During the entire month of January, in the middle of the summer in the Southern hemisphere, the 27th version of Santiago a Mil was held in the main cities of Chile, a festival featuring theater, dance, music and poetry that summoned about 200 thousand people with more than 100 high quality shows presented in theaters and streets. This happened in the middle of the social outbreak that Chile has been going through since October 18 and that has completely changed the country's political agenda. Although this year there was less public than in previous years, companies from Germany, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil were present. Chile, China, Cuba, United States, France, Greece, Haiti, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Switzerland, Taiwan, Uruguay and Venezuela.
It was strange for both the organizers and the foreign artists and programmers to see that, together with the manifestations of citizen protest, which decreased in intensity during the summer, there was no alteration or interruption of cultural programming. Undoubtedly, the reason lies in the importance of culture in a country with great literary, artistic and musical figures, where politicians in general, as in other countries, are interested in the issue only right before the elections. However, it is here where there are spaces for creators and where people can participate, interact and enrich themselves thanks to the work displayed by Santiago a Mil. The financing of the festival comes mainly from private companies and a smaller part comes from the government, allowing to open spaces and access high-quality shows that are also presented free of charge in sectors with lower income inhabitants. Chile has a Ministry of Culture only since 2017, and the budget allocated in 2019 reached a meager 0.4% of GDP.
Santiago a Mil, through its different high-level artistic representations, delivers a message of dignity and respect to people who, in many cases for the first time in their lives, are assisting to a play, or a poetry or dance recital. Every year, big names and big companies have paraded through different scenarios. I am referring to the Royal de Luxe of France that brought the “Tiny Giant” who walked through the streets of the Chilean capital; the legendary Théâtre du Soleil by Ariane Mnouchkine, the works of great Italian writer Alessandro Baricco, La Furia del Baus, from Spain, and let’s remember that the last piece created by the German dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, was conceived especially for this festival and premiered in 2010.
Each year, a select group of programmers from all continents arrive in Santiago to observe shows that unfold in the popular neighborhoods and main theaters in Chile.
This festival, Santiago a Mil was created in 1994 by a small group of visionary women and men linked to the theater, where Carmen Romero stands out, who has been its director since the beginning of this adventure that became a valued cultural asset and which gave way to a foundation which throughout the year is working to obtain financing, schedule and realize what was initially just a dream: to present quality works and grant access to everyone. It should not be forgotten that during the years of the Chilean military dictatorship, culture and theater in particular, were considered subversive activities, with the creators, artists and playwrights having to camouflage the message in order to avoid censorship. Thus, characters such as the early deceased friend, Andrés Pérez, immortalized the play La Negra Ester by Roberto Parra, brother of the great Violeta. Andrés, with an overwhelming talent and imagination, changed an important part of the traditional paradigm of Chilean theater.
The long years of Pinochet left an imprint of pain and death also in the art scene in Chile. How not to remember Victor Jara, tortured and murdered in the days after the coup d'état, in 1973. Many artists went into exile while others remained in the country, the efforts of censorship to silence them being useless. In 1977, the theater company La Feria, created by Jaime Vadell and José Manuel Salcedo, challenged the regime with a large circus tent where they managed to present a few functions of the play Leaves of Vine, based on the poems of the poet Nicanor Parra - another brother of Violeta - until it was set afire by the agents of the dictatorship after a smear campaign initiated by the press related to the regime.
Dramatic was the case of the ICTUS company, a symbol of cultural resistance, created in 1955 and whose director and actor Nissim Sharim has told me about the numerous attacks and threats directed at him, his family and other actors, for his courageous work in the toughest years of the dictatorship. In 1985, the country and the world were moved during a performance of Mario Benedetti's work, *Spring With a Broken Corner". During the intermission it was announced to the prominent actor Roberto Parada that his son, José Manuel, a sociologist who worked for the Catholic Church’s Solidarity Network on the subject of defense of human rights, and who he had been kidnapped by the security forces of Pinochet, that his body had been found slaughtered near the airport next to those of Manuel Guerrero and Santiago Nattino. Parada, a long-standing actor, was hit by the news while the theater administration told the public that the function was suspended. But it was not so; overcoming the pain, he pointed out that out of respect for the attendees the function should continue. He did so while people continued with tears in their eyes and moved by the emotion of what they were living: something unprecedented in the history of Chilean theater and perhaps, worldwide.
This great lesson that actor Roberto Parada bequeathed is part of the history recorded in fire in Chilean cultural memory and is a teaching that we hope will never be forgotten. Today the festival Santiago a Mil educates through its programs, artists, workshops, and guests, hundreds of thousands of people who make the Chilean summer a true celebration, which also adds cultural value to the offer that the country offers to tourists visiting Chile.