If you hear someone mention the Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda, you might be picturing your run-of-the-mill government building or even the local Chilean mint, but in fact it’s neither of these. This is a space dedicated to exhibiting and promoting Chilean artisan crafts, with a fair trade shop that is the ideal place to buy something special to take home with you.
But first, you need to get there, but this is easily accomplished by taking the bus, known here as the Micro, which takes you into the center of town and just a stone’s throw from the Palacio de la Moneda. As you walk along the sidewalk facing the Palacio de La Moneda, otherwise known as the seat of the Chilean government, you would never guess that just below Plaza de la Ciudadania there is a modern cultural center that, since 2006, has been offering all kinds of artisanal goods, as well as an ideal spot to have a coffee, see a movie, or check out an art exhibit.
Boredom is simply not an option here. There is a constant stream of art shows, shops to browse, and, of course, displays of traditional crafts for every day of the week, all part of the socially conscious shopping experience hosted by the Fundación Artesanías de Chile (Foundation of Chilean Artists). This NGO’s stated mission is to keep time-honored traditions alive and to support the work of artisans, purchasing wares at their point of origin. The sales proceeds go towards training workshops, cultural initiatives, and campaigns to raise awareness of the work of the artisans.
A waterfall along Teatinos Street greets you as you approach, and as you go down the main hall of the Centro Cultural, the aroma of coffee coming from the Café Cívico tells you that you’ve come to the right place. Starting off your visit on the first floor, you find yourself at one of the Center’s more attractive locales: the fair trade shop. You won’t want to miss out on this spacious room where a “shopping trip” takes on a whole different meaning. Identity, solidarity, sustainable employment: These are the socially-conscious values promoted under the guise of an exhibit displaying artisan crafts from around the country.
And if you happen to have an interest in architecture, this space will appeal to you too. The Centro Cultural’s modern touches (a combination of cement and marble, great big windows, open halls and lofty ceilings) means that although the entire structure is underground, natural light still finds its way in. Everywhere you look, tradition rubs shoulders with the modern. And if you have children, they will be entertained with everything the Center has to offer. Not only is the Center a secret shopping enclave in the heart of the Chilean capital, but it also offers craft workshops for students Mondays through Fridays.
And if you’d like to have a go at some of the crafts yourself, on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m., visitors and tourists can learn and experience firsthand some of the artisan techniques alongside a local craftsman invited by the Foundation. You can learn how to make a clay vase, weave a wicker basket, or carve a wooden figurine. The workshops favor the kind of direct, hands-on experience that allows the master artisan to convey his know-how and wisdom in an intimate setting. And if you enjoy the cinema and the arts, you can see a movie or documentary at the Cineteca Nacional, or visit an international exhibit at one of the many galleries.
Sustainable, socially conscious artisanry is alive and well at this innovative location dedicated to supporting and promoting the work of local artisans.