Universal Forum of Cultures brings exhibitions to Valparaíso

It is hoped that the performances, installations, talks and public seminars programmed over the 45-day event will draw 3 million visitors to Chile’s bohemian capital.

Labyrinth of Gazes, Valparaíso
The Labyrinth of Gazes is the festival's central exhibition.

After three years of planning, the Third Universal Forum of Cultures opened Oct. 22 in Chile’s primary port city. Over the course of 45 days, galleries, schools, universities, cinemas, theaters and public squares scattered throughout Valparaíso will host an array of cultural events from around the country, region and world.

The city’s semicircle of 45 hills scattered with ramshackle houses that run steeply into a deep blue bay will serve, in the words of Forum Director Mireia Belil, as “a great natural amphitheater” for a host of cultural events.

Valparaíso’s Forum 2010

Among the Forum’s events, an International Photography Festival reaches into the city with a free magazine, public displays of large-scale photo installations and commissioned works from Chilean and Mexican graffiti artists. The exhibition is being held in the old Port Station, a venue closed for six years and now entirely remodelled to serve as a multi-purpose art space.

The Festival’s central exhibition, entitled Labyrinth of Gazes (Laberinto de Miradas), incorporates works by 200 Ibero-American artists and deals with boundaries, national identity and regional conflict.

Events such as this one run the entirety of the Forum, while others last only one evening. Some are held in large public spaces, but others are in intimate galleries and theaters. Together, the programmed events represent an enormous diversity of style and subject matter.

Public dialogues and seminars are the core of the Forum, staged alongside exhibitions, workshops, global music concerts and other cultural happenings such as poetry readings.

Press coordinator Karen Alfaro asserts that despite differences in scale, no one occasion is more vital to the Forum than any other. “All the events are valuable for drawing distinct groups of people and distinct ideas,” she says.

Nightly concerts on a stage erected on one of the city’s main squares, Plaza Sotomayor, draw large, young crowds each evening for performances by local and foreign artists. Neo-folk musicians Chinoy and Pascuala Ilabaca whose sound defines the new music coming out of Valparaíso will take center stage, alongside international acts from Italy, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Morocco.

“We are proud to be the first city in South America to host the Forum,” says Alfaro. Both the large and small events reflect this pride by  focusing largely on Ibero-American artists and issues.

The selection process

Valparaíso follows Barcelona, Spain and Monterrey, Mexico as the third host for the Forum. It was announced as the next host in Monterrey, 2007, after having been selected over Istanbul and Naples, where the fourth Forum will be held in 2013.

Candidate cities designed their proposals around three official goals: promotion of cultural diversity, promotion of sustainable development and the development of conditions for peace and co-existence on a local and global scale. An announcement released by the Forum Foundation after having selected Valparaíso said:

“The project presented by Valparaíso showed the city’s clear commitment to sustainable development, the environment, the fight against poverty and for peace …The city’s project is based on its belief in the power of creativity, dialogue and fair and equitable participation.”

As host to the Forum, Valparaíso is proceeding with its ongoing urban renewal initiatives, rejuvenating the city center through cleaning projects and restoration of historic buildings. With its interest in cities as the world’s hubs of creativity, diversity and economy, the Forum selected Valparaíso for its uniquely dynamic urban topography and its historic status as a multi-cultural artistic center.

Valparaíso after the Forum

As the Forum’s mission statement states, the event is designed “to foster programs and reforms designed to leave both tangible and intangible lasting marks on the city.”

The city, it seems, is poised to become not only Chile’s cultural capital, but also one of the world’s creative centers.

If, as officials expect, Valparaíso follows the precedents set by Barcelona and Monterrey in 2004 and 2007, the Forum could draw as many as 3 million visitors to the port city this summer.

The Forum’s legacy will encourage further artistic and economic development by expanding the tourist industry and garnering increased global attention for the city’s already-thriving creative class.