Safeguarding Chile's Cultural Heritage: from Violeta Parra to Vicente Huidobro
Violeta Parra, Vicente Huidobro, Fernando Castillo Velasco, Ana González, René Combeau, and Jorge Brantmayer are some of the Chilean artists whose collections and archives are now housed at Universidad Católica. Not only that, but the university also leads in projects of cultural importance, including Radio Beethoven, the Museum of Visual Arts, the Revista de Libros Prize, and the TV programs of Channel 13C.
“The University has long prioritized protecting cultural heritage. While this is not something new, it has played a more active role for the past two years,” said President Ignacio Sánchez.
This active involvement began with Radio Beethoven.
In November 2019, Copesa, the company that owned the radio station, announced it would cease broadcasting.
The UC Chile President recalls being surprised to learn that the radio station, which belonged to one of the most important media conglomerates in the country, was going off air.
“It was going to stop broadcasting because it was ‘not profitable,’ despite its cultural value. That was when we thought: Why don't we take over? It made a lot of sense, Radio Beethoven had started forty years ago at Universidad Católica, with Adolfo Flores and Fernando Rosas.”
With this in mind, the university thought why not use the economic resources intended for the university's future patrimony and invest them into a cultural asset that would be a contribution to the country.
However, the country was in the midst of social protests and the future was uncertain.
“This was a shift. It was not easy convincing some of the members of the Leadership Council, who had to approve the project.”
The main challenge was justifying taking over a project that was being sold because it was unprofitable and showing how it could be financially sustainable.
Despite all reservations, the university took the leap and in January 2020 signed a promise to purchase the radio dial 97.7 in Santiago.
On April 1, 2020, Radio Beethoven resumed broadcasting, under the leadership of the UC Chile, which also coincided with the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns.
"It has been very rewarding for the university to reach out to thousands of people during these difficult times, providing a 'musical haven,' as many auditors have described it," stated the President.
Today, the FM signal is heard by 160,000 people a day, and reaches many more if we count the online audience.
After two years, the books show a positive balance.
Today, a large part of the operation is financed by more than a thousand members of the "Club de Amigos de Radio Beethoven" who make monthly donations.
In addition, the signal has expanded throughout the country thanks to signals in Valparaíso, Villarrica, Valdivia and Osorno, and agreements with regional universities.
All of this has allowed them to boost advertising sales and win over new audiences, especially younger ones.
Protecting Culture as a Way of Contributing to Society
According to President Sánchez, the positive community reception to the Radio Beethoven project made them realize "the value placed on a university institution that puts culture and the contribution to society at the center. That experience made us realize that we had to go beyond the musical world."
Thus, in 2020, UC became a co-organizer of the Revista de Libros Prize, together with the newspaper El Mercurio and the paper company CMPC.
With more than thirty years of life, this award is a standard in the literary field. Through the Faculty of Literature, UC decided to join and help internationalize the contest.
The project that followed the radio station was the Museum of Visual Arts (MAVI).
"It all started informally with me e-mailing director Amelia Saavedra. I didn't know her personally, but her e-mail was on the website. I asked her how we could work together, initially thinking of strengthening academic and dissemination links."
After two Zoom meetings, she told him that the chairperson of the board wanted to have a third meeting.
"There we realized we could not only collaborate in the academic field, but also in management. The Santa Cruz and Yaconi families told me: 'look, we want to project the museum for the next fifty years, so establishing a long-term link with the University gives us peace of mind that this is possible'."
The Board of Directors very generously offered to donate to the University:
- More than a thousand works.
- The grounds of Plaza Mulato Gil, where the museum is located.
- An endowment for future development.
In January 2021, the agreement was signed and the MAVI UC Foundation was created.
Since then, "We have done an outstanding job as a team," added the President.
Chosen to Guard Artistic Heritage
Universities are known to attract donations, and UC Chile is no different. The university is used to receiving donations from family members who want the institution to guard and enhance the cultural heritage of artists.
According to the University President, these donations are based on the national and international prestige of UC Chile and its quick response time.
Now, the family of the poet Vicente Huidobro has donated more than 5,000 pieces, including:
- Photos of key personalities of the Avant-garde literary movement.
This is the largest collection of the writer in the world.
The pieces will be initially given on loan, but later the Huidobro - UC Foundation will be created.
“Huidobro’s legacy allows us to understand his work in detail, as he is an important creator in contemporary art and poetry. It also gives us access to the creative and critical texts that were key to the emergence and recognition of the artistic avant-garde. Not only that, but it also allows us to understand the spirit of an era that modified beliefs, created a different art, and expanded the dimensions of humanity and culture.”
"We want to spread his legacy among undergraduate and graduate students. We will actively participate in the design of the content that will be displayed in the special and permanent exhibition room that will be located in the Outreach Center of Casa Central.
Together with UC Chile Libraries, the Campus Oriente Outreach Center and the Huidobro Foundation, we will design various initiatives to exhibit and analyze, inside and outside the university, the heritage received. In addition, we are going to design specific courses on literature that are aimed at different audiences," explained the dean, who is also an expert on the Spanish-American avant-garde.
The focus will be on consolidating links with researchers, universities and research centers that work on the avant-garde and Chilean poetry themes of the twentieth century, as there is great interest in the work of Huidobro.
"We wish to explore the possibility of mounting traveling exhibitions and activities throughout the country, especially in universities, to encourage projects and works on Huidobro and the avant-garde."
Reconstructing Theater History
Among the archives that have been donated to the UC Chile, several are key pieces of the history of Chilean theater, including more than 5,000 documents that belonged to Ana González, a prominent actress.
There are also the photographic collections of René Combeau, with more than 9,500 photos that portray the Chilean theater scene of the 1950s and 1960s.
The donated archives also include the Jorge Brantmayer collection, with 1,575 slides and printed photographs of 142 stage productions by dozens of theater companies between 1983 and 1992.
In addition, there are important archives of:
- Fernando Debesa, founder of the UC Rehearsal Theater
- Ramón López, former dean of the School of the Arts
- Photographer Luis Poirot
- Renowned theater actor Andrés Pérez
- Prominent actors Tomás Vidiella and sister Eliana Vidiella, who passed away in 2021 due to Covid and whose family recently donated “six giant boxes” of material.
This treasure has been incorporated into the Archivo de la Escena Teatral (Archive of the Theatrical Scene), managed by María de la Luz Hurtado, who is a professor at the School of Theater, and founded the archive in 2000.
“This initiative is a pioneer in theatrical research, since in Chile there was no place where you could find sources showing the evolution of the Chilean theatrical scene," explained the director.
This archive plays a key role in the conservation and restoration of documents and is open to researchers, creators and students who wish to learn more.
The Chile Escena website is also available to them, where 50 documented theater companies can be found.
The archive has also carried out dissemination and outreach activities, such as book releases, exhibitions at the National Museum of Fine Arts, traveling exhibitions throughout the country, documentaries, and interviews with donors and creators.
This is in addition to their work with schools and workshops for teachers.
"Universities are a mainstay of the performing arts. They are producers of art, with reflective, and critical proposals.The work [of the archive] holds a tremendous importance for the university and to the country."
What to Do With All This Heritage? It Must be Opened to the Public!
One of the main purposes of the UC Chile is to showcase heritage and make it available to the broadest audience possible.
According to the Director of Cultural Outreach, Daniela Rosenfeld, they have sought to position their collections as a model of museum management, looking to serve and contribute to the development of society.
This involves a meticulous care process from the moment the art is received.
"The process begins with the reception and entry of the pieces at the specialized warehouses. Then an inventory check and condition reports are made for each piece. This is done by a group of professional restorers. Then there are two important processes: the georeferencing of the collections and then preventive conservation," explained Rosenfeld.
"Then comes the conservation, cleaning and restoration work, which is carried out periodically to keep the works in optimal condition. Afterwards, we proceed to the packing in final storage boxes, with acid-free, neutral and stable materials, and away from direct agents of deterioration."
In other words, they are protected from sudden environmental changes (light, humidity, temperature), earthquakes and other external agents such as insects.
The final stage is dissemination, which goes beyond the exhibition with the respective guided tours.
Cultural Outreach publishes catalogs and books with essays and research by historians. On their website, there is a section dedicated to the heritage collections, where all the exhibits are listed.
The complete inventory of the Aula Pueblos Originarios (Indigenous Peoples Classroom) collection also has its own page to make it available to the public.
"We receive visits from faculty and students for viewing, analysis and study. We also hold discussions and other dialogue around the collections."
Guarding Religious Art
In January 2021, the UC Chile also received a donation from contemporary religious artist Claudio di Girolamo.
"We now plan to make reproductions of Claudio di Girolamo's works and place them in public spaces on university campuses," said Daniela Rosenfeld.
This is probably the most important collection of Catholic art in the country, consisting of about 1,300 sketches, drawings and paintings created in various mediums and techniques, which has been placed under the care of Cultural Outreach.
"Claudio's generosity and his 70-year trajectory in national religious art make this donation and his legacy even more special," said the University President.
Violeta Parra and Fernando Castillo Velasco
The president also highlighted the work done with Violeta Parra's family, especially that of her daughter Isabel Parra and granddaughter Milena Rojas.
During 2021, conversations were held between the family and the University to find out how the UC Chile could support and collaborate with Violeta's legacy.
After the talks were successful, the joint work began to ensure the preservation, presentation and projection of her work into the future at the university, with a space dedicated to Violeta Parra at Campus Oriente.
In March 2022, the Office of Cultural Outreach received a donation of a series of works in papier-mâché by Violeta that have never been exhibited and that the artist left in France.
The donation became the Violeta Inédita exhibition, presented between March and April at the Centro de Extensión Alameda. The exhibition was co-curated by Milena Rojas, Violeta's granddaughter and head of Collections and Heritage of the Violeta Parra Museum, and by Carolina Larrea, a professor from the School of Art.
The director of Cultural Outreach explained that they will study the possibility of holding another exhibition in the new Outreach Center of Campus Oriente before the opening of the Violeta Parra Museum, which she hopes will be during the course of this year. A special space of 320 m2 will be set up to house the collection.
The possibilities are endless but require time and study.
"We must give these pieces a context, explain where they came from, how and why they were made, the time and circumstances in which they were developed, and what implications they have in our day-to-day lives, for example. This work enriches individuals, makes them more aware of their own identity by valuing and understanding that we are all part of a continuous flow of culture that makes us human."
Another donation came from the family of architect Fernando Castillo Velasco, who was President of the UC Chile between 1967 and 1973.
This material and his legacy are especially important because:
"Summarize a period of institutional history of great relevance, such as the University Reform and its subsequent evolution. Fernando Castillo Velasco, a president of great importance in our history, held great affection for our institution and felt identified by it. For this reason, I believe that his legacy should remain at UC for its protection and dissemination,” said the University President.
"In addition, the family has decided to make available to us all the work and documents of his wife, Monica Echeverria, an outstanding artist and writer. She worked at UC Chile and for more than seventy years was part of the cultural and political scene of our country. These valuable works align with UC Chile and it is an honor to receive them. I would like to pay special tribute to his children for their generosity and trust in the UC Chile," he emphasized.
The president also explained that each cultural project has its own financing.
In some cases, these have been obtained through private donations or public calls, and in others, efforts are being made to find external funding for the economic sustainability of these projects.
"We need to remember that university funds are limited and have many purposes within our educational mission, areas of research and the creation of new knowledge. For this reason, the search for complementary external resources is vital."
“Academia is a natural habitat of culture. In the world of learning, teaching and research, heritage is strengthened, disseminated and developed.Our university has historically been a bastion for the arts and culture, where they have been strengthened through a sustained commitment to society.”