Museo de Cielo Abierto en San Miguel

Artist: Centro Cultural Mixart & Residents
Location: Villa San Miguel neighborhood, Santiago, Chile
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Gregory Door

The Museo de Cielo Abierto en San Miguel (the Open Air Museum of San Miguel) builds upon the mural-arts tradition to create, as the project title suggests, a huge, high-quality museum open to all without “protection bars, security guards, or visiting time restrictions.” Spearheaded by the group Centro Cultural Mixart and developed and managed by the residents of the working-class neighborhood of Villa San Miguel, the muralists have to date completed some 4,000 square meters of artwork on buildings along the heavily traversed thoroughfares of the community.

Villa San Miguel is a lower-income neighborhood of Santiago, Chile, developed in the 1960s and suffering, to varying degrees, from disrepair and abandonment. An important aspect of the mural project is giving residents of the community agency in the placement and subject matter of the murals.

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“All the murals were approved by the neighbors before they were painted,” says Roberto Hernández, project manager. “This simple fact creates a sense of belonging and special pride for their neighborhood. Since all residents have participated directly or indirectly in the making of the murals, the street art of San Miguel is taken care of and protected by the people that live in the area, without the need of guards or fences of any kind.”

The imagery in the murals reflects and expands upon the rich mural tradition of the region. Among the more than 70 artists who have participated in the project are experienced muralists as well as younger self-made street artists from Chile and beyond its borders. The artworks are innovative, expressive, and contemporary, and the community-based process brings the artists into close contact with neighborhood residents, enriching the experience on both sides.

The project has an explicit social activist purpose. The buildings and public areas in the neighborhood faced severe deterioration and abandonment, according to Hernández. The mural project, he says, “has achieved the miracle of waking up the community, transforming it into a powerful example of social reactivation and improvement of quality of life for the people who inhabit this area. Public art is the tool for making specific and systematic actions planned among the families and Centro Cultural Mixart.”

This social agenda has both intangible and tangible components, according to Hernández. With a strong, grassroots organization, the open-air museum has given residents of the neighborhood an “improved sense of belonging” and pride in their surroundings. At the same time, the public art itself serves as a tangible and unique asset belonging to the community as a collective. Finally, the project has leveraged public-art financing for neighborhood improvements, and it has drawn attention and investment from outside the neighborhood. “It’s a start for creating more cultural and artistic work and initiatives in the neighborhood, designed to turn the Villa San Miguel into a cultural and touristic icon,” says Hernández.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency