Inauguration of the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral illuminates Santiago

Thousands of people gathered in Chile’s capital on Saturday night to watch as President Sebastian Piñera, the National Council for Arts and Culture and an assembly of accomplished musicians launched a new home for the arts in the city.

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The opening ceremony for the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral drew crowds of onlookers with music, speeches and a massive light show highlighting the arts center, its place in Chile and its namesake, writer Gabriela Mistral. The new building, a long, low prism shielded by an exoskeleton of elegantly perforated oxidized metal, occupies a massive block along Alameda, the central artery for east-west bound traffic through Central Santiago.

For Saturday’s event a 1.5km section of Alameda from Metro Santa Lucía to Metro Baquedano was closed to traffic and packed with Santiaguinos of all ages who came to celebrate one of the first major events in Chile’s bicentennial celebrations. A stage installed in one of the building’s large open spaces hosted performances from the University of Concepción Symphony Orchestra joined by singers Claudia Acuña and Manuel Garcia, as well as the choruses of the University of Santiago and Andrés Bello University.

Following an opening performance of the National Hymn, the assembled musicians performed orchestral versions of songs by Violeta Parra, considered by some to be the founder of Chilean popular music, and Victor Jara, the songwriter and theater director who was one of the many artists murdered in the early days of the Pinochet’s reign. These songs, well known to nearly all present, were sung by performers and audience alike with deep emotional intensity, as devotional hymns to liberation from past years of oppression. The inauguration of the new cultural center, replacing a building long associated with the dictatorial regime, is a striking example of Chile’s astonishingly rapid rise in the last twenty years from a nation crushed under a ruthless regime, to one of the most culturally and economically developed nations in the Americas.

Musical performances were followed by an spectacular show of images and words projected onto the side of the building facing Alameda. Playing upon the broad surfaces of the center’s geometric façade, the dynamic, moving images represented cross-sections of the building’s history and of Chile’s geography and culture.

At the ceremony’s end, the thousands of audience members dispersed toward the nearby metro stops, crowding onto the trains that would take them to the corners of Santiago’s urban sprawl. The Centro Gabriela Mistral begin its public life by bringing together living artists to perform the music of beloved figures from the past in celebration of Chile’s artistic future. Most importantly, it asserted its presence as an open space for Chileans to enjoy their artistic heritage in the heart of Santiago.

Visit the official website for Centro Gabriela Mistral.

This post is also available in Spanish