Danilo Miranda, director general of sesc-sp
Danilo Santos de Miranda, philosopher, sociologist and regional director of Sesc-SP Photo: Matheus José Maria
Color photo, vertical. portrait of Danilo Miranda
Danilo Santos de Miranda, philosopher, sociologist and regional director of Sesc-SP Photo: Matheus José Maria

Even though he is an optimistic person, Danilo Santos de Miranda, 78, does not hide his great concern with the political moment that Brazil is going through: “We are in a terrible situation, in many ways”, says the sociologist and philosopher, director-general of the Sesc-SP since 1984. “This comes from before the pandemic, with errors in the conduct of the economy, with the lack of funding for culture, with this denial of the field of knowledge and science. And it got much worse with the thousands of dead, the sacrifice, pain and mourning spread across the country.”

In interview with arte!brasileiros, Miranda takes stock of Sesc-SP’s performance during the pandemic, with its intense virtual activity, and talks about the return to face-to-face: “The meeting, the socializing, the face-to-face activities, this is essential for our daily lives”. That is why the institution is also planning to open a series of new units in the coming years, some of which are already under construction – such as Franca, Limeira, Marília and Parque Dom Pedro (in the capital).

Regarding the constant attempts to cut resources for S System entities - such as Sesc, Senac, Sesi and Senai -, financed by compulsory fees charged on the companies' payroll (with an annual budget that reaches almost R$ 20 billion), Miranda says that this is not exclusive to the current government: “This has always worried us and demanded from us a kind of permanent proof of our importance. As if every day we had to show why we exist, what role we play and why society needs our action”.

On the other hand, what is most particular characteristic of the current federal administration, according to him, is that “the government has not even the slightest idea of ​​what culture is. They are not people who dedicate themselves or who dive into this concept. When, for example, they put culture as part of an action aimed at tourism, they undoubtedly did not understand anything of what it means” – the Ministry of Culture was extinguished under the Bolsonaro government and the current secretariat is linked to the Ministry of Tourism .

Miranda also spoke about the global and regional inequality widened by the pandemic, about the need for us to learn to be more supportive and to pay attention “to the environmental issue, the issue of diversity, the issue of gender and mutual respect”. Read the full interview below.

ARTE! - The Sesc units, despite being private spaces, have always been placed in the city almost as extensions of public space. They are open to everyone, designed for a creative and democratic coexistence, in short, linked to a project of “social well-being and living well”, in his own words. For a year and a half these units had to close their doors, because of the pandemic. How was this experience of trying to maintain Sesc's mission without physical spaces?

Danilo Miranda – It was sorely missed, as space is vital for us to fully fulfill our mission. Meeting, socializing, face-to-face activities, this is essential for our daily lives. I used to say that our great specialty is bringing people together. Now, faced with the facts, the new situation, we had to reinvent ourselves, change things. So the units were closed and we started to do a multitude of activities through our remote system, with great reach on our pages. We had a very strong action from the content point of view, highlighting the Sesc Digital, which is a platform that was already ready and was launched right at the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020. There we have a lot of collection material - more than 20 thousand items -, a very large complementation from the point of view of service provision and a lot of information. And that was getting better. Gradually, we were providing some pre-scheduled face-to-face services, in the food and dental sector and, later on, even courses, exhibitions, shows, etc. We are only now fully reopening.   

SESC Pompeii
Open space at Sesc Pompeia, in São Paulo, designed by Lina Bo Bardi Photo: Araty Perone

ARTE! - From now on, will Sesc-SP work in a hybrid model between virtual and face-to-face? How are the plans in this regard?

Yes, we are going to mix the two, which will make our performance even more effective. I already said, a few decades ago, that everything possible should be done remotely. And we didn't even have a dimension yet of how much this represented, of the place where the technologies would arrive. I mainly thought about the bureaucratic part, information, scheduling and registration, so that people arrived at the units with things made easy. But this has been exacerbated, especially now in the pandemic, and the virtual has gained much greater strength, and we will also work with this reality.

ARTE! - At the beginning of the pandemic, much was said about the need to learn something from what was happening, that is, an idea that we should leave this period knowing how to better deal with the world around us. Now, when we see a great advance in vaccination and the resumption of most activities, do you think we have really learned something? Do we change our way of being or do we return to the same place?

Institutionally speaking, at Sesc-SP we made a great effort in this direction. Many things that we accumulate in this period – information, ways of doing things and looking at things – will be incorporated into our habits. Now, broadly speaking, I don't like the expression "return to normal". Because the normal was already too problematic, we were already facing a situation of economic tightening, of difficulties to finance many actions… I'm not saying at Sesc, internally, but from the point of view of society, especially in the world of culture. There were already serious constraints before the pandemic. And so going back to normal means going back to that? We don't care. So let's resume our habits, but also seek this new path, which has nothing to do with the pandemic period, but not with the previous period either. We want deeper changes.

Because I think that, despite everything, in that time we have enriched our understanding of things, under certain aspects of coexistence, solidarity, consideration for the other, mutual dependence between us. These are things that have been incorporated, even if in a very strong, almost forced way, and we need to be more aware that we live in a society where solidarity must be incorporated - regardless of political or religious positions, but from the point of view purely human. And in this respect, some points were greatly exacerbated. The environmental issue, the diversity issue, the gender issue, mutual respect, all this comes together. These are not new things, but answers to all this have begun to be demanded of us more. So a large number of institutions, organizations and companies are more aware of this, all over the world. Governments too, but that is not our case. We are an exception, a total absurdity.        

ARTE! - in conversation we had at the beginning of the pandemic, when the epicenter of this crisis was in Europe, you said that if the epidemic was serious there, it would be even worse here. In fact, we have now reached about 620 dead. Has the pandemic further widened global inequalities?

No doubt. There's a huge imbalance, that's remarkable. If we look at what happened here, but also in countries in Asia, Africa and other poorer parts of the world, especially in the southern hemisphere, it is quite different from what happens in the northern hemisphere. That goes for the economy, politics, culture, diplomacy… and it also goes for health. It's very serious.

And thinking internally, in our country, there is also very great inequality. We have 100% of the adult population vaccinated in the city of São Paulo, while in other parts of Brazil there are still very inadequate situations, numbers far below that.

Now, since then, things have gone a little unforeseen. Here in Brazil we actually reached a very serious situation, including a total lack of control at the beginning of this year, but since then – more due to society, the press and politicians from other levels than the federal – we have achieved a process of fairly extensive vaccination. And that today puts us in a position of even a certain advantage over a good part of Europe itself, where there is much greater denialism in relation to the vaccine. So things have changed a little and that's why we can also have this perspective of reopening at Sesc. At the same time, we have every reason to be very cautious when thinking about, for example, the end-of-the-year parties, carnival and even the proposals to allow the use of masks in open spaces. At Sesc, for the time being, we will require both doses of vaccine and mask, for employees and for visitors.

Work by Carlito Carvalhosa at Sesc Guarulhos (Sesc-SP)
Work by Carlito Carvalhosa in the internal area of ​​Sesc Guarulhos, opened in 2019. Photo: Publicity

ARTE! - I remembered an interview of yours in which you said that we live in a very materialistic reality, where things are seen only from the point of view of economic development, but that, more and more, it is perceived that the search for quality of life depends on a lot more things. And then you talk about education and culture in a broad sense, which are the bases of Sesc-SP's work. Could you talk a little about that?

For us, the concept of culture has always been very broad and closely linked to the educational issue. In this sense, the concepts of culture and education are even confused, because they mean preparation for a better life, the search for greater well-being for everyone, in all aspects. This is where the question of knowledge, worldview, perception of things, aesthetic sense, sense of community and belonging comes in. But there are also issues of a personal nature, physical issues, health, food, way of life, and also environmental issues. In fact, our indigenous peoples put it in a very integrated way, everything is part of everything: we are part of this whole, and what this whole is also part of us. And so, returning to Sesc, we have this very holistic view, very broad, very comprehensive, we work with this perspective.

ARTE! - Is this broad vision of culture, among other things, what is lacking in the country's current federal government? 

Have no doubts. The current government has no idea what culture is, not even traditional, classical. He has no idea what the narrower concept of culture is, the one focused on the arts and the symbolic, or the broader concept, of an anthropological nature, which concerns everything that is human creation. They are not people who dedicate themselves or who dive into this concept. When, for example, they put culture as part of an action aimed at tourism, they undoubtedly did not understand anything about what culture itself means.

ARTE! - With this in mind, so far, five secretaries of culture have passed through the government, all with very controversial performances. Then we come to the current secretary, Mário Frias, who seems to be increasingly restricting action in the area, paralyzing the Incentive Law, among other things…

It is a sequence of progressive worsening, unfortunately. The Rouanet Law is a law envied by other countries in the world, since it deals with the issue of tax incentives from companies, with business projects linked to the issue of public culture. It is something that must be further deepened, improved, advanced, without a doubt, and I do not say that the law is perfect. There were problems, above all, on the geographical issue and on the mixture between advertising and culture, but even so, it was a law that had broad participation of businessmen, artists, cultural promoters, creators and managers, with a commission representing society. When you cut that and make everything decided solely by one person, whoever it is, you are going backwards, undermining the whole understanding of the law and effectively preventing it from being properly applied. It is a very serious setback, which concerns not only financing, but the character that I would call didactic, educational, in the sense of involving companies in a commitment of a cultural, social, community and participatory nature.  

ARTE! - In fact, it is this same secretary who went to the Venice Biennale and said he did not know who Lina Bo Bardi is, the architect who designed one of the most emblematic units of Sesc-SP, Pompeia…

Architect who was being awarded at the event. And Sesc Pompeia is an exemplary unit, in fact, an icon of culture in Brazil and in the world. It is a pride of Sesc and I think of the whole country. Of Lina's works it is, for me, the most significant and important. Of course, Masp plays a central role, Solar do Unhão, Casa de Vidro, all are very important, but the project that is most linked to a vast cultural and educational program, with coexistence, is Sesc Pompeia.

ARTE! - Migrating from the Secretariat of Culture to the Ministry of Economy, since the beginning of the government there has been a threat of cuts in the resources of the S System. Recently this happened once again, with Paulo Guedes saying that he wanted to use part of the collection for a stimulus program to the job. At what point is this imbroglio?

Look, I've been at Sesc for over 50 years and since then I've heard from practically all governments about these attempts to take resources or even prevent the continuation of these entities of the S System - as if they had a superfluous, unnecessary, unimportant character. Well, this has always worried us and demanded from us a kind of permanent proof of our importance. As if every day we had to show why we exist, why we should exist, what role we play and why society needs our action. And this has been the great element that prevents these ideas of cuts from thriving, because when they go to check, they know that these institutions have a fundamental character for Brazilian society, in every way – especially the four original ones: Sesc, Senac, Sesi and Senai. We have a huge number of requests from municipalities that want to have a Sesc, because they consider it essential to have this presence in their cities. This means an important value, we are wanted and it is a sign that there is an approval of the seriousness and quality of our work. And, furthermore, our importance is not necessarily given by public leaders, by governments; our importance, our value, is given by the thousands of people who use it, who frequent our units. People across the country who benefit either from the specialized professional training that Senac and Senai offer, or from a program of citizenship, social well-being and appreciation of the human being that Sesc, Sesi and other institutions of the S System offer. In other words, we are always accountable for what we do. 

But, finally, regarding our institutional relationship with the government, we also have an effective dependence on public and governmental actions in our programming, in our way of acting. We have relations with the government and we would like them to be very healthy, we have every interest in maintaining good relations with the three levels of power.

Sesc Franca, Sesc-SP unit
Image of the future Sesc Franca, already under construction, a partnership between the offices SIAA and Apiacás Arquitetos. Photo: Disclosure

ARTE! - Taking advantage of what you mentioned about cities that wish to have the presence of Sesc, could you talk about the units that are currently under construction?

We have a whole plan for the next ten years, approximately, which foresees the creation of several units in cities in the interior, in the capital and on the coast of São Paulo. We are currently building an important unit in Franca, which is the most advanced work, in addition to others in Limeira, Marília and in Parque Dom Pedro (capital). We recently opened a unit in Mogi das Cruzes, we will have another in Osasco and soon the recovery of an area that was delivered to us in São Bernardo do Campo. There are also expansions in Registro and Ribeirão Preto – which is a very old unit and needs to be updated, and we also have plans to build in Pirituba, São Miguel Paulista and Campo Limpo. It's too much.

ARTE! - In a way, therefore, despite all the bad situation in the country, are there always reasons for optimism, for moving forward with projects and imagining transformations in society?

I think so, I am an optimistic person. Look, we are in a terrible situation in the country, in many ways. This comes from before the pandemic, with errors in the conduct of the economy, with the lack of funding for culture, with this denial of the field of knowledge and science. And it got a lot worse with the thousands of dead, the sacrifice, the pain and the mourning spread across the country with the coronavirus. Now, we have to have a perspective of change ahead, we have to believe in it, an optimistic vision, because all this has to be overcome, it cannot continue. And it depends a lot on us, to make everything that is happening evident.

I can say that at Sesc-SP our schedule remains very positive, optimistic, with many things ahead in all fields. In the field of visual arts, for example, we already have a series of important exhibitions on display – Alfredo Jaar at Sesc Pompeia, the Frestas Triennale in Sorocaba, among others.  – and in 2022 we must also work hard with the centenary of the Week of Modern Art of 22, with the 200 years of independence and with a series of current issues that are fundamental. We will continue to run the boat without restrictions. ✱

1 comment

  1. We are going through times of change and it is not today that we need to overcome the abnormalities of unhealthy normality. Where social violence and social inequality are embodied in extreme brutality in metropolises of exclusion. Return to the greed of the market for bodies and souls? We have to deny this brutality wide open by the MARKET pandemic.

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