Peñalolén digital culture plan: Reactivating local culture during the pandemic
1. Peñalolén and culture
Peñalolén (meaning “fraternal meeting place” in Mapudungún) is located in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, Chile. The commune has a population of 245,000, with a significant level of socioeconomic and cultural diversity, particularly because of the presence of 4 Indigenous groups (10% of the population is of Mapuche descent), making it the urban commune with one of the largest Indigenous populations in Chile.
Peñalolén is territorially divided into 5 macro-sectors: to the west are the most socioeconomically vulnerable neighbourhoods: Lo Hermida, La Faena, San Luis, and Peñalolén Alto. These emerged as a result of the eradication of settlements and land seizures, whereas the mountainous sector has more colonial roots (Peñalolén Alto) where rural practices still exist. To the east, there are families with higher incomes and a general higher socioeconomic strata.
Municipal culture is the responsibility of the Peñalolén Cultural Corporation, a private non-profit organization that manages two large cultural centres (Chimkowe and San Luis). These have seen the significant development of folklore, artistic education, urban culture, and Indigenous cultural heritage.
The COVID-19 crisis had a severe impact on all areas of life in the city, including culture. The city’s cultural life was greatly diminished, which negatively impacted community participation and created uncertainty among artists, managers, culture sector stakeholders, and local artistic groups throughout the municipality. The pandemic underscored the precarious working conditions of the cultural sector, relating to contracts, social security, and socio-economic vulnerability. According to the consultation carried out in the first phase of the plan, more than 70% of the culture sector workers were left without a source of employment and the remaining 30% were at risk of being without any income at all. In fact, 80% of contracts were cancelled and many of the artists surveyed were infected with COVID-19 or lost a family member or loved one (+50%). The Peñalolén Digital Culture Plan emerged as a response to this difficult context.
The plan sought to reinvigorate the culture sector through the study, design, production and transmission of a virtual program.
2. Project goals and implementation
2.1. Main goal and specific objectives
Created in March 2020 to respond to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peñalolén Digital Culture Plan
consisted of a digital platform hosted on the website of the Peñalolén Cultural Corporation (www.chimkowe.cl) that offered the public and users cultural initiatives with remote events across different artistic and cultural disciplines. The plan sought to reinvigorate the culture sector by promoting creative projects and providing economic support to cultural agents across Peñalolén. This involved the study, design, production, and transmission of a virtual program, thereby generating employment for culture sector workers and reaching thousands of people. This project opened spaces for recreation, learning, and containment with various initiatives.
2.2. Project development
The first stage of the plan involved the “Listening to Culture” project, a diagnostic stage which used telephone surveys to learn about the situation of artists, monitors, neighbourhood cultural managers, and audiences in order to support them, provide information on channels for municipal aid, and inform them about cultural events. 680 families were contacted, who were also beneficiaries and recipients of food support from the Food Network.
The Municipality of Peñalolén, through its Cultural Corporation, developed a new strategy through the study, design, production, and transmission of a virtual program, adapting approaches from the Chimkowe Cultural Centre to the digital format. This included various initiatives, disciplines, formats, and themes from Cultural Centre such as concerts, workshops, training schools, folklore, Indigenous programs, theatre, and more. A digital platform for the Cultural Centre (www.chimkowe.cl) was implemented, hosting 15 cultural programs available to the public, with a diverse array of events that was remotely accessible. Also, 30 online workshops were held for more than 1980 participants. This sparked a collaborative public cultural network whose presentations and workshops offered digital content to the local population, adapting the cultural centre’s technological capabilities while also adhering to public health measures.
The “Chimkowe at Home” program is particularly noteworthy for its online content (for children and families) created by 34 artists, with 12,481 reproductions. Additionally, the “Peña Nights” program promoted popular musicians from Peñalolén with 24 concerts for 14,520 people. The following programs were also carried out: a weekly Radio Theatre on local and popular stories about Peñalolén by the 6 Senior Theatre Schools; a podcast under the Youth Bands program; classes and concerts by the Youth Orchestra and School of Ballet; Expo Workshops of Indigenous Peoples; Women’s Music Tour; folklore galas; among many others. Furthermore, with the information from the diagnosis, the “2020 Cultural Artistic Memory” publication was reissued, which involved 418 artists and collectives from the community to promote their work.
The pandemic underscored the precarious working conditions of the cultural sector, relating to contracts, social security, and socio-economic vulnerability.
3.1. Direct impacts
The plan made it possible to provide jobs and direct economic support to 908 local artists and artists, who were either without work or had unstable employment, through the production of 15 initiatives in various formats. The platform achieved 198,000 interactions in 12 months. A total of 5,092 people participated in the training programs. These statistics are unprecedented for the city and far exceed the impact on the public prior to the pandemic.
In order to evaluate the plan, specific instruments were designed for the cultural services, according to each activity: Workshops, exhibitions, and concerts, among others, where each initiative had its own unique instruments, objectives, and indicators. The evaluation mechanism consisted of planning reports, meeting minutes, participant satisfaction surveys, group evaluations of teams with counterparts and facilitators.
3.3. Key factors
The following factors have been key to the project’s success: the cultural corporation’s capacity to adapt; the understanding of culture as a pillar of human development; a participatory and identity-based approach; and the generation of networks and connections, as 16 agreements have been signed with cultural, educational, and business institutions over the last two years.
The programs developed during the pandemic continued to be implemented in 2022, especially the classroom training programs. Another valuable part of the plan is the municipal commitment to manage and provide continuity to the 15 programs.
The plan made it possible to provide jobs and direct economic support to 908 local artists, who where either without work of had unstable employment.
4. Further information
Peñalolén was a candidate for the fifth UCLG Mexico City – Culture 21 International Award (February – June 2022). The jury for the award drew up its final report in September of 2022, and requested that the UCLG Committee on Culture promote this project as one of the good practices implemented under Agenda 21 for culture.
This report was written by Gladys Sandoval Campos, Director, Cultural Corporation of Peñalolén, Peñalolén, Santiago, Chile.
Contact: gsandoval (at) penalolen.cl