Discovering Santiago’s Street ArtBy Eileen Smith
Many streets of Santiago harbor colorful secrets in the form of murals in a variety of styles, dotted around different neighborhoods, many of which are easy for visitors to reach.
To explore the vibrant murals of Santiago, and to understand a bit more about the city’s street art culture and how it emerged in Chile, it’s worth taking a tour accompanied by an expert on the subject. For that, you can’t beat Santiago Street Art Tours, where Álvaro Ramírez, a Chilean/New Yorker, along with other graffiti artists, runs tours that show you the different types of murals in Chile’s capital city.
In the bohemian quarter of Bellavista, for example, the guides will explain the history of street art in Chile, which emerged toward the end of the ’60s as a form of protest. The murals by the renowned “Ramona Parra Brigade,” representing the communist party, are easy to pick out with their bright colors, Chilean themes, and, above all, the famous thick black outline created with a paintbrush (rather than spray paint).
But this is just one of the styles on display in Bellavista — there are many others. As the tour continues, there are more streets to explore, with murals by some of Santiago’s great masters, who sometimes work alone, and sometimes together. You’ll come across finer outlines, with certain murals created with a paint sprayer for a more realist touch.
Your guide will explain the different methods used by the artists to create a certain form of painting, and how they invent ways of making the paint go further, as many of the murals are funded by the artists themselves.
As well as Bellavista, a large collection of murals can also be found in the quieter San Miguel district, south of downtown. In one of its neighborhoods, you’ll find the open-air museum Museo a Cielo Abierto, an initiative created by Roberto Hernández and David Villarroel, both local residents of the now colorful area.
They applied for arts funding from the government and, when they were awarded the project, they started calling artists to brighten up the plain walls of the buildings they were living in.
Museo a Cielo Abierto was thus born in 2010, and it now has nearly 20,000 feet of murals, which mostly depict themes related to Chile’s Bicentennial (2010), or themes associated with the Mapuche people (indigenous inhabitants of southern Chile and Argentina), the Chilote people (the people originating from Chiloé, a large island in the south of Chile with its own mythology and culture), Latin America in general, human rights, and Chilean literature.
There are 40 large murals in total, but many more works are scattered around the neighborhood. Perhaps the best known is the Inti mural, with its Andean themes. The museum is currently run by the MixArt collective, which is active in the area, although Santiago Street Art Tours also operate in the sector.
Other parts of Santiago are also known for their street art, including Lastarria and the nearby streets, as well as the neighborhoods of Brasil and Yungay, and the small streets around the Paseo Bulnes, which is directly opposite La Moneda Palace, its entrance marked by a huge Chilean flag.
And if all the street art on show in Santiago is not enough for you, you can always visit Valparaíso, a city that’s internationally renowned for its colorful homes and, of course, for its street art that draws in artists from both home and abroad.