuring it is able to attract and exhibit the works of great talents as well. The gallery receives support from the likes of Lufthansa, the Prince Claus Fund, The Embassy of the Netherlands, Petrobras, Cotas, Aerosur, the World Wildlife Federation, and many other national and international entities who recognize the excellence of this art venue.
Individuals can also support Manzana Uno by becoming "Friends of the Manzana" through the "Amigos de la Manzana" program. More information in English on this program is available through the gallery's own website, to which I've provided a link below.
Manzana Uno sponsors a yearly Sculpture Fair in which sculptors from various parts of the world participate, sculpting outdoors as a sort of public live exhibit. This year the gallery has published a book titled "Un Árbol Bolivia" featuring photos of each of the sculptors that participated at work (each had to create a work of art from a tree trunk), along with a short biography and information on their works. This book is available for sale at the gallery gift shop. However, if you are interested in acquiring a copy, you can contact the gallery below through the secure contact form.
Likewise the gallery publishes other books periodically such as the one featured below which is a compilation of particularly poignant photographs taken by Bolivian photojournalists during the past year, also available at the gift shop when you visit (or contact them online if you'd like to acquire a copy but are not in Bolivia).
Manzana Uno is open from 9 to 11:30 am and from 4 to 9 pm on weekdays, and from 9 to 4 on Saturdays and Sundays. There is no entrance fee. You can enter from the small plaza at the rear of the cathedral - the archway on the white building facing a tall pointed wooden sculpture by the benches. The art gallery actually occupies the entire west wing of the colonial building and is divided into two contiguous rooms. The first also contains the offices and a small gift shop.