Mariana Guarini Berenguer. Photo: Denise Andrade

QWhen he assumed the presidency of the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo (MAM-SP), just over a year ago, the lawyer, administrator and collector Mariana Guarini Berenguer replaced the 24-year term of businesswoman Milu Vilela at the head of the museum. Its main focus, from the beginning, was the concern with governance, in a broad sense: financial sustainability; closer approximation of the members of the board and directors in the museum's day-to-day activities; revision of the statute; and creation of a well-defined bylaws.

For Berenguer, “processes that in a company are well established, in cultural institutions in general are very open, little formalized”. With all the lines of action – which range from curatorial and educational work to acquisitions, accounting, inspection and insurance of works – well defined, “you are also more transparent, and this becomes more interesting for the sponsors”, she adds.

It was also during its management, much of it already during the Covid-19 pandemic and with the museum behind closed doors, that MAM carried out a selection process for the new chief curator, Cauê Alves, who replaces Felipe Chaimovich in office. According to Berenguer, Alves brings a series of proposals of great interest to the institution, from an attentive look at the collection and education to concerns about increasing dialogue with artists and strengthening partnerships with other institutions in the park, such as MAC-USP ( now under the management of Ana Magalhães and Marta Bogéa).

At this point, regarding the fact that MAM has a more contemporary collection – almost 5700 works – and MAC has a more modern one, Berenguer emphasizes that this complementarity can result in joint projects of great value. in conversation with the arte!brasileiros, the president of the museum also spoke about a new project of MAM interventions in public spaces in the city; the quest to bring a diversity of current themes into the institution's exhibitions and courses; and about the importance of Brazil overcoming political polarization, with a more united society where culture plays a prominent role. Read the full text below.

ARTE! – You assumed the presidency of MAM about a year ago, after 24 years of management at Milu Vilela. I would like to start by asking how the work has been so far.

In this management we have four main aspects, which are also aimed at making the museum sustainable from a financial point of view. Because the issue of sustainability, which is one of these mottos, permeates practically all cultural institutions. And I say that even before the pandemic. Cultural institutions have a very unstable sustainability. Another motto of this administration is governance, in the sense of bringing the deliberative council and the board closer together. We are a non-profit private museum, with members who are part of an assembly and also of the council, we have a board pro bono, which we are also able to consolidate now, and then comes the issue of employees. So from the beginning we have been working on this important issue of solidifying this work environment.

There is also a focus on institutionalizing the work, because I realize that many processes are very little formalized, in relation to acquisition, accounting, documentation, inspection, insurance, etc. Processes that in a company are very well established, in cultural institutions are very open. And doing that makes you more transparent, which makes the museum more interesting for sponsors, who want transparency. And it is also good for the accountability of public resources used through incentive laws. So it's a whole process that involves a lot of responsibility. And I think that we are standing out in this, being different from other institutions. And in a way we are managing to do this work, which is huge, even during the pandemic, each of their homes. With technical people, with the legal, to review the entire statute, create an internal regiment establishing how these relationships between the different bodies are.

ARTE! – This also has to do with their training and lifelong performance, in legal and business areas…

Yes, I have a degree from USP in Law and from GV in Business Administration. I also graduated from both faculties. And I've always been an executive. And when they brought me to the museum, it was mainly because of this management issue. I also collect art, I had a design and jewelry company in the last few years, which was already a big life changer. But then I started to get closer to museums, first at the Pinacoteca, then at MASP – where I joined as a patron -, and then I received an invitation from MAM.

ARTE! – And in that short period of a year, almost half of it was under the Covid-19 pandemic. How did that affect the work?

There is an interesting thing, which I had to learn, that in general, when you use incentivized law, the sponsor makes the contribution at the end of the year. This makes the cash flow very well managed. Last year the museum had a budget of R$ 18 million, with monthly expenses of around R$ 1,1 million. So the cash is being eaten throughout the year. And at the end of 2019 we were successful in bringing a large cash flow, not least because the sponsors noticed this professionalism. But then the pandemic started and things got complicated. Because now the sponsors are saying that they first need to see their internal results, their performance, and then see if they will actually continue to invest in the museum. So we are waiting for the end of the year, but our expenses are still running. That's why we're super attentive to the cash that we've already got. And we started making adjustments.

ARTE! – Were there layoffs?

We started with mandatory vacations for employees, then there was a reduction in working hours, because there was no way around it. And we had to make some layoffs. It was super difficult, but we have to come back with a sustainable museum.

MAM facade. Photo: Paulo Altafin

ARTE! – And thinking about the relationship with the public, a question that has been raised in recent months was how much institutions were taken by surprise by the pandemic and were not prepared virtually. 

I think so. In general, institutions were not prepared. You see companies that have been investing in this for a long time and are struggling, so imagine cultural institutions, which do not have resources. We are milking stone.

ARTE! – How has it been in the case of MAM?

We had already brought in a new coordinator for communication, even before Covid-19, and she had started several initiatives on the networks, such as presenting things about the history of the museum, which is super complex. We have over 5600 works and a great legacy, and that wasn't being explored as well as it could. So telling these stories, talking about the works in the collection, doing lives, we started to activate all this. We had lives with the coordinators of the engraving and photography clubs, who went to artists' studios, for example. And our numbers on the networks have gone up a lot. And we also present the virtual exhibitions in partnership with Google Arts and Culture, with clippings of shows that were mounted in the museum. I think we achieved a lot, a lot of visibility, and we will continue.   

ARTE! – Should this virtual work continue to be more intense even after the museum can be reopened?

Yes, this is essential. This online presence will have to be constant. We are already talking with partners to develop digital projects, because this will certainly be a differential to bring the public closer, reach people from other states, who would not have access to the museum, bring more students and teachers and also bring resources. And at this point, we also brought three new themes to the online courses, which we think are super important and are permeating the works of museums in general, which are indigenous art, women in art, and Afro-descendant themes. So, there is this strong work with education, including developing the course schedule, and we want this to be able to continue digitally.

ARTE! – Are there any plans for reopening?

We are working together with the Secretary of Culture, which has a protocol for reopening that provides for a possibility for September. But it also foresees that each museum will have to check its collaborators' health issues, as they would have to return earlier to assemble the exhibits, with a series of precautions. So we brought in an infectious disease specialist who will first evaluate all the conditions so that we can then reopen. We are following the protocol of the secretariat, but we will first check internally if we are able to return safely.

ARTE! – Returning to digital performance, an intense program has been made to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of MAM since July, which follows this month. I would like you to talk a little about this program, how these themes were chosen, and a little about the results so far.

It is a special program with five themes: homage to the production of women artists; the museum's pedagogical mission – so that there is more and more transversality between the exhibitions and the educational, and so that visits (virtual or in person) increasingly have this pedagogical character; the issue of Afro-Brazilian culture, always linked to works in our collection; the relationship between modern and contemporary in the museum; and finally, the online shows on Google and Arts. We also had a conversation between Felipe Chaimovich and Cauê Alves, which is available on Youtube, and another between Cauê and Eder Chiodetto, who is the curator of the Photography Collectors Club at MAM-SP. There will also be a conversation with the artist Thiago Honório about his installation roçabarroca, in the Wall Project.

It has another important action, in partnership with the Africa agency, which will be the realization of large projections on blind gables of buildings in the central region of the city. And another action will be at more than 60 bus stops and digital clocks that have been made available to us, in which we will present images of works from the collection, always with podcasts about them. The idea is to take MAM out of Ibirapuera Park, reaching a diversity of audiences, and showing that the museum has a greater brand than just the physical space it occupies. And since now people can't go to the museum, we go to the city. It is a possibility to democratize access.

ARTE! – Several of these issues you are talking about have to do with very current guidelines in society and in the artistic environment, such as indigenous, racial, gender, environment, among others. How to work so that this is not just a fad, a passing wave?    

First of all, we always bring, and the museum's education is very serious about this, specific professionals who work with these areas, with master's, doctoral degrees. For example, our indigenous art course will be taught by Jaider Esbell, who is an indigenous artist and curator. In order not to become a fad, it is necessary to bring in a person who effectively understands the issue, lives the issue, and has experience with art. In Afro-Brazilian art, we will also bring a professional who is black, with a master's and doctorate, who understands the difficulties. So I think we always have to bring people with great training and experience. Now, these themes are part of the history of Brazil. And if institutions want to democratize and bring diversity into the museum, they have to speak the language of this diversity. So we have to adapt, bring everyone in, and make it have a sequel. And each museum will have to work this very seriously, through its context, its education, from a more structured point of view.

ARTE! – In addition to this interview with you, we are also publishing a conversation with Cauê Alves, for him to talk about the curatorial work proposals. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about how he was chosen to be the new chief curator of the museum.

It was an unprecedented process in the history of the museum, in which three directors participated, Geraldo Carbone, Fábio Magalhães and Telmo Porto, and Eduardo Saron and I participated on the board. So we made a document talking about the museum’s current missions and values, and we described the necessary profile for the curator, who must also work in management, education, care for the library – which has more than 90 items – and so on. We received several CVs, then we arrived at six names that could meet the requirements and asked them to present some works related to the modern, the contemporary and in relation to Panorama, which is a very important show at MAM. So it was a very long process, with interviews, conversations, and in the end we arrived at the name of Cauê, who already knew the museum well. And he brought up topics that are very interesting to us, from the desire to organize the collection to the desire to establish partnerships with other institutions in the park, concerns with the environment and sustainability, care with management, the desire to bring back a closeness with the artists, among other things.   

ARTE! – In addition to the issue of the pandemic, we were already experiencing a very troubled political context in Brazil. In recent months we have interviewed some cultural managers in the country who claim that the federal government sees the cultural area almost as an enemy. Would you like to talk a little about how you see the situation?

I think we are experiencing three crises: a health crisis, which will still take some time to resolve and which generates a lot of instability; an economic one, which affects a lot, including the insecurity about when there will be any recovery; and a political crisis, which I think is even a little more subdued now. But I think the important thing is to preserve democracy. I think that the institutions – executive, legislative and judiciary – have to exercise their role, without interfering so much in the role of the other, which is a constitutional issue, and understand that they are working for the citizens, which are all of us. And this kind of crisis, this polarization, I think is bad. Because I think there should be more solidarity, humanity, thinking about what is best for citizens. It would be time for society to be strengthened in all aspects. Government institutions, cultural institutions, companies and citizens themselves come together to get out of this crisis in the best way possible. And even for the vision that Brazil projects abroad. So I think it should be a time of union, with institutions increasingly strengthened, because I think it's in democracy that we achieve true dialogue.

And thinking about this moment of crisis, I think that culture is also inserted, because the cultural sector has a social dimension. Culture is also something of the first magnitude, after all, it is what provides even a dream, so to speak, it provides the maintenance of a legacy – which is not a dream, it is a reality. We are a new country, but without working our legacy is complicated, and this is done through education. And in this, cultural institutions are bastions, working for the benefit of society, even being able to develop public policies.   

ARTE! – Now, in a year and a half of Bolsonaro’s government, we had the demotion of Culture from ministry to secretariat and we have now reached the fifth name that assumes the portfolio, including some very troubled passages. What does this demonstrate about the value given to culture?

Shows that it is not a priority. But it should be, because of what I say about the historical legacy, education, the social function of cultural institutions. MAM, for example, is a private but non-profit museum. So we fulfill a function of taking art to society.    

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