In 2019, a group of producers, managers and artists came together in a political movement that placed culture at the center of the country's social and economic debates. The Culture Block began.

O movement, idealized by the team working at Municipal Secretary of Culture of São Paulo, aims to expand the experiences of city management, creating plans and strategies that put cultural policies in focus.

"We entered the Secretariat with the sector being heavily attacked from a national point of view and quite fragile in the city itself. So, we created a program that faced obscurantism and reaffirmed culture as a fundamental approach to reducing inequalities. and for the development of the country”, says Ale Youssef. The former Secretary of Culture of São Paulo is one of the founders of the movement, along with Hugo Possolo (current secretary), Carlota Mingolla and Thais Lara (former and current chief of staff at the secretariat), Laís Bodanzky (president of SP-Cine), Erika Palomino (in front of the CCSP), among others.

Today, the Bloco structures actions focused on electoral periods, providing the basis for culture to be thought of in a different way in government plans. In a first stage, it focuses on municipal elections and, for 2022, it will develop strategies aimed at the state and federal levels. “We are open to all candidacies that are linked to the democratic and progressive spirit and that present disruptive elements so that we can change the situation in the country”, says Youssef. 

Alê Youssef, co-founder of Bloco da Cultura and former secretary of culture for the city of São Paulo. Photo: Disclosure.

A arte!brasileiros talked with the movement's co-founder about the Bloc's actions and goals, the cultural situation in the country and the importance of the sector. Read on.

ARTE!✱ – Why did you decide to create the Culture Block?

The Culture Block was born from the perception that we needed to qualify the action of cultural agents, in the sense of creating alternatives so that it was possible to place the area at the center of the country's economic and social development. Election after election, year after year, much is said and promised, but little is done with respect to this centrality of the politics of culture. In countries such as England, Portugal, Spain and South Korea, the sector has been placed at a strategic point of development, and this has produced very fruitful results. We believe that Brazil  has enormous potential to follow this same path. But we don't see this potential being represented in effective proposals and strategies. Therefore, we, who work on the management of the largest city in the country, absorbed the experience we had in these months, understood the budget bottlenecks and the powers necessary for a consistent project and created the Bloco da Cultura, a national movement in defense of the sector. , which aims to rebuild public cultural policy, which is being so attacked and massacred.

ARTE!✱ – In other interviews, you [Bloco da Cultura] also talk about these attacks on culture. Can you explain a little better what you mean??

I think it's very important that we always say, at every opportunity, that culture is under attack in Brazil. She has been under attack since before the pandemic. With the pandemic, fragility has increased even more – because the area was the first to be paralyzed by the restrictions of health surveillance and will be the last to return. But it is important to remember that this attack has been going on since long before… Starting with the extinction of the Ministry of Culture, going through the change in the ceiling of the Rouanet Law [Culture Incentive Law] – without any discussion with the sector –, moving towards the stoppage of company sponsorships andauthorities, arriving at the determination of the existence of what were called “filters” – but which, in fact, are censorship mechanisms – to define cultural support with public funds [Youssef refers to the times that the President of the Republic used the term 'filter ' to explain whether or not artistic manifestations could be supported with public funds and take place in spaces of government entities]. In addition, of course, to the absurd attacks, the flirtations with fascism and obscurantism, the retention of the cinema sectoral fund, changes in the politics of Ancine etc.

ARTE!✱ – Why do you think these attacks happen?

Because culture is national identity. It represents what connects us, it is the potential of Brazil's reunion with itself. I believe that this government has a project to destroy that identity, in a delusional dream of creating another national identity. So, culture is attacked, the Amazon is attacked, indigenous people, quilombolas and identity movements are attacked, as a way of attacking national identity and diversity – which is such a big part of the construction of our essence. . I also think that this adds to a series of fake news generated during the electoral period, which sought to criminalize art and the artist, saying that people lived on the Rouanet Law and that everyone was a criminal. This generated this crazy dystopia, but we need to be strategic and look for more viable alternatives. We need to understand what can work to value this power that we have and not fall into these polarized discussions. - that lead nowhere. 

ARTE!✱ - How do they intend to face this limiting government stance in relation to culture and the arts? What political alliances is the Culture Bloc willing to build in defense of the sector?

First, I think we need to start our defense process based on municipal experiences. In these two years ahead of us (with the permanence of the federal government and the permanence of these systematic attacks), it is necessary to create a strong support network, which gives vent to cultural public policies and creates a virtuous post-pandemic cycle. I believe that culture can be a vector of a new cycle of development, more democratic and more contemporary - taking into account the circular economy, the importance of reducing carbon emission rates and bringing all these advantages of the creative economy. I also believe that strategy and political plans are necessary to develop these actions. The Culture Block is open to all candidacies that are linked to the democratic and progressive spirit, that are aware of the need for the State's roles in human, economic and social development, and that present disruptive, new and contemporary elements so that we can change the situation. from the country. I believe that we have to break with the polarization currently established in the country, through alternatives that seek a democratic and human center, which can bring together all the currents of progressivism.

“It is no longer possible for culture to be an isolated department in the government, it needs to be the central axis of the country's economic and social development”, explains Alê Youssef.

ARTE!✱ – How has this proposal been accepted by parties, candidates and other political movements?

Our action aims to expose current problems so that culture is taken into account and placed at the center of the country's economic and social development. We consider culture this vector that can unite, just as we believe that several other sectors can also have this vision of defense and union, a comprehensive, tolerant and inclusive vision, so that we can reach a different situation from the polarized one we live today. What we have noticed is that in the cultural milieu many people have adhered to the idea of ​​placing culture in a prominent place. A lot of people want to get out of this logic of being used, election after election, by candidate A, B and C, but then nothing happens from a concrete point of view and our sector remains undervalued.

ARTE!✱ – How can culture assume this role?

We believe that culture can no longer be an isolated department in each government, with a tiny budget that will be fought over in different languages, generating a series of problems that make it impossible for the sector to position itself in this strategic place of economic and social development. Culture needs to be seen as a matter of economic development, of farms and economy, of work and income, of education, of health, of security. We believe in this centrality. That's what we're fighting for. So our project is tolerant and open to everyone who understands this role.

ARTE!✱ - In the pandemic period, there has been a lot of talk about art as a “breath”, an “escape valve” for this moment. Do you believe that this relationship can be a way of making culture more important in the future?

I think art really played a key role. What would it be like to have social isolation (or the rules imposed by our health issue) if it weren't for the series, soap operas, songs and books? I think this brings the need to value the role of the worker and the cultural worker as fundamental figures in the construction of essential elements for human existence. PAs a consequence, it brings the appreciation of the culture itself, as being strategic and vital. I think it's important that we use this obvious importance to annihilate once and for all the hate speech that has formed against our sector, and build this virtuous and positive agenda around placing culture on a strategic axis of development. It may seem distant in the face of the repeated attacks that we have suffered from the federal government, but we have a very important starting point, which is the municipal elections. We know the importance of cities – especially capital cities – in this defense. From these municipal elections, it is possible to create a network that is a kind of shield in this sector's defense. São Paulo, for example, had a very important and necessary counterpoint to the federal government, we had many fundamental actions for us to defend the culture in the face of so many attacks.

ARTE!✱ - You say that, in this moment of a pandemic, the importance of culture became explicit. However, there are still those who say that other investment needs (such as health) have become even more evident and should be a priority. How to defend the importance of culture in the face of a health crisis? 

This situation of counterpoint does not exist, because there is no need to take resources from one area to put them in another. There are robust and fundamental budgets in these absolutely crucial areas and they need to be executed well. Culture can also play an important role in complementing government actions in several areas, including impacting on health (mental health, for example) and education (with a fundamental pedagogical role, which it already naturally plays). I think it's part of polarized society to antagonize everything. The “let's not invest in culture because it's less important” is a “let's not invest in anything else besides what is obviously an important thing”. At no time will we fail to invest what we have to invest in these absolutely fundamental and strategic areas, which does not mean that we have to give up investment in culture for this to happen. It also does not mean that this investment is not strategic. You have to take a holistic view of management. This view [that the area is less important and should provide funding] is the result of this process of polarization and criminalization that we see the sector permanently involved. This is much more than the effective realization of culture as less important, you know? 

In the same way that we have the reaction of barbarism against culture, we have virtuous processes of reaction and affirmation of the importance of the sector - as is the case of the vote in the São Paulo Chamber with the approval of the hiring of online cultural activities, the approval gives Aldir Blanc Law etc. The forces of society are alive, they are not static and we need to play a role in influencing culture and showing how fundamental it is today. 

ARTE!✱ – This year, you started to act in this sense by launching the Capital of Culture program. Can you talk a little more about him?

The program Capital of Culture was inspired by the program we developed in São Paulo, which created a dynamic of strategic movements for us to carry out effective cultural management of the city. We entered the Municipal Department of Culture with the sector quite fragile and, then, we created a project that faced obscurantism and reaffirmed culture as a fundamental approach to reducing inequalities. The Capital of Culture is organized in interconnected strategic movements, which are: integrated calendar, diffusion, belonging, memory, formation, incentive, new modernism (recognise and summon the artistic expressions that emerge from the peripheries, reinvigorating the perception of cultural production and strengthening multiculturalism), promotion, recognition and, pTo tie it all together, there is management – ​​which is the idea of ​​being able to formulate evidence-based public policy. This is very important in the culture, we need to look for evidence, creating mechanisms of participation and transparency to allow innovations and recognition of the server itself. We have to bring the idea of ​​the cultural manager closer to the public manager and put an end to this idea that cultural people don't know how to manage. 

Structure of the Capital of Culture Program. Illustration: Publicity/Culture Block

Some of the concrete proposals are: reshaping the development policy in a strategic way, having both a focus on languages ​​(dance, theater, music, etc.), and the possibility of structuring incentives - as in São Paulo, the Fomento de Cultura da Periferia and Fomento das Black Cultures; linking tax waiver policies to inequality metrics and indicators, being a concrete action to transform the sector's incentive laws; and the understanding of who these new agents of Brazilian culture are. Who are the new modernists? Who are the people who are reinvigorating and reorganizing Brazil's culture? In this way, seeking a more modernist and less pioneering city perception. Among many other actions. 

ARTE!✱ – Do you believe that the next steps of the Culture Block are to make permanent initiatives of these actions and the expansion to other territories and to the federal scope?

I believe that our main quest, at this moment, is to present a program of ten strategic movements so that every Brazilian capital can also be considered a capital of culture. In other words, become a kind of center for the diffusion and agglutination of your own cultural experiences. In this way, we will have a lowest common denominator in all regions of Brazil, so that we can take the sector to another level. It's the first step we're taking. Then, we begin the cycle to rebuild the Brazilian public cultural structure, which is being destroyed by the current federal government. This cycle is very important and will have to have the state and federal dimension of this reconstruction process. We need a great mobilization of society around this vision of the future that places culture with this centrality. It is a huge waste and a huge loss of opportunity not to have culture in this central place.

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