On Friday, October 18th, 2019, the "estallido social" (social upheaval) set off nationwide protests in Chile. The uprising was sparked by a 30 pesos hike of the Metro fare, but the popular claim is that "it's not 30 pesos, but rather, it's 30 years of undignified living standards for everyone but the elite." The chants are "#chiledespertó" (Chile has awaken) and "#dignidad," or "hasta que la dignidad se haga costumbre" (until dignity becomes commonplace).
The issues are all-too-familiar in the United States: government corruption, inequality and the 1%, inadequate social health care, and a privatized pension system. Over the past 10 weeks the protests continue to gain momentum in spite of violent clashes with the national police force, "Carabineros de Chile.'
Last Friday, December 27th, the Centro Arte Alameda was burned to the ground. The origin of the fire is still under investigation but evidence points to tear gas bombs that landed on the building's rooftop.
For the past 28 years, the Centro Arte Alameda has been a bastion of Chilean artistic expression in Santiago. Its founder and executive director, Roser Fort, established an exceptional cultural space in the inner city, for alternative and emerging artists. The Centro Arte Alameda is (I don't want to say "was") a portal for artistic expression to a range that stretches from Punk Rock bands, to up-and-coming filmmakers, to LGBT community programing. Lest we forget that Chilean mainstream society is traditionally very Catholic, socially conservative, and it gravitates towards "Made in USA" pop culture and Hollywood films. Thus, the notable significance of this iconic stronghold for the exploration of experimental and transformational creativity.
Over the years, the theatre in Centro Arte Alameda has screened a host of movies that span from blockbusters like "Joker" to Surrealist films like Buñuel's "Un Chien Andalou." Most important, however, is the roster of national films shown. Chilean filmmakers that often make the international film festival circuits get limited distribution in their own country. At Centro Arte Alameda their films were showcased and often premiered.
Countless filmmakers got their start at Centro Arte Alameda and the loss of this cultural space has infuriated the intellectual and artistic community in Chile. Sebastián Lelio, 2017 Oscar winner for "A Fantastic Woman," had harsh words for President Sebastián Piñera's government. He tweeted: "Dignity is demanded and the government burns a cinema.”
Only a few weeks ago CNN_Chile interviewed Roser Fort on account of that the center played an imperative role during these tumultuous times by opening its doors to give aid to victims of police brutality. The center is located in "ground zero," where the protestors and a heavily militarized police force clash regularly. In sixty-nine days of confrontations over 3,500 people have received emergency medical attention at Centro Arte Alameda. In fact, it became the headquarters for health care professionals from the government health agency SAMU (Servicio de Atención Médica de Urgencia) and from the Medical Brigades of the Federation of Chilean Students from the Medical School of the University of Chile that volunteered to treat the wounded.
Centro Arte Alameda is already an institution in Santiago, Chile, and it will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and soar. I sincerely thank you for supporting me in this gesture, in the hope that it will make a small difference at a time of great distress and profound sadness for those who understand that the arts and culture have measurable impact on our society.
"Culture is not the enemy"--Roser Fort