Chile/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.2 National definition of culture

The cultural institutionality of our country has seen various different definitions of culture over the years, reflecting local and international discussions, and recognising the changes in the field of culture related to development, professionalisation and specialisation of diverse cultural actors such as artists, cultural managers, industrial elements, public bodies, audiences and the general public.

In effect, the dimensions that are part of the definition of culture correspond to the historical processes that Chilean society has undergone. In what concerns this, the first document of cultural policy to be published by what was at the time the recently-formed National Council for Culture and the Arts, established a social context defined by the installation of the democratic process, economic growth, the increase in public education and state support, the increase in audience numbers, the development of cultural industries and particularly the proliferation of creative activities (2005c). Articulating the idea of democratisation with the development and professionalisation of the field, the concept of culture that underlies the formation of the CNCA defines that institution as a communication tool that contributes to the recognition of diverse members of society, a way of reconstructing a troubled past, as well as being a space of manufacturing and commercialising commodities (Lagos 2010).

The diversity of the elements and the dimensions that come into play as soon as culture is discussed, was the subject of much debate when it came to defining the cultural institutionality of the country. Already in 1998, the first bill that would create the National Committee for Culture (the beginnings of the later Law No. 19.891 through which the National Council for Culture and the Arts would then be formed), debated a broad definition of culture both in terms of culture as an intrinsic part of human nature, as well as the dimension through which it allows for a deeper understanding of the world, for communication and the forming of society, and the relationship it establishes with time, space and history.

Culture, in this broad sense, includes as much the creative manifestation of art and cultural heritage as customs, traditions, humanist values and other active practices inherent to material or intangible cultural heritage. Notwithstanding the former, the discussions that took place during the design of the bill in its final version reveal a necessary restriction of the very broad definition, focusing rather on public intervention with cultural elements, creation and artistic dissemination, and with the conservation of the country’s cultural heritage (Chilean National Congress, 2003). This definition – which guided the structure of the Law No. 19.891 – is based on operative aims, taking into account the difficulty of encompassing the entire spectrum of human activity and more specifically in areas such as education, science and technology, areas that are under the auspices of other public institutions in Chile.

Despite the various definitions and areas of culture discussed during the designing stage of our cultural institutionality, it is important to highlight that the state of Chile has taken the precaution of not incorporating specific definitions of culture in high-level official documents such as the bill that created the National Council for Culture and the Arts or the document on cultural policy Chile quiere más cultura. In this way the definition of culture promoted by the Chilean state and its institutional bodies is left open to new conceptual developments about the world of culture. When it has been necessary to find explicit definitions of culture, as was the case with Política Cultural2011-2016, the state of our country has privileged the broader internationally recognised concepts (such as is presented by the National Committee of the CNCA in the aforementioned documents). In effect the document Política Cultural2011-2016 specifically quotes the following definition taken from the UNESCO Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies:

“...In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs; is culture that gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is culture that makes us specifically human, rational beings, endowed with a critical judgement and a sense of moral commitment. It is through culture that we discern values and make choices. It is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations. (UNESCO, 1982).

Chapter published: 28-12-2013