Chile/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Simón Palominos Mandiola

Some historical points concerning the relationship between culture and politics

The concept of cultural policy refers directly to the relationships between the political and symbolic dimensions of contemporary society. This apparently trivial statement demands a consideration of the characteristics of that relationship, which eventually manifests itself in the specific policies of public administration in the cultural sphere. In this sense, even if there is a permanent relationship between culture and politics, or between the symbolic dimension and that which exercises social power and the relations (agreeing or in conflict) between distinct social subjects (a process which in Latin America can be traced back to the first encounters between indigenous and european peoples), the state concern for culture emerges with the development of a public sphere during the 18th century (Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes [CNCA], 2012).

Discussing this, Chilean sociologist Manuel Antonio Garretón identified two aspects of culture that give rise to different types of cultural policy. At a first, more general, level there is a concept of culture closely linked to anthropology and cultural studies, which define culture as a way of being within a society or community, its perspective of time, nature, transcendence, symbolic systems, cultural heritage and identities. At this level we can find, for example, broad public definitions of the role of culture and the arts in the development of Chilean society. On the other hand, and at a more specific level linked to concrete and explicit public action, culture corresponds to particular cultural manifestations, their systems of circulation, their specific codes of interpretation and certain social agents (Garretón, 2008) whose relationships give rise to what we could denominate a cultural field. It is at this level that one sees sectorial instruments for promotion of culture, especially at a legal and programmatic level, such as specialised laws and public funds destined specifically for culture.

On this basis, and projecting the historical development of the relations between the symbolic and the political dimensions, it is plausible to suggest that the use of culture by the State can constitute a linguistic and identity-driven hegemony that guarantees the reproduction of a particular social order based on the idea of the Nation, and administered by educational and cultural institutions for the development of the modern republics. This relationship oscillates between the construction of national identities and the establishment of relationships of political patronage and transmission of specific ideologies (CNCA, 2012).

What is certain is that the relationship between culture and politics is key to the construction of national identities within the nascent Latin American republics, among which Chile is no exception, both during and after its independence process little more than 200 years ago. The challenge was taken up for most of the 19th century by the institutions dedicated to public education, and among these several stand out: The Biblioteca Nacional founded in 1813, the Instituto Nacional founded in 1817, the Ministerio de Justicia, Instrucción y Culto (“Ministry of Justice, Instruction and Religion”) founded in 1837 (precursor of the current Ministerio de Educación), and the Universidad de Chile founded in 1942 after the republic reform of the Universidad Real de San Felipe which had been the first institution of higher education founded in colonial-era Chile.

Every one of these institutions is of fundamental importance to the public development of culture in our country. In the inaugural speech at the Universidad de Chile, made by the first rector of the university, the Venezuelan Andrés Bello, the privileged place of the arts and sciences in our still-young republic, were highlighted: 

“I am one of those who regards general education, the education of the people, as one of the most important and privileged objectives that a government must address; it is of primary and urgent necessity; it is the basis of any solid progress; it is the indispensable cement to hold together republican institutions. But, for this very reason I believe it necessary and urgent to encourage literary and scientific education. Nowhere has the elementary education so desired by the working classes, the greater mass of humanity. been made generally available unless there has previously been a flourishing of the sciences and literature (...) and how many magnificent themes does your young republic offer up to you! Celebrate its great days, weave garlands for its heroes, consecrate the shrouds of martyrs of the fatherland. The university will at the same time remind the young of that advice given by a great master of our times: “It is right, says Goethe, that art should rule the imagination and transform it into poetry”. (Bello, 1843)

Cultural Policies of Republican Chile

Throughout the historical development of the Republic of Chile during the 19th and 20th centuries one can see a progressive shift of public management of culture from a dependence on institutions dedicated to educational policies towards greater autonomy, passing through a broad spectrum of institutions that share the definition of identity and national cultural heritage, such as museums, libraries and other bodies (CNCA, 2012).

This tendency becomes clear at the event of the commemoration of the centenary of Chilean independence, an event at which, among several public celebratory initiatives, is highlighted the celebration of the cultural institutionality through the construction of the Museo de Bellas Artes in 1910 (founded in 1880), the construction of new additions to the Biblioteca Nacional in 1913 (finalised in 1925) and the creation of the body of Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales (“Council for National Monuments”) in 1925 (under the administration of the Ministerio de Educación) and the Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos (“Committee of Libraries, Archives and Museums”) in 1929.

In the inter-war years and after the economic crisis of 1929 one can observe a process of democratic consolidation in Latin America which intensifies during the decade of 1940 (Halperin Donghi, 1996), organising itself into a model of development in which the states and their public policies would play a key role as much in industrial organisation of production at a national level (through ECLAC’s developmentalism and the model of substitution of importation), in the constitution of the social structure and its various agents (through structural reforms in health provisions, welfare and education among other areas, and the opening of the political system since the arrival of the Popular Front – a coalition of the parties from the centre-left – in power in 1938), as well as its corresponding cultural bases, as a process that would extend and deepen even more towards the end of the 1960s.

A significant milestone in the recognition of culture within the public sphere came about during the time in which Chile participated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations in 1948, in the editing of which bill the Chilean lawyer Hernán Santa Cruz participated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions in two articles cultural rights (United Nations, 1948):

Article 22.

“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality”.

Article 27.

            (1) “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

            (2) “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”.

To date (2013) our country has ratified or subscribed to more than fifteen of the seventeen human rights treaties filed by the United Nations, and has signed the remaining two.

In relation to cultural policies in Chile this period is characterised by the promotion of renewed projects of national-popular identity which is reflected in the important development of academies dedicated to the study and promotion of national culture, many of which academies were under the wing of large public organisms such as the Universidad de Chile. The governments of that period were driving an active cultural policy on the part of the state, developing initiatives for the democratisation of the arts, the promotion of popular culture and media (processes which were mainly undertaken by university bodies and political parties) with an important participation of the subaltern sections of Chilean society, making up a new organisation of culture much more oriented towards a redistribution of symbolic and cultural abilities and commodities within the population (Brunner, 1981). Of particular note is the cultural management of the presidents Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970) and Salvador Allende Gossens (1970-1973) (De Cea, 2011). Additionally, during this period a significant space for cultural collaboration at a political level is established with the subscription of the Andrés Bello Convention (1970), an Ibero-American organism that for more than 40 years has contributed to international integration and reciprocal exchange in matters of education, culture, science and technology.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the period from 1930 to 1950 has been considered a “golden age” in terms of publishing in Chile (Subercaseaux, 2010). Given international economic conditions (the financial crisis of 1929 and WW2) as well as the expansion of the literate population thanks to social reforms in education, publishing houses such as Ercilla, Zig-Zag and Nascimento had a prosperous commercial period and developed diverse catalogues aimed at a mass increase in readership. On the other hand these and other smaller publishing houses also became an important channel for political discussion in a country that was increasingly ideological and interested in the literature of ideas (Subercaseaux, 2008). This context was legally upheld by the 1970 proclamation of Law No. 17.336 about Intellectual Property, organising the rights and prerogatives of national authors and creative minds. On the other hand one of the principle landmarks in the process of the democratisation of culture that characterises the period is the sustained development of communications and media. With the widespread use of the radio, which arrived in Chile in 1922 thanks to the Universidad de Chile, the country also witnessed the installation of the first television channels. In 1957 transmission had already begun on the first television channel in our country, owned by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in 1959, followed by Universidad de Chile in 1960. For its part, the state television station, Televisión Nacional de Chile, began transmitting across national territory in 1969. The first advance in the regulation of television in our country was the creation in 1970 of the Consejo Nacional de Televisión through Law No. 17.377. In more general terms, the presence of the state university at a national level, the development of the Nueva Canción and the record labels, the development of cinema, and theatre (this with important antecedents in the 1940s) and a diverse visual arts scene are some of the characteristics of the national cultural scene of the time, within a model of strong state sponsorship (De Cea, 2011).

At this time the Departamento de Cultura y Publicaciones del Ministerio de Educación (“Department of Culture and Publications in the Ministry of Education”) is reformed (1970), which not only widens the cultural offer but also gives a strong impetus to artistic creativity at a community level (De Cea, 2011). This is the fundamental characteristic of the socialist government of Salvador Allende for whom culture should be part of the “struggle for brotherhood against individualism, the value of human work against contempt for it, national values against cultural colonialism; access of the popular masses to art” (Unidad Popular, 1970). The state guaranteed the right of the people to education and to culture, understanding this as an ideological principle of the revolutionary identity, deepening democracy through the exercising of popular power in all walks of social life, establishing a delicate balance between universalist principles and individual autonomy (Rojo, 2003).

On the basis of this, and at the request of the striking workers at the publishing house Zig-Zag, in 1971 the Chilean state acquired that publishing house and founded the Editora Nacional Quimantú (“the sun of knowledge” in Mapudugú). The Editorial Quimantú developed a process of extension of the reader-base, building on the illuminist and mesocratic work of the previous governments, taking production to a massive scale while admittedly setting up future problems within the market given the relative absence of planning methods (Subercaseaux 2003). In addition, in 1972 the Museo de Solidaridad Salvador Allende was established, whose collection was made up of important international donations.

Cultural Policy during Dictatorship 

Ideological polarisation at an international level, and the difficulties of the Latin American State of Compromise (Weffort, 1970) in dealing with the pressures and demands of diverse politically strengthened social groups, surpassing the political capacity and economics of the system (Valenzuela, 1978) during the four decades under its sway, lead to a process of radicalisation that unleashed a series of military coups in various countries in South America, resulting in authoritarian governments in Brazil (1964), Peru and Panama (1968), Bolivia (1970), Ecuador (1972), Uruguay and Chile (1973) and Argentina (1976) among others (Rouquié & Suffern, 1997).

In the case of Chile, and as a characteristic of the processes of installation of the authoritarian “counter-revolutionary” governments (Rouquié & Suffern, 1997), there was a subsequent dismantling of the democratising cultural policies that had been developed in the first two thirds of the 20th century, primarily through the disbanding of official cultural mechanisms, especially those linked to territorial cultural organisations and left-wing and central political parties. The resulting vacuum gave a platform and a space for circulation to agents closely linked to the political right-wing in the country (Errázuriz, 2006).

This restructuring of the official channels for the promotion of artistic and cultural activities considered military intervention in the universities and the reorientation of some of the already-existing institutions. In effect the Editora Nacional Quimantú was in 1974 transformed into the Editorial Nacional Gabriela Mistral, a publishing house dedicated to the publication of anti-Marxist propaganda material, until its erratic administration quickly lead to its bankruptcy and closure in 1976 (Jara, 2011). What’s more, it is clear that in the artistic and cultural field Chile was profoundly affected by the systematic exile, torture and murder by the state of artists and creative people linked to the opposition, which deepened the political polarisation and installed a reign of terror whose consequences mark Chilean society to this day (Garretón, 2007). This phenomenon has been widely characterised as a “cultural shut down”, a phrase which recognises the apparent paralysis in cultural activity during the military regime (Weinstein, 2005). This impression does not however do justice to the constant cultural activity that had developed clandestinely and was operating an effective aesthetic resistance in the cultural field during the military dictatorship (Brugnoli, 2003). This expresses through artistic movements such as muralism, the Canto Nuevo, performance art, video art, as well as many other cultural manifestations.

Notwithstanding the apparent lack of organisation in the cultural policies of the dictatorship, of the political bias they promoted and the profound damage done to the sustained democratisation which Chilean society had so recently been experiencing (Rivera, 1983), it is impossible to deny the existence of political and programmatic guidelines which led the Military Junta of the government in the cultural field, directed towards the promotion of “high culture” in the conservative, elitist and illustrated sense (Catalán & Munizaga, 1986), in contrast to the community participation and the mesocratic institutions of the preceding years. In analytical terms the cultural policies of authoritarianism in Chile are characterised by the relative abandonment of a central state role in the promotion and diffusion of culture, having handed its regulatory power over to the market under the principles of the subsidiary state; for the loss of the pluralistic nature of the construction of the public identity as replaced by the administration of the ideological agents of the new power; by the extension of the technical bases for the private reception of cultural commodities (through television and the effects of the school expansions undertaken since the 1960s); and for the use of repressive means on the part of the state not in legal terms but symbolically, creating a war on the basis of the ideology of the internal enemy opposed to the social memory of Chile (Brunner, 1988).

In effect, already by the year 1975 a team of cultural consultants linked to the military government published Política Cultural del Gobierno de Chile (“Cultural Policies of the Chilean Government”). This document reconstructed an essentialist right wing national narrative, proclaiming the Military Government as the guarantor of the ideals, aspirations and needs of the “duty to be national” and – among its principle objectives and aims – it proposed the need to support culture from within and towards all strata of society, in search of the satisfaction of the spiritual needs of society as a source of the more important material needs, the criteria of economic efficiency, scientific development at the service of production, a geopolitical sensitivity in relation to national territory, and the need to instil society with a more “high-brow” model of interaction (Junta Militar de Gobierno, 1975a:9-14).

So while one sees the recognition that culture is a key element to social development, it is only given relevance as far as being subject to the quest for economic development, effectively suspending the symbolic specificity of the cultural dimension and its potential projection of new political models of society. In addition, the document mentioned above indicates that such political orientation would be accompanied programmatically by the development of international understandings, the territorialisation of public management of culture (through the creation of the Institutos Culturales Comunales), the promotion of private initiative and the intervention of educational institutions (called here “pacification”. Op.cit: 87).

It is at this point, and in particular during the 1980s, that in terms of public policy Chile abandoned the model of the welfare state characterised by a strong public influence on the organisations of social wealth, replacing it with the principles of a subsidiary state, much smaller and with less power, oriented towards promoting private action and civil society in the neo-liberal economic model (Mesa-Lago, 2000). The reduction of the state responsibilities at a central level in public management was compensated by means of devolution of such obligations to the local level, which meant that in terms of art and culture public primary and secondary educational institutions came under the sway of municipalities, and that the aforementioned Institutos Culturales Comunales were in 1977 replaced by the Corporaciones Culturales de los Municipios. Even if this shift obeys the search for a greater influence at a local level in the decision-making processes in terms of culture, it also means (in a way that is particularly critical in the education system) the dependence of cultural policies on the unequal administrative and economic capacities distributed variedly in the diverse regional authorities across the country. Notwithstanding this, the central public institutions did see some advances, such as the formation of the Departamento de Extensión Cultural in the Ministerio de Educación, and the Dirección de Asuntos Culturales (“Committee for Cultural Affairs”) (DIRAC) of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (“Ministry of Foreign Affairs”), both of which were formed in 1978; and with the reform of the Consejo Nacional de Televisión in the last months of 1989 (Law No. 18.838). 

Processes of democratisation, international discussions and cultural policies

During the 1980s the military dictatorships of many of the Cono Sur countries began to unravel within a transversal political process of de-legitimisation (Rouquié & Suffern, 1997). In Chile this situation came to a head with a plebiscite in 1988 which then demanded a presidential election the following year. As a result of this election, on 11th March 1990 Patricio Aylwin Azócar assumed as president with the support of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, a centre-left coalition of political parties formed in 1988 after the formal recognition of these political parties in Chile during 1987.

Latin American states, during a period of reconstruction of the social fabric after the fall of the authoritarian governments in the region, have shown a greater interest in developing the cultural field. Phenomena such as the expansion of the citizenship and the need to safeguard a certain local identity in the context of accelerated globalisation, result in the state turning to public institutionality in order to protect the country’s heritage, to encourage participation of the public in culture and the promotion of the arts, initiatives seen as tools to deepen the democracy (CNCA, 2012). In the case of Chile, the transition to democracy and cultural globalisation opens a debate about identity and the model of public organisation of culture (De Cea, 2011).

This is a period in which international discussions about the cultural policy that had been developing since the 1960s are now adopted, witnessing since the 1980s an intensification of supranational organisations such as UNESCO. In fact the 1982 UNESCO study into Andean cultural legislation identifies among other elements three main characteristics of the legal frameworks concerning art and culture in the region: the public bodies’ institutional organisation of cultural action and the protection of cultural heritage; the promotion and support of artistic and intellectual creation including the social security of the creators; and the protection of copyright and folklore (Harvey, 1982).

One of the fundamental landmarks in terms of reflection and propositions concerning cultural policies is established at the World Conference on Cultural Policies (Mondiacult) held in 1982 in Mexico. At that conference there were discussions about some of the basic dimensions of cultural policies, discussions that would profoundly influence the design of public initiatives related to the arts and culture in Latin America and Chile for the next 30 years. At the conference, the Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies was ratified, establishing principles such as cultural identity and diversity, the cultural dimension as an axis of balanced development, democratisation and the participation of the citizenship in culture, the defence of both material and intangible cultural heritage, the promotion of creation and artistic education within the population, the importance of international cooperation, planning and public financing, and the incipient recognition of the importance of the creative industries. These principles formed the basis of a new conceptualisation of cultural policies for the member states (UNESCO, 1982). The Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies opened a regional debate along two lines: on one hand, concerning the strengthening of traditional areas of public action within the cultural sphere such as creation, dissemination, heritage, participation and the cultural industries; on the other hand, a discussion about identity which questions the basis of the idea of the nation and its current cultural institutionality, promoting and recognising diversity, multi-ethnicity, the pluri-cultural, intercultural and the multinational (Mejía Arango, 2009).

Since the 1980s Latin America has witnessed an important process of empowerment, strengthening and institutionalising of cultural policy, exemplified in the establishment of the Ministerio de Cultura in Brazil (1985), and the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes in Mexico (1989), continuing the process of institutionalisation of culture undertaken since the 1960s and 1970s in countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. At the beginning of the 2000s,  this tendency was furthered through the creation of institutions such as the Ministerio de Cultura in Colombia (1997), Secretaría de Cultura de la Nación de la República Argentina (2002), and the Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura in Venezuela (2005), the Secretaría Nacional de Cultura in Paraguay (2006), the Ministerio de Cultura in Ecuador (2007), and the Ministerio de Cultura in Peru (2010), among other advances. Notwithstanding the former, it is necessary to underline that the institutional development of the various countries in the region have been undergoing significant and systemic advances since the 1950s (CNCA, 2012).

In Chile one can see the same process of empowerment in the changes which allow the progressive unshackling of culture from the educational bodies and its institutionalisation through public bodies linked to themes of identity within the national population, such as youth, sport, tourism and indigenous peoples (CNCA, 2012). In relation to the former, this process of empowerment occurs in parallel to the restitution of the channels of public participation in the national political system. To a certain extent, the expansion of the public institutionality in Chile is a response to the shifting axes of articulation of the country’s social life from its politico-economic dimension to the complementarity with several dimensions including the environmental, ethnic and cultural. The Chilean state of the last 20 years is characterised by its establishment of certain mechanisms that correct the development model inherited from the dictatorship era, introducing elements based on criteria of sustainability and sociocultural recognition of diverse social agents active in Chile, responding in this way to the changes in contemporary Chilean society. Already in the programme of the first democratically elected government after the dictatorship (Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, 1989), the restitution of the protection of human rights was established, among which are included the expansion of the political system, reparation to victims of political violence, the establishment of the right of indigenous peoples, environmental protection, and the full inclusion of women in the social sphere. In this process certain institutions stand out: the creation of the Instituto Nacional de la Juventud and the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer in 1991, the Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena (CONADI) (“The National Corporation for Indigenous Development”) in 1993, and the Comisión Nacional de Medio Ambiente (“National Environment Commission”), currently the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, in 1994. This state of affairs can be interpreted as a re-evaluation and expansion of the state’s responsibility in cultural matters, as much in Chile (Garretón, 2008) as in the rest of South America, according to indications given by institutions such as UNESCO (CNCA, 2012).

In terms of cultural policy the programme of the first democratically elected government after the military regime embraced the principles of the liberty of thought and creation, access and participation, cultural plurality, the autonomy of culture (having no ends but the development of culture in itself), the dialogue and openness in opposition to confrontation at a national and international level, the protection of heritage, the promotion of community cultural activities, the support of private initiatives in the production of cultural industries and the professionalisation of art.

In institutional terms the Concertación committed itself to analysing and examining the systematisation of the actions of several distinct public bodies dedicated to culture, through the coordination under a central institution. This last debate has to this day a permanent presence in government since the end of the dictatorship. Concerning institutionality, the period beginning with the formal return to democracy is characterised by an important development at two levels: on the one hand, in the “organisational and organic institutionality”, that is, the state institutions and organisations linked to the environment of culture; and on the other hand the “normative institutionality” corresponding to a set of laws and norms referring to the cultural sphere (Garretón, 2008). Both aspects are intimately connected, as the institutional administration requires legislative support in order to regulate activities of different cultural agents.

In 1990, within the frame of a tax reform whose procedure was remarkably swift, the Ley de Donaciones Culturales (“Law of Cultural Donations”) was passed (corresponding to Article 8 of Law No. 18.985, known as the Ley Valdés in reference to the lawyer and senator who brought it, Gabriel Valdés). This law established mechanisms to facilitate the donation of funds to universities and private and public secondary educational establishments, corporations and not-for-profit foundations, by companies with at least 50% private capital, which would allow those companies to deduct a percentage of their income tax. In this way a mixed financing mechanism was brought into place, and it has been the subject of interesting discussions concerning those agents who define the direction of public financing and the possibilities of autonomy in the artistic field (Navarro, 2006; Garretón, 2008).

In 1991 the Comisión para la Cultura (The “Commission for Culture”) was established as an advisory body for the President of the Republic, lead by the renowned sociologist Manuel Antonio Garretón (Comisión Asesora Presidencial, 1991) (“Presidential Advisory Commission, 1991”) which among its conclusions identified for the first time the need for coordination of public bodies for culture under a superior institution. This commission is highly significant in that it makes manifest within the development of cultural policies of the country the permanent collaboration between intellectuals, scientists, artists and members of society, a collaboration which characterises the diverse public culture management initiatives of the last years (De Cea, 2010).

This period is characterised by the significant development of instruments of promotion within the cultural sphere. As well as the aforementioned Ley de Donaciones Culturales, and taking as a reference French, British, Argentinian and Mexican institutionality, in 1992 the Fondo de Desarrollo de las Artes y la Cultura (FONDART) (“Fund for the Development of the Arts and Culture”) was established. Until 2003 it operated through the yearly budgetary law. Until 1997 it had one line of applications, which later diversified in order to encompass regional as well as national competition for funds.

FONDART, then as now, is the prime mechanism for public funding for the development of culture, and it has for over 20 years been a constant support to cultural actors. It has not been without criticism from the public in relation to its application systems and the designation of funds. In 2003 it underwent a significant change through Law No. 19.891, which established the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (“The National Council for Culture and the Arts”) which legally formalised the FONDART, naming it the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes (“National Fund for Cultural Development and the Arts”). Almost in parallel, in 1992 the Consejo Nacional de Televisión was reformed through Law No. 18.838, while in 1993 the Fondo Nacional de Fomento del Libro y la Lectura (“The Fund for the Development of Books and Reading”), administered by the Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura (“The National Council for Books and Reading”) was established by Law No. 19.227.

The government programme of President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000), the second coalition government of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, as well as continuing the project begun under the previous government, placed an emphasis on overcoming poverty, increasing competitivity, extending democracy and decentralising power to regional and local government, promoting human rights in the national legislation according to international norms, sustainable development, the strengthening of foreign policy and the modernisation of the state, among other things. In terms of cultural policy, culture was perceived as key to the development of the country, recognising its relation to the sciences and education. From this point of view, equality in education, a strong effort in scientific development and plurality in cultural creation are mutually stimulating as elements of progress and the democratisation of the country. Concerning the specific objectives in cultural affairs, the programme proposed the support of artistic creation and the development of talent, the safeguarding of cultural heritage, the recognition of indigenous peoples, the promotion of Chilean culture at a national and international level, the professionalisation of cultural management, the perfecting of the coordination of cultural activities and policies, and the motivation of a mixed model of cultural financing (Frei, 1993).

During this government important debates were held concerning cultural policy and cultural institutionality in Chile. For example in 1996 the Encuentro de Políticas Públicas, Legislación y Propuestas Culturales (“Meeting of Public Policy, Legislation and Cultural Proposals”) was held under the initiative of the Congreso Nacional. The following year, developing on what had arisen out of this first meeting, the government called a Presidential Advisory Committee lead by the renowned researcher in national art, Milan Ivelic. Among the topics discussed was a debate on the specialised institutionality that coordinates cultural policy, highlighting the professionalised nature of the work of the cultural manager, proposals which were developed under the idea that the Chilean state was in debt to the artistic sphere of the country (Presidential Advisory Committee, 1997). In consideration of these recommendations, President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle presented a project of law for a new cultural institutionality in which he proposed the formation of a national directive of culture (Dirección Nacional de Cultura) which would unite all the bodies dedicated to culture (DIBAM, Dirección de Extensión Cultural del Ministerio de Educación, Departamento de Cultura del Ministerio Secretaría General de Gobierno, DIRAC, Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura), as well as setting up a new Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural (“National Fund for Cultural Development”). This project was questioned by the Education Committee in the Cámara de Diputados (“Chamber of Deputies”) before passing through a process of revision and re-elaboration. 

During the government of President Frei, specifically in 1999, one of the most interesting initiatives concerning the design of cultural policies and public participation was begun: the Cabildos Culturales (“Culture Councils”) convoked through the cultural division in the Ministerio de Educación. Established with the objective of channelling public interest and discussing different proposals for the design of a new cultural institutionality for the country, 268 such councils were set up, followed by four councils at a national level between 2000 and 2003. The Cabildos Culturales are the direct precursor to the Convenciones Nacionales y Zonales de Cultura (“National and Zonal Cultural Conventions”) which are held with the participation of authorities, public servants, specialists, artists and cultural managers on a yearly basis under the aegis of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes. In these meetings the directions of cultural policy from 2004 to the present day are discussed. Notwithstanding this, and even taking into consideration the organisational complexities and the systematisation of the proposals, it is necessary to indicate that Chile has not had a similar arena for discussion of national cultural development with such broad and democratic participation as the Cabildos Locales, which were an important milestone in the democratisation of the cultural sphere.

On the other hand the government of President Frei is characterised by the importance given to international cooperation and the integration of Chile into the world, a characteristic that is not exclusive to our country. In effect, the regional integration dating from the 1990s is characteristic of the entire region. Among the main conclusions of the study Los Estados de la Cultura (“The States of Culture”) (CNCA, 2012) is that international cooperation is one of the primary achievements and perhaps the most important opportunity for institutional development for cultural policy in Chile and Latin America. Chile’s international collaboration on cultural matters is reflected in its participation is supra-national organisations such as the Organization of American States, of which it has been a member since the body’s founding in 1948; and MERCOSUR, of which it has been an associate member since 1998. This latter body is particularly important given Chile’s active collaboration in the Cultural MERCOSUR and in the Sistema de Información Cultural del Mercosur (SICSUR) (“Mercosur System of Cultural Information”), formed in 2006. This latter body has become one of the prime platforms of regional collaboration in cultural matters, facilitating the exchange of information and studies concerning the design of cultural policy.

The political strategy of the presidential candidate Ricardo Lagos had as its central concept the idea of stimulating growth and social development under the principles of equality. Article 7 of the document entitled “Para crecer con igualdad” (“To Grow with Equality”) (Lagos, 1999), puts forward the principles of the cultural policy, promoting culture that is free and at the reach of all citizens. In accordance with its suggestions, the functions of the state and the market would cohabit in terms of promotion, dissemination and assurance of cultural rights. However, the prime responsibility would fall on the initiatives of individuals, organisations and association therefore emphasising the living nature of culture as well as limiting the public responsibility in these matter. Under the tenure of President Lagos (2000-2006) a document of cultural policy was written (Ministerio Secretaría General de Gobierno, 2000) (“General Secretariat of Government”) which took up the direction suggested in the presidential campaign and which characterised cultural policy of the last 20 years. It promoted the extension of liberty, the recuperation of the public spaces, the expansion of artistic activities, the development of cultural industries, the protection of heritage, the recognition of diversity and indigenous peoples, stimulating the complementarity between the state and the market, perfecting cultural institutionality, developing international exchange and cooperation, and expanding the cultural infrastructure in the country.

In 2001 Law No. 19.721 was passed, which established modifications to the Ley de Donaciones Culturales, significantly extending the reach of potential beneficiaries to include community organisations, not-for-profit private and public museums and libraries, and the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, also incorporating the possibility that the beneficiaries could receive other financial support through regional funds. Additionally, private initiative was encouraged by permitting commodity donations, commercialisation of funded initiatives and donations through inheritance. Also, the law undertook the revision of the project of law presented under the previous government, which finally became Law No. 19.891, establishing the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes and restructuring the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes.

In 2003 Law No. 19.891 was passed, which created the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (CNCA) and legally established the FONDART under the name Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes. The creation of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes marks the shift from unfocused action in favour of the arts towards a coherent institution whose structure should operate at a national as well as regional level, and which depends on the intervention and participation of the public sector and civil society. In effect, cultural matters found themselves divided between various state bodies such as the Ministerio de Educación, the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores and the Ministerio Secretaría General de Gobierno, and this would be the answer to an identity-based diffuse national culture and a citizenship that struggles to recognise itself as a result of the complex European heritage and the migratory processes that characterise our country (PNUD, 2002; Bengoa, 2007, De Cea, 2011). In legislative terms, towards the middle of the 1990s there were more than 300 laws referring either directly or indirectly to the cultural sphere, many of them being obsolete or contradicting each other (Garretón, 2008).

Strengthening the public cultural institutionality: the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes

In terms of the development of organic institutionality in Chile, the main existing models considered reference points correspond to the ministry of culture, characterised by their centralised nature; and the arts councils, with a more flexible nature (Garretón, 2008). From this point of view the French Ministre de la Culture, British cultural institutionality and the Mexican Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA), are particular examples which the authorities examined in order to come up with a specific proposal for the new Chilean post-dictatorship cultural body. The formation in 1989 of the CONACULTA and the Fondo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (Fonca) were a regional milestone in terms of the planning of public action in cultural matters, providing the means for the promotion of Mexican art and culture, and establishing precedents for the linking of the private sector to the cultural sphere (Miller & Yúdice, 2002). CONACULTA was the closest reference for the establishment of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes and the reformation of the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes in Chile in 2003.

However, the Chilean model is essentially a mixed one –as is the norm within the countries of the region (CNCA, 2012)- articulating both the capacities of a centralised model in terms of financing and decision-taking, and the prerogatives of a geographically decentralised model which anticipates significant public input in particular from cultural agents, as much in terms of political direction as in the elaboration of specific projects. In effect, the conformation of the Directorio Nacional –the presiding body within the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes– includes, as well as a President of the Committee with the powers of a minister of state and the presence of other public bodies such as the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs, the participation of personalities linked to culture, academics representing public and private universities and an individual awarded with the National Prize from the Ministerio de Educación. In the same way the Comité Consultivo Nacional (“National Advisory Committee”) an advisory body for the Directorio Nacional, is made up of members of the artistic community, specialists in cultural heritage, representatives of the cultural industries, of indigenous peoples and representatives of the higher education institutions. This representative structure is replicated across the country in the Consejos Regionales de la Cultura y las Artes (“Regional Councils for Arts and Culture”). The establishment of the main seat of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes in the city of Valparaíso, is also a gesture of the decentralisation of public management that aspires to create a centre of development to counteract the predominance of the capital, Santiago, in cultural matters.

The objectives of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes envisage supporting the development of the arts and the dissemination of culture; contributing to conservation; increasing and placing within the reach of the general public the cultural heritage of the nation; and promoting the public’s participation in the cultural life of the country. The Consejo has, among other tasks, the responsibility to design, implement and evaluate the cultural policies of the country at a national level and in relation to abroad; to develop studies and investigations of the cultural sphere and a system of cultural information for the country; to support artistic participation, creation and dissemination; to forge a link with the formal education system in order to promote artistic education; to professionalise cultural management and drive the development of cultural infrastructure; to support creative industries; and to coordinate the activities of other public bodies related to culture (Congreso Nacional de Chile, 2003).

In answer to the growing importance of the cultural and creative industries, in 2004 Law No. 19.928 was passed concerning the support of Chilean music, which under the aegis of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes established the Consejo de Fomento de la Música Nacional (“Council for the Promotion of National Music”) and the Fondo para el Fomento de la Música Nacional (“Fund for the Promotion of National Music”). In November of the same year Law No. 19.981 was passed supporting the audio-visual industries with the Consejo del Arte y la Industria Audiovisual (“Council for Art and the Audio-visual Industries”) and the Fondo de Fomento Audiovisual (“Fund for the Promotion of the Audio-visual Arts”). In conjunction with the Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura and its corresponding public fund, these mechanisms sought to give autonomy to the public management of the cultural industries, restricting the powers of the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cultural y las Artes strictly to those disciplines or areas whose economic dimension could not permit them to be considered as industries. Another important legislative advance of the time, linked to the Ministerio del Trabajo y Previsión Social (“Ministry for Work and Social Security”), is Law No. 19.889, which regulates the working conditions and contracts of those working in the arts and entertainment.

Once the operative organisation of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes was consolidated, one of the milestones was the publication of the document of cultural policy “Chile quiere más cultura. Definiciones de política cultural 2005-2010”. (“Chile wants more culture: Definitions of cultural policy 2005-2010”) (CNCA, 2005c) which aimed to provide a navigational map for public action in the sphere of culture. Bringing together the debates conducted within the frame of the first Convención Nacional de Cultura (“National Cultural Convention”) organised by the Consejo in 2004, the document channel a sense of optimism concerning the future of Chilean cultural institutionality and its contribution to the cultural sphere of the country; so much that in its prologue the then minister president of the Consejo, José Weinstein said that “a cultural spring has been installed in the country with this change of century”. The document considers that the focus of cultural policies of the country has been centred on the support of artistic creation, an opinion shared by some researchers (Antoine & Brablec, 2011) and suggests the necessity for an expansion of public action with the aim of guaranteeing access to culture, prioritising the subject of heritage, improving the quality of media communication, and giving more decisive support to cultural industries. Cultural policy of this time is based on the principles of affirmation of identity and cultural diversity, the liberty of creation, democratic participation, the irreplaceable role of the state, the preservation and dissemination of heritage, the equality of access to art, cultural commodities and technology, decentralisation and the insertion of Chile into the world.

The cultural policy of the government of President Ricardo Lagos was adopted by the presidential campaign of the first female president of our country: Michelle Bachelet, whose government covers the years 2006 to 2010. Her campaign programme, written in 2005, established culture as an axis of development and a fundamental element for the integration of our society, based on the recognition of human rights, with a particular emphasis on the rights of indigenous peoples (Bachelet, 2005). The programme’s chapter that corresponds to the propositions in cultural matters, in direct relation to the cultural policies of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes published that year shows an interest in developing a state cultural policy that transcends governments, democratises the access to culture, promotes art education, decentralises the offer and public management of culture, respects cultural and identitary diversity, protects heritage, promotes artistic creation and stimulates publishing and literary industries. Even if a significant part of these proposals in this document experienced difficulties which impeded their complete implementation (for example the cases of the effective collaboration between the CNCA and the Ministerio de Educación to incorporate art education into the school curriculum, and the creation of an Instituto del Patrimonio (“Institute of Heritage”)), there was relatively significant progress in the implementation of a Programa de Centros Culturales in 2007, and a marked increase in the public spending on culture, as well as the adoption in 2009 of the Agreement No.169 concerning the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of Independent Countries of the International Labour Organisation. In addition, and in significant recognition of the popular cultures and the cultural heritage of the country, in 2007 Law No. 20.216 was passed establishing norms in benefit to Chilean circuses.

Near the end of Bachelet’s time in office the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia was faced with serious difficulties in showing a unified political project which really met social demands (see for example the reaction to the student movement) with a political design and with proposals that would go beyond the temporary resolution of problems (Garretón, 2007), a situation that would lead to a growing social discrediting of the political system and its agents. The result of this was that the presidential elections of 2009 saw Sebastián Piñera win as the first openly right-wing president of the Republic of Chile since the military coup.

The programme of the government of President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) proclaims the death knell of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia and proposes objectives relating to incentivising entrepreneurial opportunities, strengthening some social securities, strengthening certain state institutions, and supporting public policies tending towards an improvement in life-quality, all within the unique context of a government celebrating the bicentenary of the Chilean republic. In cultural matters the programme proposes comprehensive development of cultural industries, sustainability and the presence of Chile on the international markets. Considering the industrial focus that permeates through the public cultural initiatives, the definitions of the cultural policies do not greatly differ from those of previous governments. Among them we find the encouragement of cultural diversity, the increase in spending for cultural creation, the promotion of the participation in culture (from a perspective based on the idea of a high culture to be transmitted to “vulnerable” sectors of society), the renovation of the literacy stimulus, the protection and funding of cultural and natural heritage, the internationalisation of Chilean cultural “products”, the consolidation of the cultural infrastructure, the perfecting of the Ley de Donaciones Culturales, the decentralisation of culture to the regions, and the recognition of knowledge and technology as an area for opportunity.

It is important to note that the first year of President Piñera’s government coincided with the end of the validity of the document on cultural policy “Chile quiere más cultura”. Given that the selection of the members of the Directorio Nacional del Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, (entrusted by law with the composition of the document directing cultural policy matters) does not correspond directly with the mandates of the presidents of the Republic, the end of the validity of this document generates the important opportunity to formulate cultural policies that directly articulate the proposals of past governments with the dispositions of the new right-wing government.  For the drawing up of the new document of cultural policies, the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes undertook an important consulting process supported by reflection meetings and digital media, which complemented the debates which had taken place regularly in events such as the Convenciones Nacionales y Zonales de Cultura. The commitment of the executive power to cultural matters as well as the recommendations of organisations of civil society, were also relevant.

Simply entitled “Política Cultural 2011-2016” (NCNA, 2011a), the document proposes a logical ordering of activities and objectives, using a methodology that adapts traditional tools to public planning such as the logical framework approach. In this way each “objective” of cultural policy opens up diverse “purposes” which themselves are operationalized through “strategies”. Thus the accomplishment of the strategies supposes the accomplishment of the superior intentions thereby achieving the stated aims. The objectives of the cultural policy are articulated around the fields of action of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, as established by Law No. 19.891. That is: the promotion of artistic creation, the protection and dissemination of cultural heritage and the promotion of public participation in culture. Among the cultural policy objectives of the state of Chile until 2016 is the strengthening of artistic-cultural creation, the promotion of cultural industries as a motor for development, the strengthening of the regulatory framework of culture, the internationalising of Chilean cultural commodities and services, the promotion of the recognition of copyright, the promotion of the adoption of digital platforms of creation, the promotion of community participation and access to the cultural and artistic supply, the forming of habits of cultural consumption within the population, the promotion of the role of cultural agents in the creation and dissemination of the arts, the safeguarding and promotion of material and intangible cultural heritage, and the promotion of cultural tourism. There is a striking shift in the use of vocabulary concerning the objectives of cultural policy, adopting terminology close to economic terms, deepening the interest of previous governments in the promotion of cultural and creative industries, in concordance with an administration that is openly preoccupied with economic development and the liberalisation of the national market.

Among the prime landmarks of Presidente Piñera’s administration in respect to cultural policies for the country is the implementation of a new modification of the Ley de Donaciones Culturales, approved in 2013 as Law No. 20.675. On the other hand, and corresponding to the institutional development and expansion of public responsibilities in culture in the Cono Sur countries, legislative power in Chile is discussing a project of law –not yet approved– which would create a Ministry of Culture, effectively reuniting many of the public bodies dealing with arts and culture. Additionally, at a programmatic level initiatives have been developed that seek to link the cultural infrastructure at a local level, the artistic supply and the interests of the public, as is the case with RedCultura, which is currently being implemented. 

Some last thoughts

To conclude, it is possible to develop some general interpretations concerning the development of cultural policy in Chile during the 200 years of the country’s existence as a republic. We have seen how culture has been a fundamental element in the formation of Chilean society. From a historical perspective, the cultural dimension has been a primordially important factor in the identitary definitions of the nation, having been supported by enlightened mesocratic institutions protected by a growing institutionalism. Similar to other neighbouring countries in Latin America, bodies dedicated to cultural matters have been strongly linked to the educational institutions and the protection of national heritage, witnessing an important process of consolidation during the first three quarters of the 20th century, also accompanied by the diversification, strengthening and democratisation of the cultural field in the arts and through the media. This growing institutionalism was obstructed by the installation of authoritarian regimes in the region, a process that in Chile meant a significant redefinition of the role of the state in culture and in all aspects of society.

The formal return to democracy in Chile opened the doors to important, even though at times unfocused, growth in the responsibilities of the public apparatus in what concerns the arts and culture. This period is characterised by efforts of democratisation in the cultural sphere which are shown in the promotion of values belonging to a democratic culture (expressed in terms of human rights and social participation), as well as the opening up of the cultural sphere itself, abandoning the elitist idea of culture in favour of a massive dissemination of artistic activities, promoting the participation of diverse social groups in art, especially those of a lower socio-economic power, as well as the decentralisation and integration of different geographical units of the country through an organisation oriented towards mobilising the varying regional cultural manifestations. The creation in 2003 of the Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes is one of the landmarks in the search of an institutional form for the democratic principles which the Chilean governments claim to ascribe to, notwithstanding that there is still no effective coordination of public cultural institutionality. Similarly, the representation of civil society in the executive committees is a long way from being the channel of direct participation for the mobilization of the interests of the agents of cultural matters.

Without discounting the institutional progress, the permanent presence of authoritarian enclaves (Garretón, 2000) centred on the economic model, some legal mechanisms such as the Constitution of the Republic, and the sharp inequality in the country impedes Chile from being a fully democratic society. Rather, and to paraphrase Garretón (2007), it might be better to consider our country as a “post-dictatorship” Chile. The transformations to the Chilean model of development since the 1980s have marked the development of cultural policies in Chile (De Cea, 2011), a process which to our interpretation critically limits the processes of cultural democratisation. This situation is evident in the available participation and cultural consumption data, which shows the severe cultural inequality in the country (CNCA, 2011r).

Additionally, it is clear in the case of Chile that there is a need for the active recognition of the processes of cultural blending that have constantly characterised Chilean culture, articulating European and North American hegemonic elements, mixed with the indigenous peoples of the Chilean territory and the regional and international migration. On this basis, our country could fully assume the multicultural nature that characterises us, which is not reflected in essencialist definitions of the national identity.

In relation to this, it is necessary for the state to revisit the interpretation of the Chilean concept of culture –usually restricted to the arts and identitary configurations– establishing fundamental and institutionally developed connections with education and science (CNCA, 2012). On the other hand, our country still faces significant challenges concerning the recognition of human rights of the indigenous peoples, and the promotion of a real integration which respects the different aspects of diverse cultures and nations that live together in a complex manner within the national territory. The conceptual definitions of culture in the public policies in Chile concerning this matter are still far from fully incorporating reflections such as those corresponding to the proposals made by UNESCO, focused on Cultural Rights and the Millennium Goals.

These and other challenges will be important when it comes to designing, implementing and evaluating cultural policies whose objective is the deepening of democracy in Chilean society.

Chapter published: 02-01-2014