On Friday 6th of February 2021 in the city of Panguipulli, provenance of Valdivia, Chile, a street performer was shot and killed by a uniformed police officer whilst working a regular pitch. The street performing and artistic community has received this as a personal attack with deep anguish as livelihoods have been complicated. First through the social revolution that began October 18th of 2019 and then the global pandemic that followed in close pursuit by March 2020 deeply affecting the same artists that have worked tirelessly to support and maintain community whilst struggling to survive as the situation has risen to isolate and divide individuals worldwide in a place with sparce governmental support.
For those who are not accustomed to stoplight performers ‘El Semaforo’, is a popular part of South American street performing culture, when the lights go on red and stop the traffic, the artist will step out to perform predominantly to the rows of cars and but not excluding pedestrians, timed perfectly, just before the lights change the performer will take a bow and pass by the cars hat in hand before ducking out of the traffic and returning to the crossing to prepare for the next show. Short, sharp and fast passed entertainment with an ever-evolving range of talents, costumes and artistic concepts are carried out in this way.
Since the pandemic began a group called ACU ‘Artistas Callejeras Unidas’ has been working for the past year to create unity, strengthen street code of conduct and visualise this highly marginalised part of the community. I spoke with Mauricio Orellana, more commonly known in artistic circles as El Mao, a long time well respected street performer of both Semaforo and circle shows, educator and active member of ACU to find out about what has been going on during this sad and terrible time for the artistic community. ‘The police brutality has reached national news and has incited numerous protests for the dissolution of the organisation. The response has led to large support from the public as artists are speaking out and being heard as they express their marginalisation within society and their integral part within it.’ Since the incident on the 6th there have been other reports of street performers being persecuted by the police resulting in artists being charged with large fines and detained overnight in prison.
I also spoke with Andrea Verdugo, artistic name Petekia Rudelaris, clown, juggler, street performer, Maestra of Ceremonies, teacher and workshop leader and member of prominent organisations in Chile that aim to promote the support of artists and the importance of artistic outreach within the community. She says ‘The Semaforo is the first stage. It is the first glimpse, opportunity when someone can try out, improve, hone their artistic talents with a live and willing public and be respectfully paid for their work.’ It permits a valid opportunity to generate income via the arts with many artists starting in the traffic lights and going on to gain the confidence to express their artistic findings in other areas of culture. Others perfect their shows to such degree that it can become a primary source of income. Popular success stories such as ‘Juan Carlos Muñoz’ the first Chilean clown to grace Cirque du Solei who began with few opportunities available due to a country in the heavy recoil of a dictatorship, the traffic lights offered a place to work, express and lighten the load and after long and hard dedication eventually lead on to a prominent career in Cirque du Solei, which itself started out as a street show. All starting with stepping out for that minute to give it your all. To trial, to test, to fail and then hopefully succeed in unpredictable conditions to earn a crust alongside your self-worth. I do not believe in a challenging enough environment police brutality should be included in this unpredictability.
I think there is a lacking in understanding in the nomadic artform, rich in hundreds of years of free flowing history and of the importance of street performance as part of a shared worldwide culture. Often overlooked as a starting point for much bigger things and lacks respect within in its own right as a moving, breathing art form made by a community that in its essence does not discriminate its public based on gender, physical appearance, health or economic status, race, beliefs, preferences or age. It exists in the moment for the human being there to see it and is finetuned by the desires and needs of the very public it wishes to serve.
So what can anyone do to help? On a larger and more immediate scale using #elartecallejeronoesdelito (street performance is not a crime) in social media which creates a direct link alongside #buskersunite and #savelondonbuskers to create solidarity within the community with any relative ways you wish to comment and show support to Chilean artists and street performers would be greatly appreciated. You can also get in more direct contact through firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to speak to a member of ACU, Spanish speaking will be necessary.
The Arts Council England has recently released two reports commenting on the importance of Street Performance as part a thriving community and the growing evidence of its promotion of social cohesion and support of local economies to build civic pride and create an increased sense of belonging in communities through culture led regeneration. Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, said: “As we begin our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, it will be vital to protect and rebuild public spaces and encourage people to get back out to responsibly support our local businesses, town centres and creative industries.”*
In the light of this terrible incident once can only hope that it serves to create greater unity in the street performing community that it seems is going through a worldwide test of strength alongside the public who we work for.
*Information taken from
On Our Highstrets’