KITCHENER — Isabel Cisterna is a sterling example of one person making a difference.

Since founding Neruda Arts in 2001, the Chilean-born and raised artistic director, actor, playwright, arts promoter and cultural activist has exerted a singularly significant impact on the cultural texture and artistic life of Waterloo Region.

Sure she has the vivacious — and infectious — energy of a devoted publicist, obsessively promoting arts and culture. But I think her secret lies in her being, first and foremost, an artist who understands what it is, and what it takes, to be an artist — often under excruciatingly difficult circumstances.

She honed her theatrical craft as a street performer; her relationship to art began and remains up-close, intimate and personal. As such, she’s an artist’s best friend, irrespective of background, discipline and experience.

After immigrating from Chile in 1991, Cisterna arrived in Waterloo Region at just the right time. The region was changing socially, culturally and artistically, transitioning from its Eurocentric roots by branching out to embrace a more diverse mix of people from around the world. It wasn’t an easy process and it’s far from over.

Cisterna not only reflects that cultural shift, in person and through her active community life; she was a welcoming force in a region that was opening its doors to different cultures by presenting music, dance, drama, literature and visual arts from around the world. She built a multicultural community by presenting cabarets, concerts, workshops, theatre productions, art installations and spoken word events, not to mention numerous festivals that attracted artists of all skill sets and patrons of all ages.

Cisterna’s focus is local, but her vision is global. She understands that in art the universal and timeless arise out of the particulars of place and time. Culture is rooted in geography; but, at the same time, acts as a series of bridges linking diverse peoples.

Cisterna organizes artistic events in various venues throughout the year, but Kultrun World Music Festival is the glorious centrepiece of the Neruda Arts cultural calendar.

The event, which takes place over four days in Victoria Park for the first time this weekend (July 9-12), started life as LatinFest in Waterloo Town Square. It outgrew Waterloo and transformed itself into Kultrun in the fall of 2013.

Kultrun is sporting a colourful feather in its cultural cap by being the only arts event in Waterloo Region selected by Ignite Ontario as an official Pan Am and Parapan Am Games event.

Cisterna has wisely invited Latitudes Storytelling Festival to join in the festival fun. It’s a wonderful creative marriage, since both reach out to the world for artistic expression.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Latitudes flew its flag previously under the KW Multicultural Festival banner, also held in the downtown Kitchener Park. In recognition of its anniversary, Latitudes is spreading its narrative wings outside of the region to include such international artists as Australian performance artist/poet Candy Royalle and Chile’s Roberto Sainz de la Peña, who will be entertaining young audiences with his miniature puppet theatre. Latitudes takes place Saturday and Sunday.

For information and schedule check out and

(Featured image of Isabel Cisterna by photographer Pablo Luquez)