Pamela Lopez working from home

Credit Pamela Lopez

‘Get together with people - collaboration is the key in uncertain times.’

Our British Council team caught up with Pamela Lopez in Chile to see how she is coping during lockdown. Pamela is the Director of Programming and Audiences at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center.

Tell us about your work and practice

I work at GAM (Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center) which is not only a presenting and producing venue for the arts in Santiago, Chile, but also a historical and political physical space, a vibrant organization and a community-driven space for citizens and artists.

People always say that the Arts live in a constant state of crisis, but to be honest in the last year this has gone from metaphor to literal reality. I would say that, today the planning aspects of my work has been almost solely concentrated on creatively overcoming change, being able to embrace the practices of digital transformation and the urgent need of being able to provide connection with the Arts. All of these issues are part of my work at GAM today.

Regarding programming as a specialized practice, the role of a performing arts programmer is usually perceived only within the specifics of the curatorial action and, mostly, related to selection processes and the development of relationships with artists. But being able to program GAM has made me learn a lot more about this role. I have become aware that programming is a team effort, as well as, a social practice. It isn’t really about choosing or picking a specific art form, show, artist or performance; but being able to put together contexts, time frameworks, people, as well as themes and topics in action. When all these resources are able to come together, they create a participatory space for programming that can relate to audiences and peers or art practitioners in a meaningful way.  

How has Covid-19 affected your daily working routine?

Working in the Arts has become a roller coaster of emotional changes and a shift in managerial practices. The routines have changed, from attending the office and going to theatre or dance shows probably 4 to 5 times a week, to literally becoming a 24/7 Zoom attendant. Although it is true that the digital approach has given us the opportunity to overcome territorial barriers, and I have deeply enjoyed being able to stay in permanent connection with regional peers across the country as well with international colleagues. We have faced a new challenge at GAM which has been to reframe our contents to the digital world. We have started creative productions believing that these moments can be used also as a creative reality with artists.

As a programmer, attending international festivals was part of the job and thus, carrying my computer around and being able to sit and write emails was a permanent practice for me. But what has been deeply shaken by confinement is to be able to feel the “energy in the room”, being able to sit in a theatre show as an audience member or being able to attend a rehearsal and stand next to artists, to engage in the necessary conversations. The dimension of the human practice that gives meaning to performing arts has changed for the moment until a new encounter is possible.

What has been most challenging?

Advocacy challenges for sure. Covid has revealed the urgent policy matters related to funding strategies and to foreseeing the arts as a dignifying space for everyone working in the sector. It’s been hard to witness the fragile reality of artists, workers of the cultural sector, mostly peers, so the call for action is very clear. The challenge of instating the public value of arts goes beyond the production of cultural activities. The challenge in GAM has always been aligned with these matters but now it has become more critical.

What has been most surprising?

How the arts and culture are still questioned by some sectors of society. The lack of support coming from people that still believe that the Arts are a luxury and the weakness in policies aimed at protecting the sector.

What innovative ways have you seen artists and arts organisations adapt the way they work to cope with the pandemic in your country?

Innovation has become probably one of the best practices during the pandemic. There is a group of independent artists, Los Contadores Auditores, that have been creating tons of works through Zoom. What I particularly like, in comparison to other artists, is that they have delved into different formats including different audience segments. We invited them to a specific project for children called “El increible traductómetro de la dra. Melina Melinao” where the incorporation of stage design was a premise and some high quality work was Zoom staged for families.

Another interesting example has been that video formats allow for and promote inclusive practices. I have seen several videos with “on demand contents” including sign language or captions for Deaf audiences.

Have you learnt anything new about yourself and your country during this time?

Yes! Definitively both in a personal way and in a general aspect I believe resilience has been something that I have heavily embraced. It is not about planning ahead of time (as I used to think). It is mostly about overcoming challenges and being able to adapt. There are readings I have been following particularly from Mark Robinson on these matters and a quote he includes from Darwin which I love - ‘It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.’

Could you recommend 3 artists in your country that we should check out?

Maria Siebald, actress, dancer and choreographer also director of the performance group Nerven & Zellen. Since 2009, she has researched sign language not as an added component for inclusion but as a scenic language as well, creating projects designed for the Deaf community with the aim of bringing them closer to arts and musical culture.

La Mala Clase, theatre group, led by director Aliocha de la Sotta. A collective that works for a specific segment of young audiences being able to confront gender issues and topics in a direct and contemporary form. They have also designed their own artistic method which they shared in a publication that is also free to download (in Spanish).

Corredor Sur de Danza Contemporánea is a platform of dance artists promoting the circulation, dissemination and mediation of national contemporary dance, integrated and developed by four artistic groups and collectives from the of southern region of Chile including Concepción, Valdivia, Chiloé and Puerto Montt. They have particularly imagined digital practices and a piece I really recommend is “Pewma” (dream in Mapuche language), which is the first 360º video dance performance in the country.

What one piece of advice would you give artists in this difficult and uncertain time?

Get together with people - collaboration is the key in uncertain times and being able to find common grounds with peers and networks will definitely help to overcome these exceptional moments. Building on these safe collective spaces is always useful as they might help in many aspects, including not only creative practices but also human empathy and support.

When everything returns to normal what will be the first cultural experience you will seek out?

A theatre show! Being able to be in the same space and time with other people and artists I am of course curious to see what it will be like, and I’ll try to experiment with all the possibilities in this new journey as a theatergoer. I am looking forward to all open space and in venue experiences.

Want to know more about Pamela Lopez and her work? 

Worried about Covid-19 and your practice? We've pulled together the latest advice, funding, resources, and tips from across the sector for staying creative.