A walk around Santiago's streets makes it pretty clear that this is a city with a throbbing artistic pulse. Street art has long been a key component of Santiago's identity and a means of creative expression for many talented artists. As well as the liberation of artistic urges, the painting of murals and slogans has a long tradition of political content, being used to promote and ferment social consciousness, as parties and activists have historically exploited the plain visibility of the city's walls in order to spread their message.
Image courtesy of URBN STGO
But more than anything, the prominence of street art in the city, some of which is masterful in its intricacy and technique, some of which is decidedly less so, illustrates that this is a city with a highly active presence in la cultura callajera. In the absence of studios or galleries, the city's walls become the artist's canvass, and its public spaces an exhibition space of the most popularly accessible kind.
Yet, as much of this phenomenon is located in out-of-the-way and far-flung spots across the city sprawl, knowing where to go to see it can be tricky. That's where organisations such as URBN STGO come in. Specialising in street art tours and independent exhibitions, designed to promote and benefit local artists, URBN STGO have recently begun organising events, known as Arte Acessible, around the city and offering an outlet for both upcoming artists and those with an interest in learning more about the scene in Chile.
Street art in La Pincoya (photo courtesy of URBN STGO)
Since the start of this year, Arte Acessible has taken place in some of the city centre's most charismatic bars and exhibition spaces, such as The Clinic in Bellas Artes and La Casa Azul close to Lastarria. These events are open to pretty much anyone who wants to display and hopefully sell their work, and operate on an artist-punter negotiation system (more info below). The next Arte Acessible will take place next Wednesday 7th August, again at The Clinic, from 7.30pm, featuring a Revolver and Foto Ruta-sponsored room, and live music from Santiago electro-punk three-piece Miss Garrison.
With a studio space in The Clinic's new 'Radicales' cafe and gallery, URBN STGO is run by Chilean Paula Abarca Carmona and a pair of English guys, Dan Smethen and Ian Morgan. Revolver sat down with the three of them for a chat about what they do, and about the wider art movement within Santiago.
What is the basic premise of Urban Santiago?
Dan: In a nutshell to promote the vibrant underground art scene in Santiago through urban art tours, studio tours, workshops, events and exhibitions. The city is full of creative talent, we are just trying to connect people and make something new for all to see.
URBN STGO tour (photo courtesy of URBN STGO)
Ian: URBN STGO started primarily as an urban graffiti tour company. We have found some amazing locations all across Santiago that have some amazing art. Obviously you have the street art of Bellavista and Barrio Brazil, but URBN STGO were lucky enough to find huge murals in San Miguel where there are now 35 four-storey high murals. There are also some in La Pincoya where the murals are not so large but tell a vivid story of Chilean history.
How did things get started?
Paula: We started in January this year, initially just with tours. Basically the city started it for us. We had a love of graffiti and there's so much about, and you just have to know where to find the good stuff. It took three attempts searching and a gun warning but eventually we got there.
Ian: I had just been on a graffiti tour in Buenos Aires with Graffiti Mundo (which is also a great tour if you are in BA) and with no intention of setting up tours Dan and I went in search of art. We then stumbled across San Miguel and were blown away with what we saw. After that we set about organising tours. Several months later Paula started to help out with projects and since then the three of us have worked hard to make URBN STGO a successful art production company.
(Left to Right) URBN STGO's Ian, Paula and Dan
What kinds of things do you do?
Paula: URBN STGO has progressed rapidly over the last few months and we now offer tours, exhibitions such as Arte Accesible, and workshops for graffiti and screen printing. We are also working on some new projects at the moment.
What brought you to Santiago? Why did you think this was a good city in which to launch a project like this?
Ian: Santiago is a friendly, clean and vibrant city. We thought of an idea that was not happening here in Santiago but was already happening in other cities across South America and the world so we thought it was a good opportunity for us and a great opportunity for Santiago.
What is Arte Acessible?
Dan: Arte Accesible is a platform for both artists and buyers that takes elitism out of the art scene. It is open to all levels of artists from paint for fun to professionals. It is a fresh new way to buy and sell art, with emerging artists from a range of styles and backgrounds. There are no prices, just stickers and if you want to purchase a piece of art you write your name/contact info/and how much you are willing to pay for the work. It is up to the artist if they are willing to sell for that price. As well as the exhibition pieces, we have live art and live music from DJs and bands.
Arte Acessible, Weds 7th August
How can an independent artist participate in Arte Acessible?
Paula: They just have to get in contact with us, we are open to all levels and ages. Drop us a message by our Facebook group www.facebook.com/URBNSTGO or via our website www.urbnstgo.com, or just pop in and have a chat (to the Radicales studio, next door to The Clinic). We constantly have meetings to explain everything and organise our new events.
What are your future plans for URBN STGO and Arte Acessible?
Ian: Before we start taking on too many projects we want to make sure the ones we are doing are 100%. However, we will be launching our 'Red Lights Project" which is a photographic competition. We also plan to design and make a mural in San Miguel and we're involved with '100 en 1 dia' which will be on the 20th October when there will be 100 activities going on across Santiago.
What are your views on the art scene in Santiago and Chile? How does it differ from that in other countries?
Paula: The art scene in Santiago is very inspiring, with a lot of unseen talent waiting to emerge. Urban art in particular is extremely strong with world reknowned muralists such as INTI and Payo. I personally think that, culturally-speaking, artists lack confidence in displaying their talent. Chile is slowly moving from its political past where freedom and creativity was locked away with fear. Now, it is finally being released, but it will take generations to help develop it.
Is it easy or difficult for foreigners in Chile to get involved in the alternative art scene?
Ian: My belief is it is never difficult to get involved in the alternative art scene anywhere in the world, as alternative art is usually by alternative and open minded people. They enjoy meeting new people, sharing stories, and more importantly sharing artistic inspiration. At URBN STGO we love it when people come in to chat to us or see what we're doing.
What do you think the future of independent art in Santiago holds?
Paula: There will be a change in perception from the people that have never had the chance to appreciate art. The elitism will be removed, not completely, but opportunities will hopefully develop for everyone and the untapped talent will realise the value in their work.
Wednesday 7th August, from 7.30pm
Metro Bellas Artes (Line 5)