Graffiti festival puts Chilean community on world art map

Polanco Graffestival, Chile’s first festival for street artists, transforms the community of Cerro Polanco into Valparaíso’s newest tourist attraction.

Street artists from around Chile and Latin America converged on Valparaíso last weekend to transform a lower economic neighborhood into the city’s newest travel destination.

Cerro Polanco already stands out for having the city’s only vertical ascensor, the UNESCO World Heritage listed trolley cars that carry commuters up Valparaíso’s colorful hills, or cerros. But few tourists go beyond the lookout of the distinctive tower-shaped Ascensor Polanco – which offers one of the most commanding views of port city – preferring instead to wander the streets of the more affluent areas of Cerro Alegre and Concepción.

That’s set to change now, thanks to Chile’s first ever street art festival, the Polanco Graffestival, which ran from November 2 through 4.

Drawing more than 77 artists from all over Chile and Latin America, the three day event saw the creation of more than 30 works of art, literally turning the cerro into an open air gallery, and cementing Valparaíso’s reputation as an international capital of street art.

“Santiago has a great graffiti scene as well, but in Valpraíso you have everything – there is a strong creative energy,” Camilo Barra, A.K.A. Zopa, told ThisisChile. “You have international artists, but more than that, you have people playing guitar in the streets, people taking photographs. It’s really vibrant.”

But Chile’s booming street art scene is not  not confined to those two cities; Zopa and his crew Group are from Antofagasta in Chile’s arid North.

“I’m probably the second oldest graffiti artist in Antofagasta, so I’ve seen it emerge from the very beginning, and what’s happening right now is an explosion, a new school of new painters, excellent painters, that are bringing color to the city and to the lives of the people who live there,” he said.

Guztok and his crew B.A.M. are one of the leading exponents of Chilean graffiti’s “new school,” bringing psychedelic portraits and vivid colors to the streets of their native Santiago.

“There are a lot of people painting street art in Chile right now,” Guztok told ThisisChile. “And they’re getting some really good results, creating works with a lot of heart, very personal pieces that are not only interesting and creative, but that bring a whole new energy to the city.”

The hope is that Cerro Polanco can capture that energy and entice visitors to explore its winding, cobbled streets.

Graffiti is passion and I’m really happy to have come, put on a show and help give such a beautiful aura to this area,” said Zopa.

To see photos from the festival, head to our Facebook album.

By Joe Hinchliffe