Festival of Ideas draws record crowds to Chile’s cultural hub

Third run of “Puerto de Ideas” festival brings speakers from all over the world to discuss art, culture, and science in idyllic city of Valparaíso.

Set in seven charming venues across Chile’s crooked and colorful port city, last weekend’s festival of ideas (“Puerto de Ideas”) drew close to 18,000 people to Valparaíso for a celebration of culture through the arts and sciences.

Hailing from all over the world, an outstanding list of guest speakers delivered a series of 31 lectures, concerts, and seminars to excited audiences over the weekend. Festival activities centered on discussions of culture and the exchange of ideas, concluding with question and answer sessions that allowed audience members to participate in the conversation. Present were internationally acclaimed writers, artists, scientists and psychologists, from Chile and abroad.

The seven venues sprawled across the downtown section of the city provided a range of atmospheres to accompany the weekend’s events. Activities held in the cultural park built in the converted prison on Cerro Carcel (Prison Hill) enjoyed views of the bohemian city from the park’s expansive lawn, while other festival events kept the cozy Condell Theater packed with animated audiences all weekend.

Each event cost only US$3.00 (1,500 pesos) encouraging wide attendance, and most completely sold out. For presentations given in French and English, Spanish-speaking audiences were provided head-sets to listen to a translator.

Here are some highlights from this year’s festival.

Saturday

English psychoanalyst and lover of literature Ron Britton dug deep into the inner workings of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley’s mind, examining the tragic lives of her parents and drawing on night terrors suffered by Shelley as a child to explain the origin of the Frankenstein idea and inspiration for her iconic novel, which Shelley wrote when she was only 18 years old. Situated in a comfy red arm chair in Valparaíso’s Municipal Theater, Britton played the role of psychoanalyst to the 19th century writer, unwrapping the private life of one of literature’s most iconic writers, and showing how psychoanalysis can relate and perhaps enhance the meaning of literature.

Saturday night, La Orquesta del Viento (The Wind Orchestra) kicked off their European tour with a lively performance that packed Valparaíso’s beautiful Condell theater. The orchestra, composed of two drummers, two guitarists, and a stand-up bass player is the brainchild of Chilean composer and guitarist Raimundo Santander, whose latin-beat style is heavily influenced by Andean folk music and jazz, lending a unique rhythmic flavor that had audiences tapping their feet. The performance was made even more compelling by Chilean illustrator Sol Díaz who perched in the balcony overlooking the stage. Díaz drew on her electronic tablet, utilizing the program’s features to make the images dance and change color as she added layers to each picture, and projected the live art onto a screen above the musicians.

“Combining the art and music made the performance so enjoyable,” one impressed audience member told This is Chile after the show.

Sunday

Following up on his lecture from Saturday, contemporary French writer and filmmaker Phillipe Claudel discussed his novels with Gonzalo Saavedra Sunday in the Condell Theater, detailing the emotional development of both his characters and himself as a writer. He talked about the importance of culture, especially his own French identity, in the creative process and the development of creative works. The writer explained how pulling inspiration from sensory experiences, such as the scent of a woman’s perfume or the trauma of war, enhances the power and relatability of fiction.

In the festival’s concluding event, Chilean-American neurologist Charles Zuker surprised audiences with a sensory experiment that had everyone sucking on lemons after his presentation “Symphony of Sounds.” His talk looked at the human brain’s reaction to taste, music, and color, including mini presentations by artisanal chef Rodolfo Guzmán, singer Pascuala Ilabaca, and acclaimed Chilean visual artist, José Basso. Zuker invited audience members and other speakers to participate in a series of creative activities designed to show that, as Zuker said, “every mind perceives things differently.” In a final activity, Zuker invited the audience to suck on a pill made from a natural berry extract that targeted sweet-receptors on the tongue, altering the taste buds response to sour foods, so that a lemon tasted sweet.

Zuker, who has lived the United States for the past forty years, told This is Chile that speaking about his area of study was surprisingly difficult for him in his native tongue.

“My girlfriend lives here in Chile, so when it comes to speaking about things of love, I’m in good shape. When it comes to neuroscience, not so much,” Zuker told This is Chile

At the Festival’s close, Zuker lauded the Puerto de Ideas Foundation for making the weekend’s series of diverse, cultural events financially accessible at US$3 per ticket.

The festival is one of many recent events helping to make Chile a center for scientific progress and cultural exchange. In addition to Puerto de Ideas, Chile has recently played host to other intellectual and cultural events such as Santiago’s worldwide “Carnival of Creativity” and FICValdivia, Chile’s premiere film festival.

By Emily McHugh and Clayton Wickham