Daniel Santos de Miranda. Photo: Disclosure

Ddirector-general of Sesc-SP since 1984, the sociologist and philosopher Danilo Santos de Miranda held the position that he still holds today during all the governments of the New Republic of Brazil - a democratic period started in 1985 -, from the inauguration of José Sarney to the current days. In these more than 35 years, he claims he has never seen a government that understood so little and threatened the country's cultural sector as much as the current one. “It is an absolute lack of politics and an effective commitment to a broad vision of culture.”

More than that, Miranda, at 77, says that the Jair Bolsonaro government is, in certain ways, worse for culture than was the military regime that ravaged the country for 21 years. “There was the very serious issue of censorship, there is nothing to say. But there are many ways to do censorship. And one of them is to reduce, or eliminate, those who produce something that can be censored. So at that time artists produced and were censored. Now, the idea is that artists don't even have the means to produce properly, because they don't have incentives and mechanisms”, says Miranda, in an interview given to arte!brasileiros a few days after Regina Duarte left the Secretary of Culture.

The situation, which was already worrying, becomes even more serious with the current epidemic of coronavirus and the need for social isolation. “We are facing this pandemic, which is very serious and transversal, because it concerns everything, human life. And not just the issue of health, but education, coexistence, relationships, people's daily lives, new habits…”. And in Brazil, says Miranda, “we have a president who absolutely denies all this and acts in a wrong way, totally erratic, in every way. It is as serious as a war.”

For this reason, the director of Sesc (Social Service for Commerce) considers it urgent to resume a discussion on the importance of culture in a broad sense. “Culture for me is not an aspect of life, but the universe in which we are inserted. It concerns our habits, our language, our way of being”. Regarding this “way of being”, Miranda emphasizes that at least solidarity should gain more space in a post-coronavirus world. “Because a threat like that is for everyone, and you totally depend on each other to stay healthy.”

Miranda also spoke about a global development model that at the same time destroys nature – with consequences for biological life in general -, generates poverty and brutal inequality. “If in Europe the epidemic was serious, here it will be very serious.” The director of Sesc-SP also talked about the virtual performance of the institution, about the constant threats of cuts in resources of the S System (formed by institutions such as Sesc, Sesi, Senai and Sebrae), about the mistake of submitting to the Ministry of Culture Tourism and fake news, among other subjects. Read below.

ARTE! – Danilo, we talked exactly one year ago (read here) and at the time you were very concerned about the policies of the current government, with a climate of threat to the artistic class. At the same time, he said that Sesc continued working normally and was even celebrating the opening of the Guarulhos unit. The scenario today is quite different, for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic. I would like to start by asking how you see the moment and how work is going at Sesc-SP.

Danilo Santos de Miranda – Since then, things have changed, they have accelerated. The threats and difficulties from the point of view of culture in general continue and have even increased, insofar as there is this instability, this stir in the issue of public administration in the cultural field. And what is revealed is an absolute lack of politics and effective commitment to a broad vision of culture. Culture has to do with public policy, with national identity, with the intention that one has as a country project. It is not just a matter of dealing with an episodic situation of one of the artistic languages ​​specifically, nor with things that are sometimes more linked to entertainment than to culture. So all this continues to worry me. In this aspect, there is a need for a resumption of what culture is, the importance of culture, the strategic character of culture for the country, for development, for people's lives. Even more so now that we are facing this pandemic, which is very serious, and very transversal, because it concerns everything, human life. Not only the issue of health, but education, coexistence, relationships, people's daily lives, new habits, new rules of coexistence… of culture.

Sesc Pompeia, designed by Lina Bo Bardi. Photo: Disclosure

So there's a lot of uncertainty. What we have ahead of us today is a giant health threat, a financial threat – from an economic point of view, from the lack of resources, employment and living conditions – and the consequences of all this for the normal life of people, where the culture plays a very large role. Culture for me, when we consider it in a more anthropological, broader sense, is not an aspect of life, but the universe in which we are inserted. It concerns our habits, our language, our way of being. And within culture, the arts have that role of being the nobility of the symbolic, that which is higher, which is representation and which gives meaning to things for us. Because it is the only manifestation where you go beyond your purely material condition and go beyond, explore, develop imagination, fantasy, develop that abstract side that is fundamental for the human being, in order to be able to face all realities in life. So culture plays a key role. And it's spoiled.

ARTE! – And within this context of threat, how has Sesc been able to work?

We deal with culture in this very broad sense, as I said. We deal with issues of physical activities, food, health and the issue of the arts. All this is part of our universe, because we are an institution linked to a project of social well-being, of living well. To look for suitable ways for people to get along from an ethical, aesthetic, social, and community point of view. It's not just that individual well-being. Individual well-being only makes sense if you also take into account the other, the one who is also in the place where you are inserted. Sesc then seeks to meet this expectation using the tools at its disposal. In this pandemic moment, we are doing many things through our virtual platforms, with various schedules on social networks, in order to bring people not only information, but entertainment, provocation, debate. We've done musical presentations, monologues, theater, among other things. We held debates on ethics, the insertion of the elderly, food issues, health issues, blackness, disadvantaged groups and so on. So knowledge, science, all of this is part of this effort of dissemination in which we are inserted, where art has a great role.

About visual arts, just now I was talking to our manager for the area, imagining some kind of action that could encourage not only a discussion, but also a manifestation of artists at that moment. So that they have space not exactly to show their art in a common exhibition, but to discover ways for them to also be present at that moment to collaborate with reflection and interact with people at home. Because we have a permanent consumption of art at home and many times we don't even realize it. We wouldn't live completely without art.          

ARTE! – As you say, Sesc's work proposal is very focused on the idea of ​​people's participation, not just contemplation, visitation. How to think about participation at this time when people need to be isolated?

There is an initial thing which is the following: people need to have information. Training, isn't it? Education “for” something. You have a whole perspective of passing on information, of involving people with knowledge. This is the first moment. You become enchanted with something, but from there you learn about it in a deeper way. And in a third stage you get involved to the point of producing something in the same direction. So there are several phases of this involvement process. Without a doubt, participation, that is, this integral involvement – ​​with attraction, knowledge, participation and effective involvement in doing – is part of the process. And we have virtually done something about it. It's very cool, it's very good, but it's not enough. After all, human beings have the issue of personal, face-to-face relationships, inherent to their nature. Therefore, it is important that face-to-face socializing returns as soon as possible. And that sooner or later will happen again, but for now the path is isolation, distance. It's time to stay at home, especially those who have, for some reason, a greater need to isolate themselves. The so-called risk groups. So at this point, there is not much to be involved in at this point in person, but there are virtually resources that have been improved. I have participated in many conferences, debates, discussions. And it's very good, it's come a long way. The pandemic would be much more serious if it weren't for these virtual approximation tools.

ARTE! - It caught my attention sesc portal that, in addition to the disclosure of activities, there is a text featured called "Tips to avoid the 'infodemic', the fake news epidemic”. Is fake news, especially at this moment, one of the biggest enemies in the fight against coronavirus?

They are a great enemy. We have to have our own training to deal with this. With more experience, we start to discipline ourselves a little better, to pay more attention. First at the source. where does it come from? What is the origin? For example, there are thousands of lives happening out there. So the first thing is to see the origin of this immense amount of information. And that helps the debate, the discussion. So, you have to be careful, which you improve based on the knowledge you acquire. We have to do a kind of permanent curation of the information that comes in. And that's what this text on the Sesc website tries to help.

ARTE! – In this sense, in recent years there has been a certain denialism of science, along with conspiracy theories (such as the one that blames the pandemic on China), which have dominated sectors of Brazilian society, and which end up turning what would be a health issue public in a matter of dispute of political narratives. How do you see this?   

Yes, disputes over political narratives, especially partisan ones. I find this regrettable, I think it is a total intellectual indigence. The statement that was made these days by the president - jokingly, but which reveals this a little -, that those on the right consume chloroquine and those on the left consume tubaína, I really regret it. Because it's a total intellectual indigence, a lack of vision of things, and it's creating a very complicated situation. This has to do with fake news. The conspiracy theory issue with China was not even born here, it has to do with a position of the American president himself, who claims that China created it in a dispute for world hegemony. There was also the discussion at the World Health Organization, where the US threatened to take resources, and China said it covered. So there's been an international dispute around this issue, which also has to do with the rise of the right around the world. A right that denies several facts and accuses China. Now, we never know. Tomorrow Trump could lose the elections, in Brazil the situation could change… then everything changes again. So everything can be fleeting. Now, there is a fact: a virus, which we don't have complete information about, that is not under control yet, and it is affecting people's lives. And it's transversal. It is not just a health problem, but concerns the economy, relationships and life around the world, with millions of people infected and thousands of deaths. And Brazil is the champion. There was already a serious economic crisis, we have a very serious political issue, with a president who absolutely denies all this and acts in a wrong way, totally erratic, in every way. It's as serious as a war. 

ARTE! – A year ago you said you were also appalled by the lack of perception of the importance of knowledge, philosophy, science, research, study, arts and culture in society. Does the size of the crisis we are experiencing somehow have to do with all of this, and not just with the spread of a virus?

Exactly. Because if we had taken into account scientific knowledge from the beginning, with great specialists who are there and that Brazil has everywhere, we would probably have taken more radical measures in relation to isolation. even made a lockdown, which seems inevitable.

ARTE! – In a recent interview, philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin emphasizes that this crisis is also a civilizational, existential, social, and planetary crisis, which reminds us that we humans are not separate from the bio-ecological destiny of the planet. Finally, is it time to rethink our models of development, of income distribution, of globalization?

Totally. Morin reaches very precisely, in this analysis, the facts that somehow led to all this. There are some suspicions that this treatment that the human being has given and gives to nature, to the earth, leads to this profound wear and tear. For example, with regard to inappropriate use for the production of food and products, not always suitable for a healthy life. So several factors led to an imbalance. And this issue of these viruses is something that would already be, according to some, predicted that could happen at some point. I'm no expert in the field, but I realize this makes sense. So the exploitation of natural resources taken to the extreme, in addition to dealing with issues such as global warming, which is already a real fact, has consequences for biological life in general, for the lives of visible and invisible beings on earth. So I think this shows inadequate exploitation in the first place. And secondly, it shows the imbalance, inequality, lack of social equity. In other words, what is happening in Brazil is much more serious than what happened in Europe. There it was serious, here it will be very serious. Because here inequality, poverty, misery and the lack of sanitary conditions are much greater.

SESC Guarulhos. Photo: Adauto Perin.

ARTE! - And then, exactly at a time like these, the Brazilian government tries once again to cut resources from the S System…

So it is. At a time when institutions that deal with these issues are most needed, not exactly from the point of view of providing material resources, but dealing with the issue of debate, discussion, information, education and culture, so that we can win it all. I think that if it were a more prepared country, with a better level of education, you would have people more easily convinced of the need to take action. The most conscientious people are those who are most informed. So it is essential that those who deal with information, knowledge, culture and education – not only in the school sense, but in the broad, permanent sense – be preserved. Because it's essential.

ARTE! – At least the cut was stopped, at least for now…  

Yes, but it's a permanent threat. The first thing they always think about is affecting the S System.      

ARTE! – A lot is said about the “world after”, the world that will come after the pandemic. Indigenous leader Ailton Krenak even wrote that if “we return to normality, it is because the death of thousands of people all over the world has been worthless”, that is, we have learned nothing. What do you think we can expect from this future?

I agree with Krenak. In other words, the “new normal” will at least require people to be invited to be more supportive. It doesn't mean that they will be more supportive, but they will be invited to do so. First, because a threat like this is for everyone. Then, because you are totally dependent on the other to be able to stay healthy. So it is almost an obligatory, indispensable solidarity. If you are not supportive, you run the risk of getting sick, of being threatened. So let's say that solidarity is being imposed, in quotes, as a condition of life from now on. And the most powerful people will have to think twice before wielding any kind of power. They will have to take into account questions such as: who is excluded? Why is it excluded? Why don't people have access? What is needed for them to have access and be incorporated? The second aspect is that we will have to review habits. For example, while there is no vaccine, we will have to review agglomeration habits. How are we going to get people together to see a movie, a theater or a concert? We're going to have to push people away in a way that's going to be extremely difficult from a practical, architectural point of view… So it's going to be a huge challenge. What will the “new face-to-face” look like, in addition to the virtual environment? Will it be with the use of masks? Of special clothes? There is a lot to discover…

ARTE! – Going back a little to national policy issues, we just had another change in the culture department, with the departure of Regina Duarte. In less than a year and a half of Bolsonaro’s government, we had the demotion of Culture from ministry to secretary…

What was once a serious sign…

ARTE! – Yes, and now we will come to the fifth name that assumes the folder. What does this demonstrate about the value given to culture by the government?

It shows that it doesn't matter. That it is just a bureaucracy, devoid of any relevant fact that justifies its presence in a government apparatus. This is very evident from the start. Subordinating Culture to the Ministry of Tourism, for example, is an absolute lack of vision, including a strategic one. It is to understand culture only as entertainment or an element of tourist attraction for a country, a society. As something devoid of weight and importance from the point of view of education, of the economy – because, yes, culture has a fundamental role in the economy. And when you expand the concept of culture, in the fullest sense, it is tourism that is subordinated to culture. So, there is even a lack of theoretical foundation to understand the role of each one in this process. What happens is very serious.

ARTE! – Now, if the secretaries who passed did not leave an important legacy for the culture, they managed to at least make some noise, see Regina Duarte's recent interview with CNN or the speech in which Roberto Alvim paraphrased a speech by Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Has generating controversy been the great legacy of these secretaries so far?

This has a curious side. As much as they try to take away the importance of culture, reduce its meaning, it continues to attract attention. Because there is a certain intention to reduce the importance of culture. And somehow, by talking a lot about this reduction, attention is drawn to the matter. It seems that sometimes it backfires. They try so hard to make it clear that it's not important, that they end up giving it importance. Because it is important. Culture is not a complementary fact in people's lives, it is where people are inserted in their daily lives. Culture is more than the arts. It's just that they understand culture just like the arts, which, although it's very important, it's still not enough.

ARTE! - Some even consider that culture is being treated in an even worse way than it was during the military dictatorship…

The military did not get involved that way in matters of culture. There was the very serious issue of censorship, there is nothing to say. But there are many ways to do censorship. And one of them is to reduce, or eliminate, those who produce something that can be censored. So at that time artists produced and were censored. Now, the idea is that artists can't even produce properly, because they don't have incentives, mechanisms...

But look, regardless of all that, I would like to ask a question that is fundamental to me. Culture is very broad, it is much more serious and more important than any government can imagine. And it will exist regardless of the will of governments, whether they favor it or harm it. Because it is inherent in human life. It is part of human production. You go anywhere in this country, or in the world, they are producing culture permanently. And not only the culture that becomes a product – like a song, a literature -, but the culture that is the necessary human expression in communication, in narrative, in everyday life, in memories, in memory. There is no memory without culture. Then you will never be able to destroy it ever, ever. As much as they try.

ARTE! – And how is it possible to imagine an improvement, a transformation, at this moment?

It's not easy, but I'm a fervent optimist, always have been. You can't pretend that everything is fine, especially when we look to the side and see people falling, dying, affected by this pandemic. Now, I hope, first, that this need for effective solidarity will awaken in the world. And I think that there may be an important recovery, as we will also find ways to control the pandemic. Regarding the life of a country like ours, whether from a political or economic point of view, there are forces that can oppose what is there and that can develop this country of ours for real. At some point, the economy will recover, Brazil will grow up ahead, and we hope that this situation will change. We have already lived through serious moments, we have been through dictatorships in the past, especially this last one (1964-1985) that killed many people, prohibited, censored, oppressed. And passed. And this current situation will also pass one hour, because the majority of the population realizes either the mistake they made or the effective need to change based on what is happening. So I hope that, in the medium or long term, we will change this situation and return to a more positive path. We have to create another possible world, a new normal, a new perspective that will come around. Childbirth is hard, difficult, painful, but I have the impression that we will get through this.

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