El Alto

Centre Gabriela Mistral – Chile

Art as a vehicle for social transformation

As one of the largest cultural centres in Chile, GAM is influencing public policy by making artistic initiatives its vehicle.

A child in a red hoodie smiles at a puppet on the right side of the image. The puppet is facing the child and wearing a small pink knitted hat. The hands of the puppeteer are just visible behind the puppet, disappearing out of the right side of the image.

Relaxed Performance of “Pescador”, GAM, Chile. Photo by Jorge Sánchez.

With Incluye, we seek to contribute towards inclusion of all people with disabilities and highlight artistic initiatives that serve as vehicles for social transformation.”

Located in Santiago, Centro Gabriela Mistral (GAM) opened in 2010 as a cultural centre with numerous spaces for theatre, dance, circus performances, classical and popular music, crafts, and visual arts quickly establishing itself as one of Chile’s major arts venues.

Due to its importance on the cultural landscape of the capital, GAM has always led in terms of accessibility and inclusive programming. In 2013, it began organising a variety of training courses and seminars for artists and cultural agents to develop new ways of working with a broader spectrum of creators and audiences in mind. One of those initiatives, the Incluye Seminar, is an annual week-long programme of workshops, masterclasses, relaxed performances, films, and lectures on inclusive arts. 

The Incluye Seminar began as a response to making the cultural centre more inclusive to audiences that were visiting the space, but had a limited interaction with it due to a disability. It began by creating guided tours of the space for blind and visually-impaired visitors, led by blind and vision-impaired guides, called HAPTO. 

GAM Executive Director Felipe Mella underlines the importance of this initiative, “With Incluye, we seek to contribute towards inclusion of all people with disabilities and highlight artistic initiatives that serve as vehicles for social transformation.” 

Thanks to a long- standing collaboration with the British Council, Pamela López, Head of Programming and Audiences at GAM, took part in various editions of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Made in Scotland Programme and Unlimited Festival where she saw inclusive arts at its best. 

In 2018 she brought UK actor and comedian Jess Thom to Chile as part of Incluye’s programme. Her book, “Welcome to Biscuit Land,” her play “Backstage in Biscuit Land,” and her documentary “Me, My Mouth and I” explore her lived experience with Tourette Syndrome. By including all of this work in Incluye’s programme, López emphasizes that “it was a rare opportunity to see inclusive arts as a whole.”

GAM’s commitment to inclusive arts has had many highpoints over the years. The documentary “Lección de música” (The Music Lesson) shared the story of a young autistic woman who learned to conduct a music ensemble using sign language. After the film premiered at GAM, there was a live concert by the ensemble and its conductor. The play “Punto ciego” (Blind Spot) about a witch hunt in the island of Chiloe (south of Chile) in the 1880s, pioneered audio description throughout the performance without using earphones, and the HAPTO project has blind guides lead groups of blindfolded visitors through the permanent collection of the cultural centre, providing a different experience of the heritage art pieces in the collection and of the building itself.

In 2018, GAM introduced relaxed performances to its yearly programme base. By adapting artistic work to better suit the needs of adults and children with learning difficulties, autism, or sensory communication disorders GAM created a more friendly environment at the theatre for these patrons

López stipulates that these programmes do not yet reflect the full breadth of commitment GAM has for inclusive arts.  “Our vision is still 180 degrees in scope. For it to be 360 degrees, we need to make every production and commission in an accessible format. We must incorporate artists with disabilities in every single process, aspect and phase, and generate radical actions to influence public policy in this area.”

A crowd of people stand outside a tall building at night. They are dressed entirely in black, and are grinning and shaking their open hands over their heads. One woman with lowered arms stands in front of the others, backlit slightly from a distant lamppost.

Seminar “Incluye”. ©GAM