More than four years after Santiago’s emblematic Diego Portales building was destroyed by a massive fire, a new structure under the name Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral will be inaugurated on 4 September for Chile’s Bicentennial celebrations.
Built in 1972, shortly before the 1973 military coup, the Diego Portales building became the center for the legislative and executive branches of the military regime under Augusto Pinochet.
A massive, windowless block along Alameda, the primary artery for traffic in Central Santiago, the Diego Portales building was a mar on the face of Barrio Lastarria, one of Santiago’s most elegant, historic and artistic neighborhoods. Even in its post-Pinochet days as a convention center, the Diego Portales building stood as a hideous reminder of the dictatorial government.
After the 2006 fire that destroyed much of the existing structure, President Bachelet opened a public competition to design a cultural center for the site. Fifty proposals were fielded by a government committee, and a winner was selected in 2007. The official name of the new center–named for Chile’s first Nobel laureate, the poet Gabriela Mistral–was announced just under a year ago.
The first stage of the cultural center, which opens its doors this month, will house two theaters with a combined total of 550 seats, an arts library, five classrooms, a recording studio, space for two shops, a restaurant and a new home for the Museo de Arte Popular Americano of the Universidad de Chile. The second stage consists of a third building with a 2000-seat, multi-purpose theater set to open in 2013.
Inexpensive tickets will provide entry to the Museo de Arte Popular Americano, run by the Universidad de Chile, which houses an impressive collection of folk arts, from across Chile and Latin America. In addition, some 80% of the concerts scheduled for the center’s inaugural season will be sponsored by the Instituto de Música Universidad de Chile and performed free of charge thanks to the sponsorship of the Corporación Gabriela Mistral. Public spaces feature prominently in the new building design. This new transparency and the affordability of the cultural fare on offer at the center represent a literal and symbolic opening of a formerly opaque and secretive building to the Chilean public.
The first public concert in the newly inaugurated center will take place on September 5, with the Orquesta Cámara de Chile performing under the baton of Juan Pablo Izquierdo and the Culture Minister Luciano Cruz-Coke narrating. This concert will focus on works inspired by the poetry of Pablo Neruda, another Chilean Nobel-laureate and one of the most influential poets of the 20th century.
Reclaiming a site that was before a symbol of military repression – which was brutally perpetrated amongst the creative classes – and dedicating it to the arts, delivers a potent message: it reaffirms the importance of the arts in Chile’s past, present and future.
As a key event in September’s bicentennial celebrations, the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral embodies Chile’s optimism and creativity as it begins its third century as an independent nation.
The inauguration ceremony will begin at 8pm with a performance of the National Hymn by renowned jazz singer Claudia Acuña and a brief speech from President Piñera, followed by a large-scale, animated projection piece that will illuminate the full length of the new center’s exterior wall facing Alameda.