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Brazil: “Cultural hotspots are as important as bossa nova”


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Community participation in arts – that’s Brazil’s big contribution over the last 20 years

paul_heritagePaul Heritage, pictured, has been described as a man of many modes. Academic, social and cultural activist, director, writer, teacher, trainer, thinker and policy advisor, lover of both Live Art and Shakespeare, Paul has also for the past 15 years been producing his own visionary and defining projects, interwoven with his concerns as an academic of applied performance. His main concern is to explore how change can happen through art as a social practice. He is Director of People’s Palace Projects, Professor of Drama and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London, and International Associate at the Young Vic theatre.

Many of his projects involve Brazil, a country that he embraced on his first visit in 1991. In 2004 he was made a Knight of the Order of Rio Branco by the Brazilian government — a rare honour for a foreigner. For over two decades he created arts-based prison projects in Britain and Brazil, reaching tens of thousands of prisoners, guards, and their families. As a producer he has worked with major UK arts institutions to bring leading Brazilian companies to British audiences, including Grupo Galpão [Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre], Grupo Piollin [Barbican], AfroReggae [Barbican:bite] and Nós do Morro [Royal Shakespeare Company and Barbican:bite]. In 2006 he set up the ongoing Favela to the World programme, a partnership between People’s Palace Projects, Grupo Cultural Afroreggae, and a range of UK partners. In collaboration with the Young Vic, he created Amazônia [2008]: a year-long performance project involving hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators in London and the Amazon region.

Talking to LAB

Paul is fascinated by the remarkable way Brazil’s culture policies have evolved over the last twenty years:

“We have to remember as always that culture isn’t something produced by the state. It’s not like an army or health care, which is produced in lots of different ways. The state can take responsible for health, for education. But culture demands a much more subtle relationship between the state and society because, of course, art is produced by the artists. So the state has to find a way in which it can invest, prioritise resources and over the last 20 years in Brazil there has been a sophisticated development of that process. In the 1990s, when Francisco Weffort was Culture Minister, the state played a much more traditional role in supporting institutions, in setting up a new set of structures for supporting the arts institutions. And in many ways that was very successful, whether it was cinema, theatre, or dance. Obviously Brazil has a complex infrastructure for the arts, from opera houses to cinemas and art galleries. Under Weffort and Fernando Henrique Cardoso the emphasis was very much on those areas. What has been so dynamic under the two Lula governments and the current government of Dilma Rousseff has been the discovery of a new role for the culture ministry, a response to the diverse ways in which Brazil produces culture, initiatives which try to respond to those diverse modes of production. And that is very liberating and very challenging and it means that there is a lot that we can learn from Brazil, because we also have to face the same challenges as to what the state should do to support arts and culture.”

The big innovation in Brazilian culture policies during the Lula years, says Paul, was the creation of the “pontos de culture”, usually translated as “cultural hotspots”.

“This programme is clearly of major importance. No doubt about that. I’ve said on many occasions that I think Brazil’s innovations around the social technology of the arts, which is characterised especially by the “pontos de cultura” programme, is as important a cultural export as bossa nova. And the world wants to learn from it. Brazil has found new ways to fund culture, not just the arts. Over the last 60 years the UK has developed really sophisticated arts policies but very few cultural policies. So we have a sophisticated arts structure that responds to the needs of the professional arts class but very little about cultural expression that reflects communities and, boy, do we need it now when every one is talking about the Big Society and how to forge links with communities. For diverse reasons Brazil has kept those structures of community arts participation. What it didn’t have was state support – state intervention, — in those fields. What Célio Trevino, who was the secretary for cultural citizenship under Gilberto Gil, came up was the “pontos de cultura” programme, part of larger programme called Cultura Viva. And that programme was a tremendous public success and international success.”

The “pontos de cultura” programme has become a reference point. President Lula said that it was as important as the “bolsa familia” programme, the innovative social welfare programme that has greatly alleviated poverty in Brazil by giving very poor families grants so that they could put their children in school. When Ana de Hollanda took over was Culture Minister in the Rousseff government, she was widely criticised for not pressing ahead firmly enough with the “pontos de cultura” programme.

Paul thinks these criticisms are unfounded. What is happening, he says, is that the programme is “bedding down”, consolidating. He believes that the new minister is deeply committed to it. He also thinks that the scale of the row over the new minister’s apparent “creative commons” – the loosening of strict copyright regulations – has been exaggerated.

“I certainly think a lot of attention has been paid in the press to the ministry of culture. It’s extraordinary. The ministry of culture is one of the lowest spending ministries – number 20, something like that. You wouldn’t tell that from the number of headlines that are devoted to the minister, particularly last year. The ministry last year was, it seems, constantly fighting battles. And the main focus has been on continuity or divergences. And I don’t think it’s right to say that Ana de Hollanda has either broken with her predecessor or carried on with his policies. You’d have to look at each of the policies. I think the appearance of rupture has been greater than the reality. The most obvious, because it was the first, was over copyright, when just days after she had taken office Ana de Hollanda removed the Creative Commons logo from the ministry’s website. This was clearly seen as a major rupture, given that Gilberto Gil had made it a major part of the ministry’s work to create greater access to culture and to create a new market for culture. Gilberto Gil had made his work freely available. It seemed like a major digression but I think it was largely a matter of perception, because it’s still being debated now.”

Creative commons is a complex issue, says Paul, because artists do need to be paid for their work. What Brazil has done has been to encourage a big public debate on the issue, which it is to be congratulated on. Few other countries have done anything similar.

Paul is involved in a programme called “Pontos de Cultura”, which is forging cultural links between Brazil and the UK.

“We had visit in March to the UK of major policy makers and artists from the Pontos de Cultura and we’re in the process of selecting UK artists and policy-makers to go back to Brazil in the second half of the year. A knowledge exchange programme. That goes on until 2015. And we hope it will develop strategies and ideas in the UK as well as in Brazil. A major programme involving artistic residences and policy exchanges. The “Pontos de Contato” programme.”

It’s a wonderful programme, says Paul. Brazil at its best, with free-flowing ideas.

At the moment Paul is deeply involved in the Cultural Olympics with 30 cutting edge artists from Rio de Janeiro coming to London to spend 30 days (6 July to 5 August) with 30 London artists who will then visit Rio. Heady stuff. And Paul is clearly excited.

More about “pontos de cultura” can be found here

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