Home Institution

Brandeis University

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


Valparaíso is home to a visually stimulating urban landscape which has become one of the identifying factors of the famous port city. The flamboyant cityscape and stunning murals that splash color across the once-empty walls of Valpo attract tourists from all over the world to come and admire the rich hub of bohemian culture. However, it hasn’t always been the vibrant city that it is nowadays. What many porteños, or lifelong citizens of Valparaíso, cite as the city’s authentic identifying characteristic is its history as a major port city. However, after the construction of the Panama Canal, Valpo experienced a major economic and identity crisis, having lost its significance in the global trade industry.

In 2003, UNESCO declared Valparaíso a world heritage site, which catalyzed a city-wide reimagination and beautification of the urban landscape in order to stimulate the subsequent growth in the tourism industry. Part of this process involved the artistification of the city, covering up and renovating the dilapidated buildings in the center plan. In order to accommodate the needs and assumed desires of the influx of tourists, real estate investors installed new businesses, such as lofts, hostels, cafes, bars, restaurants, and artisanal shops. This intense process of gentrification in sectors such as Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, and Barrio Puerto consequently raised the average cost of living in once-residential communities. This caused systemic displacement of permanent residents of Valparaíso, who were expelled into the hills farther away from the urban center, where there access to necessary resources is far scarcer.

Although the original nature of the mural is to represent the collective identity of a community, in the context of Valparaíso, one can see that murals may actually be a driving force in the process of gentrification, as they are arguably the most attractive element which draws in tourists. This research paper will discuss the complex, and sometimes contradictory, relationship between muralism and gentrification in the context of Valparaíso. The data and relevant findings are based primarily on interviews with three Valpo-based muralists and a longtime resident and academic at the Parque Cultural of Valparaíso, and is contextualized through bibliographic research and participant observation.

This paper finds that gentrification and muralism are closely linked phenomena that actually support one another to form a self-sustaining cycle which negatively impacts native residents. The aesthetically pleasing murals that frequent main urban centers attract investment in tourist-oriented businesses, which thus constructs a seemingly authentic, yet actually scenographic, space for tourists. This stimulates more foot traffic and visibility of the murals, which entices more muralists to continue creating colorful works where there is wall space, thus continuing the cycle of touristification of residential spaces. This paper highlights how the neoliberal socioeconomic model has commercialized the mural and transformed it into a capitalist tool for gentrification. Finally, the paper highlights community-spearheaded efforts to reclaim the mural as a collective representation of community development in residential spaces.

Further study is needed to continue investigating how local artists use other forms of street art, such as cartelismo or graffiti (tags and political statements scrawled in public spaces), as a means of visual community representation against forces of oppression.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies | Tourism | Urban, Community and Regional Planning


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