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Esquina Norte, Just around the Corner

When you think of a conference that attracts worldwide speakers like Neville Brody from the UK, Ken Cato from Australia, Vasava from Barcelona, along with U.S.ers like April Greiman, Lance Wyman, Modern Dog, and Art Chantry, you probably assume it’s, say, a biannual AIGA or ICOGRADA event supported by heavy-hitting sponsors like Adobe and Getty, enabled by a hefty cadre of volunteers, and hosted at a voluminous convention center or mega hotel —Esquina Norte, host to these designers and dozens more, is nothing like that. Organized annually since 2001 by the tireless Jhoana Mora — acting as its program director, sponsor wrangler, venue coordinator, volunteer gatherer and more — Esquina Norte attracts some of the most coveted speakers, and more than a thousand attendees to the in-between city of Tijuana, which lends itself to the laid back attitude of the event… and hosting the main stage presentations at a place called the Tangaloo Club can only begin to signal that this is a different conference. After finishing Esquina Norte’s 7th edition this past September, Jhoana took a moment to answer some questions as a response to our invitation to be included in The Women of Design book that Bryony and I are working on. Due to limited space (no matter how many more bundles of eight pages we added to the book) we had to run an abridged version of this interview, but we were concerned that a lot of her great responses would have been lost. Here is the full story on Jhoana and the little conference that could.

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ARMIN & BRYONY: Tell us a little about Esquina Norte and how it started

JHOANA MORA: Now in its seventh year, Esquina Norte, or the “North Corner”, has become the most important independently-organized design conference in all of Mexico. It owes its name to Tijuana’s geographic location in relation to the U.S. and Latin America; it is the busiest border crossing in the world, and the crossroads between the developed and the developing world.

It has, since its origins, served as a window into international design, aimed at providing development opportunities to low-income students, increasing academic knowledge, keeping teachers and professionals up-to-date, increasing students’ work expectations, introducing international creative leaders, and being a source of inspiration for excellence in design.

How did it come into existence? The answer is that while I was studying my degree in Graphic Design, I got involved with a group of students and professionals who, with the support of AIGA San Diego, were planning the creation of the first AIGA chapter outside the U.S.: the Baja Chapter. We managed to organize several designer and magazine presentations over the years, and by this time I was in charge of communications and public relations. By the year 2000, now with fewer organizers, we put together a design conference in Ensenada, Mexico, with speakers such as David Carson, Ricardo Alvarez, Matiz (a Mexican magazine), the Fakir Collective, and illustrator Rafael Lopez, among others. We were preparing a second edition of the conference, but due primarily to financial losses it was decided not to move forward with the project. However, since we already had some of the main speakers confirmed, I decided to go on with the event, and after four months of tireless work, Esquina Norte was born, with a series of conferences and practical workshops celebrated in the fall of 2001 in Tijuana, and we have been doing it once a year ever since.

We never have to wonder about money, because there never is any! — JM

A&B: Most internationally acclaimed design conferences are put together by established organizations that count on staff to help manage the details, and can leverage partnerships with generous sponsors. You do Esquina Norte by yourself. How?

JM: Well, in the only way you can organize an event in Mexico: Without asking others for input, without depending on any institutions or companies, nor by looking for support from a community that does not have a culture of sponsoring events of this nature. The big companies that “support” cultural activities will not get involved in a small event that will not give them a significant return in increased sales, or that would not place their huge logos throughout the city. Government and cultural institutions also have limited resources. Culture continues to be seen as an issue for artists alone. We never have to wonder about money, because there never is any! So I try to get things as gifts, on loan, or in exchange; what little support we get in cash allows me to give students with high GPAs, or limited income, scholarships and discounts, creating a venue that serves as inspiration to over 3,000 Mexican, American, and Latin American students.

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Esquina Norte 2007

Esquina Norte 2007. Photo from Motomichi.

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As the year progresses, I do several activities on my own: From inviting speakers, defining logistics, seeking sponsorship, making purchases, even putting up posters all over town. The only thing I don’t do directly is create the event image; this is done by several designer friends, under my art direction. I think that I have certain “qualities” that help me work on my own: I am organized, a workaholic, and hyperactive… Besides, I have never believed in specializing; you can be naturally good at certain things, but through work and persistence you can become good at many others.

A week or two before the event, I start getting help from students from the different universities as either volunteers or as their social service requirement. They help me assemble name tags, fill participant goody bags, pick up speakers at the airport, and most importantly, make decisions at critical moments, all of which will no doubt help them in their future profession, and without which Esquina Norte would not be possible.

Many people wonder why I don’t have a sizable work team like other events, or why I don’t even have an office. The answer is simple and logical: While many people have offered to help, once they discover that there isn’t a lot of money to be made, their enthusiasm fades. Fortunately, there are always the few I can count on unconditionally, and to whom I am infinitely grateful. As for my office, it is anywhere I happen to be with my laptop and cell phone. Something significant about this project is that I don’t see it as work, but as a labor of love; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I am nonetheless firmly convinced that this project could mean something big to somebody. Of course, I cannot expect all participants to understand the reason behind this conference, but if I can make a difference in just one student’s life or career, I will feel my interest was well served.

One of the challenges to overcome is the apathy of a lot of university academic coordinators and students who are happy to just keep a seat warm. — JM

A&B: What do you think makes Esquina Norte unique?

JM: What has set Esquina Norte apart, to the extent that it stands toe-to-toe with other conferences organized by nationally renown design associations, in my opinion, has been two things: First, the genuine support from the 120 speakers from over 144 different countries who, with their hard work and willingness to share their experience have contributed to creating a community of students, professionals, and academics who in a three-day intensive setting expand their minds through this opportunity for discussion that is seldom equaled elsewhere; and second, the help of other cultural promoters in advertising the event, helping us consolidate a solid design culture, bringing people together through databases, periodic publications, recommendations, or simply word of mouth.

One of the challenges to overcome is the apathy of a lot of university academic coordinators and students who are happy to just keep a seat warm. Going to an event of this nature (not just Esquina Norte) isn’t about paying to hear someone talk about their work, but about being truly interested in dialogue and, why not, even a future work relationship. I continue to contribute my grain of sand so that students can achieve a broader vision and be better prepared so that when they graduate they will not further undermine the market with poor design and ridiculous prices.

Esquina Norte is undeniable proof that things can be done the right way, as long as they are done with stewardship, organization, and commitment. In 2003, designer Marc English wrote an article about the Conference for Communication Arts magazine entitled “Esquina Norte Proves MexiCANs.”.

A&B: Apart from Esquina Norte, what do you do?

JM: Between one edition and the next I work as an independent cultural promoter, collaborating with a large number of designers and artists in the promotion, production, and advertising of projects and festivals. Additionally, I coordinate cultural projects such as Tijuana, la Tercera Nacion (Tijuana, the Third Country), which included activities such as filling 215,000+ square feet with images by Tijuana artists about the border and the lining of the canal; a showing of Un Día Sin Mexicanos (A Day Without Mexicans) at the border crossing; a literature cycle with writers that included Carlos Monsiváis, Laura Restrepo, Hector Aguilar Camin, Fernando Vallejo; and a keynote speech by Baltazar Garzon, the Honorable Spanish Judge who ordered the capture of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. I also assemble a photographic record of Tijuana, just for the pleasure of capturing places, moments, faces, etc., some of which have been featured in the following books: Aquí es Tijuana, Paso del Nortec, Tijuana la Tercera Nación, and several writings on the Nortec collective.

I also spend some of my time doing coordination, logistics, public relations, production, and set design for place and events, including Levitra, the National Chamber of the Electronics, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Industries (CANIETI, due to its initials in Spanish), Mario Quintero from the musical group Tucanes de Tijuana, IMACOR, and many others.

It is the only event of its kind that includes High School students; starting with the 2005 edition, I implemented a successful special pricing program for them. Its goal: to improve the academic performance and involvement of university freshmen, as well as to expand their career alternatives. — JM

A&B: With a number of other design conferences throughout Mexico, what do you think attracts so many attendees to Esquina Norte?

JM: I believe there are several factors that contribute to Esquina Norte being so well attended. First, the quality and diversity of speakers: Graphic, industrial, and fashion designers; plastic and visual artists; photographers; illustrators; architects; and typographers. Everyone from international design gurus to young and promising creators, who in many cases had never set foot in Mexico as speakers at a conference .

Another important factor is that from the very beginning I wanted to set us clearly apart from other conferences, being true to the project and doing activities that aren’t even being considered by other venues yet, such as having participants enter into direct contact with the speakers, whether to just ask for an autograph or even to go out for a beer on their free time; or giving a better value to the students by including in the admission price a 5-hour workshop with one of the conference speakers, at no additional cost. Furthermore, it is the only event of its kind that includes High School students; starting with the 2005 edition, I implemented a successful special pricing program for High School students, which more than surpassed all my expectations. Its goal: to improve the academic performance and involvement of university freshmen, as well as to expand their career alternatives. This unprecedented program allowed me to provide decision-making tools to young students who are leaning towards careers in creative fields, by allowing them to attend for a symbolic fee and have access to the more than ten conferences that are given each year. This introduces them to the realities, challenges, and work opportunities, so they can enter college with a much broader vision of the design universe.

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Esquina Norte 2007

Esquina Norte 2007. Photo from Metrallo.

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Over the last seven years, I have sought to create a special vibe at the event, where people can feel at home and have the freedom to ask, give their opinion, debate, and work as a team.

And, of course, there is the city that serves as its host: Tijuana. Known by some for being a cultural melting pot, a good party spot, home to cartels and kitsch, and by others only through the Manu Chao song that says “…Welcome to Tijuana: tequila, sexo y marihuana” a suggestive invitation for many; and why not, for spending a weekend shopping in the beautiful coastal city of San Diego.

A&B: Do you have any ambitions for future editions of this conference?

JM: I once said that the Second Edition of Esquina Norte would be the last, because of all the hard work and time it requires, as well as in response to the frustration I feel when I can’t find sponsors, and well, all those other factors working against us (which aren’t few). But, in the end, I think that everything that has been achieved thus far is more than I ever dreamed of: Great friends, endless stories to tell, work relationships, even having people say good things about my hometown of Tijuana.

I have been thinking of putting together a compilation book, to be presented at the 2010 edition of Esquina Norte, which means the conference will last at least until then. I have no book publishing experience, so I think putting it together will take me some time, but I want it to include bios, work, comments, as well as a special message from all past conference speakers, along with a DVD with excerpts from the most representative presentations and a photo gallery.

After that I will think hard about the future of this conference and decide whether the conference continues or if I want to change direction, perhaps, I don’t know, perhaps spend more time on my personal life.

In the mean time, I would love for outstanding designers, film directors, photographers, and creative minds in other disciplines to continue sharing their experiences with us. For Esquina Norte to be, as it has always been, more than a display where we can look at their work as if flipping through a book, but a place where they can continue infusing us with their energy, their ideals, their work, their passion for design, their dreams…

A&B: Thank you for your time Jhoana.

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Six years worth of speakers:

2001: Bennett Peji, Felipe Covarrubias, Isaac Kerlow, John Dennis, Ken Cato, Lance Wyman, Lilia Peji, Manuel Monroy, Marc English, Omar Chavira, Raul Cardenas, Reyes Santana, Sensacional de Diseño, Shelly Hays, Stephen Simpson, Teo González.

2002: Alejandro Magallanes, Leonel Sagahón, Carlos Celorio, Felipe Covarrubias, Germán Montalvo, Héctor Falcón, John Dennis, Jorge Alderete, Jorge Gutiérrez, Modern Dog, Pedro Torrent “Peret”, Rogelio Cuellar, Rolf Krayer, Sandra Equihua.

2003: Antonio Pérez Ñiko, April Greiman, Arcángel Constantini, Bruno Monguzzi, Colectivo Hematoma, Domingo Noé Martínez, Gabriel Martínez Meave, Héctor Falcón, James Victore, Postof, Yasu Suzuka.

2004: Acamonchi, Ames Design, Eduardo Escobar, Fritz Torres, Gonzalo Tassier, Héctor Falcón, Hula Hula, Isidro Ferrer, Jorge Cejudo “Cejas”, Luis Peña, Colectivo Masa, Mauricio Alejo, Posttool, Rick Shearman, Teo González, Stan Zienka from Attik.

2005: Colectivo Doma, Eduardo Escobar, Enrique Norten, George Estrada, Guillermo Serrano, Guillermo Tragant, Hans Smith, Hans Paul Brauns, Héctor Falcón, Helen Kerr, Jon Santos, KarlssonWilker, Morbito, Paul Sahre, Rebeca Méndez, Sean Saylor, Why Not Associates.

2006: Art Chantry, Carla Fernández, Drawn Together, Eduardo Escobar, Eramos Tantos, Felipe Covarrubias, Héctor Falcón, Héctor Montes de Oca, José Zelaya, Mark Murphy, Michel Rojkind, Prologue Films, Román Martínez, Rubén Albarrán, Tomato, Vasava.

2007: Carlos Coyoc, Eduardo Barrera, Eduardo Escobar, Héctor Esrawe, Héctor Falcón, Ian Cuttler, Jorge Mdahuar, Marcos Ramírez ERRE, Motomichi Nakamura, Muttpop, Neville Brody, Quick Honey, Rinzen, Sweden Graphics, Terrorismo Gráfico.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 4598 FILED UNDER Interview
PUBLISHED ON Mar.26.2008 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
R. Raye’s comment is:

Hola Jhoana: What a great and inspiring interview - thanks Armin for posting. xxx R

On Mar.26.2008 at 01:59 PM
Fritz’s comment is:

Miss "J" you are the best

On Mar.26.2008 at 09:24 PM
Eduardo Barrera Arambarri’s comment is:

Behold, ye villains, for Lady jhoana of Tijuasborough is here to stay!
I'm honored to be a small part of the whole enchilada...
Congrats on the all-girls book

On Mar.27.2008 at 12:04 AM
Ramon’s comment is:

Esquina Norte, uno de los proyectos mas exquisitos de mexico, felicidades JO y que sigan los exitos.

On Mar.31.2008 at 03:43 PM
Luis Veliz’s comment is:

It's amazing how much Esquina Norte has grown over the years and the tireless effort Jo has put into it. It's great to know that she's been taken into account for The Women of Design book for all her achievements.

Congrats! Keep up the great work!

On Mar.31.2008 at 03:48 PM
Carlos Lara’s comment is:

The best design conferences in the whole planet, yes! by Jhoana Mora!! Who else?? our most precious jewel in Mexico!! She's simply the best!!

On Mar.31.2008 at 03:48 PM
Enrique Reyes’s comment is:

Vientos!
Esquina Norte has brought us inspirational and visual experiences from the pro and talented, in magnificent events and conferences. I know the effort....good project. tnks.
Henry

On Mar.31.2008 at 04:31 PM
Jorge H’s comment is:

Yeah Jhoana!

Animo y gracias por hacer esquina norte a mi me ayudo, influyo, cambio, etc etc muchisimo como supongo que a muchas personas tambien.

Donde estan los patrocinadores? No sean marros!

jajaja

On Mar.31.2008 at 06:01 PM
Victor’s comment is:

If you think Johana is great just reading this article, wait 'till you get to know her in person :D

Viva La Jho!

On Mar.31.2008 at 07:18 PM
Lili Vidrio’s comment is:

Esquina Norte! interesante y ardua labor la que se lleva Jhoana, a pesar de ser sumamente desgastante realizar este evento es mas importante lograr mantenerlo vivo ya que es una de las pocas cosas productivas en cuanto a promocion del diseño que se realizan en nuestra ciudad.
Mil Felicitaciones y apoyo Jho ya sabes. aqui estamos.

On Mar.31.2008 at 10:58 PM
queti’s comment is:

felicidades a Esquina Norte y a ti Jho gracias por compartir con todos

On Mar.31.2008 at 11:04 PM
marc english’s comment is:

fantastico. glad to see jho getting more press.

On Apr.02.2008 at 12:24 PM
bitz’s comment is:

Recibe una enorme felicitacion y un gran abrazo

Gracias por mantener esto vivo, cuenta con todo mi apoyo.

Felicidades.

On Apr.03.2008 at 08:09 PM
Omar Chavira’s comment is:

muy bueno
Esquina Norte es inspirador

gracias Jo.

On Apr.03.2008 at 08:41 PM
Emmanuel Peralta’s comment is:

Jho can do it all!
And her child, Esquina Norte, is the best conference in the face of the earth.

On Apr.03.2008 at 09:33 PM
zharrison’s comment is:

¡Hija, Bravissimo!

Contrary to popular belief, La Esquina (The Corner) is where it happens; where cultures, thoughts and styles intersect, and beautiful concoctions are born...Thank for harnessing all that crazy energy of the border --where 2 worlds negotiate fun and power-- to create a wkend of discovery.

A design conference in a nightclub, replete with discolights for the closing speaker...only in Tijuana!!

On Apr.13.2008 at 10:38 PM
stan’s comment is:

Hola Jhoana!!

Esquina Norte 2004 is still one of my most rewarding experiences within the design world. It was a pure treat to work with peers from all over the world and talk to the attentive and passionate students who came to see us. SO glad that it has grown and influenced more people.

You rock Jho.


On May.09.2008 at 12:31 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

jhoana -

i think that your event was the single coolest design event i've ever participated in. you are an amazing person.

and tijuana blew mw away. what a wonderful place!

- art c.

On May.09.2008 at 01:13 PM
idalia l.’s comment is:

quien iba decirlo, lo que empezo con un proyecto de ensue�o, se ha vuelto tu forma de vida... muchas felicidades Jhoana por lo que has logrado con todos estos a�os!!!

On May.09.2008 at 02:15 PM
Lizeth Avilés’s comment is:

Girl!!

Es un orgullo saber q apesar de las dificultades, Esquina norte sigue en pie y nos deja un legado importante a la ciudad de Tijuana y a la comunidad creativa en general aunque les duela a alguno que otro.

Muchas gracias JHO!

:)

On May.09.2008 at 02:26 PM
moz’s comment is:

Johana, gracias por crear para TJ, este gran evento y conjuntar a los mejores expositores del medio, afortunados somos los locales de poder presenciar los mejores trabajos del mundo, esto le da una gran imagen a nuestra ciudad querida y mucha aportación para nosotros los diseñadores gráficos. Cuentas con mi apoyo, felicidades!!

On May.09.2008 at 02:30 PM
Gerardo Yepiz’s comment is:

Jhoanna Mora is one of the most important people in the promotion of Contemporary Art Scene in Mexico.

On May.09.2008 at 10:05 PM
Maria Ortiz-Monasterio’s comment is:

Jhoanna:
I attended Esquina Norte's first event. I got to see all the effort you put into it. It's no easy feat. I'm glad that your enthusiasm has not diminissed and that through you others get to see a side of Tijuana and of Mexicans that is often overlooked.

Me da gusto que se reconozca tu labor mediante esta entrevista y articulo. Felicidades!

On May.11.2008 at 11:24 PM
Karla Bertotti’s comment is:

Wow!

¡Muchas felicidades Jho! Gracias por compartir con todos nosotros tu gran amor al diseño. Sin duda Esquina Norte es el mejor alimento para las almas creativas. [ '_' ]

On May.13.2008 at 02:16 PM
_ChP+’s comment is:

Sin duda eres de lo mejor que tenemos, pocos son los elogios por tan admirable esfuerzo. Mil gracias y mil felicidades.

On May.13.2008 at 07:42 PM
virrys’s comment is:

mi querida JHO!!!... adorable y admirable mujeron!...
mucho exito... y vamos por muchos mas congresos, pocas personas como tu mantienen ese espiritu.
Jhoana's RULES!

On May.16.2008 at 12:13 AM
melon’s comment is:

mil gracias Jho(L)

On Sep.03.2008 at 04:12 PM
Angel De Alba’s comment is:

El nueve es un número femenino por la novena (Beth...)y ya en tu muy confirmda aportación al Diseño Gráfico Nacional con un evento_rito que hace de Tijuana un referente nacional evolutivo y muy trascendente.
Gracias siempre por este enorme Diseño de intercambios de experiencias y nuevas inquietudes globales, Una abrazo completo y que sea una novena completa para todas !

On Apr.20.2009 at 12:37 PM
Angel De Alba’s comment is:

El nueve es un número femenino por la novena y ya en tu muy confirmda aportación al Diseño Gráfico Nacional con un evento_rito que hace de Tijuana un referente nacional evolutivo y muy trascendente.
Gracias siempre por este enorme Diseño de intercambios de experiencias y nuevas inquietudes globales, Una abrazo completo y que sea una novena completa para todas !

On Apr.20.2009 at 12:39 PM