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Introduction: Wiggle Room
d o r i s s o m m e r
Culture is the area in which humanist values are created and established. . . . That
is why we interpret it in the broadest possible way to include everything from cus-
toms and traditions of distinct sectors that make up Chilean society to the most
developed forms of creative and artistic expression: from mass entertainment
and recreation to the most specialized manifestations of art. . . . In culture thus
conceived tradition lives alongside novelty, historical memory alongside utopia,
what we have been and what we can be. . . . Culture is, therefore, a dimension of
life that involves all the inhabitants of the country, that which confers a sense of
belonging, or a project, of community and nation, and that which spiritually binds
them all with the rest of humanity.—Concertación de partidos por la democracia,
‘‘Programa de gobierno’’ Documentos diario La Época (Santiago, 1989)
Some years ago, Bogotá, Colombia, was the most dangerous city in Latin
America, if you believed the U.S. State Department advisory not to go there.
At airports, o≈cial warnings singled out Lagos, Nigeria, and Bogotá as
places too troubled to tra≈c in tourism. On this count, Bogotanos them-
selves didn’t doubt the North American advice to keep a safe distance from
their own city. Many had lost confidence altogether, and those who were not
emigrating tended to live very sheltered, private lives. The situation seemed
hopeless, given the general level of corruption that could turn any invest-
ment against itself. More money for economic recovery might deepen the
pockets of drug dealers; more armed police would increase the number of
guns and the level of violence. What intervention could possibly make sense
in this stagnant and volatile situation?
In 1995, the newly elected mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus, proposed a
bold program of cultural agency, a term this book proposes to name and
recognize as a range of social contributions through creative practices. Sim-
ply stated, Mockus put culture to work. If civic spirit had worn so thin it
would not sustain a body politic that could take fiscal cures or demand
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