Yole Mendonça, director of EAV Parque Lage. Photo: Renan Lima

EIn the midst of the huge crisis that has taken hold of most cultural institutions in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and the growing government disregard for the area – at least one positive aspect seems to have arisen from the context of social isolation in recent months. . With closed doors and a forced migration of their activities to the virtual environment, institutions that reached only a local audience had a significant increase in the demand for visitors or students from the most varied regions of Brazil – and sometimes even foreigners.

This is the case of the Parque Lage Visual Arts School (EAV Park Lage), one of the most important free art schools in the country, according to the new director of the institution, Yole Mendonça. In the already traditional July vacation courses, now held virtually, “we were surprised, because among the 200 students in the 12 courses offered, we had  people from 18 different states,” she says. “And we discovered that EAV has a strength, a national power. For a visual arts class, this contact with other cultures is something very rich.”

The consequence was the school's decision to definitively expand the institution's activities to online, even when face-to-face courses return, offering courses and exhibitions both locally and on the web. In an interview with arte!brasileiros, Mendonça, who took over the school board a few days before the quarantine was declared, also spoke about the work in recent months and about the controversy of Fabio Szwarcwald's dismissal at the end of 2019. “Fabio is a great friend, a person who He even endorsed my going. I think this controversy that took place was more from the point of view of the public manager who managed it than from Fabio himself. I found a well run school. The work that was done there is admirable”, says Mendonça about the current director of MAM Rio.

Working now with the new Secretary of Culture of the State, Danielle Christian Ribeiro Barros, Mendonça says that the relationship is harmonious and one of mutual respect. In the conversation, she also spoke about the historical role of resistance of the EAV, created by Rubens Gerchman in the 1970s, and about the need to address issues such as the environment, racism, gender and social inequality.

Regarding careful financial management in times of crisis, which included the temporary need for salary cuts for employees, Mendonça says that the amounts have already been recomposed. She also celebrates the number of 502 students already enrolled for the courses this semester and says that the project for next year is to offer scholarships with remuneration so that students in situations of social vulnerability can attend EAV. Read the full interview below.


ARTE! – You took over the direction of EAV Parque Lage almost at the beginning of the quarantine, at a very complicated time in Brazil and in the world. I would like you to tell us a little about this process and how it has been possible to work from there to here?

I took office on March 11 and two days later came the decree that everything had to close. It was an absolutely unique moment. Because I've headed other places, I've worked with other teams, I'm used to changing work environments, but I've never been in a situation where I've met people in person for a maximum of 48 hours. So it's very strange, because when we talk about management there is a whole need for empathy, for knowledge of people's mental model, and suddenly you have to work with intuiting a little. If it were under normal conditions of temperature and pressure, it would be difficult, but at a time like this, when we were experiencing a total closure of all activities, with social isolation, it was something really impactful. For everyone, of course. So one thing I wanted to do – it was difficult, but I had the help of a very collaborative team – was to study EAV Parque Lage, its origin, its history, its tradition, where the school is on its way and where to go. where do you want to go. And all this was done remotely.

ARTE! -  And what is the result of this study?      

The School does not receive public funds, but its management is the result of a technical cooperation agreement with the Secretary of State. So it is managed by an association of friends (AMEAV) and its financial contribution even comes from the collection that this association is able to sponsor. One thing I was sure of was that we couldn't stop, because we have a contingent of 50 teachers. EAV was in its second week of classes, with almost 50 courses, with 450 students enrolled. And then you had to come up with a solution for that. And we didn't have the ability to adapt to online teaching in place, there wasn't that. So we created a management group, with the school curator, Ulisses Carrilho, the administrative-financial manager, who is Celina Martins, the Heritage and Purchasing manager, Fabio Augusto Lopes, and André Marques, from the Department of Culture. And this became a group for shared discussions and decision-making, also in dialogue with the entire teaching and administrative team. And the first thing we established was that we needed to create a possibility for the work to continue.

And in this sense, an amazing thing about being a visual arts school is that our teachers are artist teachers, and we were able to count on their creative, innovative and resilient capacity. So we asked the professors the question of how to move the activities online, and they brought their adapted menus to the platforms they found convenient and possible. Not everyone succeeded, as a matter of course. Because it is difficult for you to migrate a 3D sculpture workshop to online, for example. It is difficult to migrate a workshop that requires direct contact with the object and direct interaction with students. But even so, in 15 days we managed to put 26 courses on the air. And I say this with great joy, also because my role in this is very small. It is a work of creation and inventiveness of the teachers.

ARTE! – And what did you do with the courses that did not go online?

To partially compensate for this absence, we also created a work that was a proposal for teachers to create short videos, of about 8 minutes, so that we could make them available on our YouTube and on the school's website. Videos about exactly this theme that we are living, about time, about time and art, about time and the artist. It's a reflection for a time when we needed to stop. And it was very rich, they have fantastic videos. But we still lose students, of course, and keep about half of them. We have another issue, a singularity, which is the fact that we are in a park, which was closed until July 9th. And you don't close a park like you close a house, because the park is alive, full of animals inside. And the animals took over. Monkeys, wild dogs, snakes and birds began to roam around. We weren't there, but we had to manage. And we also started to show this on our social networks, these animals, because Rio has a very affective relationship with Parque Lage, it's a place that people love. It was a time when we experienced many things. And today, as an EAV manager, I feel very close to the team, although I haven't seen some people for months. But we started to share a lot of anguish, afflictions, uncertainties, because this is the current moment. And I always have the attitude of saying “look, I don't have all the answers, we'll find the answers together”. And I think we had a lot of successes because of that.

Aerial photo of Parque Lage. Photograph. Felipe Azevedo

ARTE! – And the courses then continue online, with no prospect of returning in person? How is this planning?

So far yes. And there was an interesting thing with this online experience. In July, the month in which the school historically takes summer courses – and then we were more prepared – the teachers created a series of online courses. And we had a surprise, because we had 200 students in 12 courses, with people from 18 different states, in an expansion made possible by the virtual. And we discovered that EAV has a strength, a national power. So we started working on that reality. The teachers were delighted, because they started to have students with other accents and very varied life experiences. And for a visual arts class, this contact with other cultures is something very rich.

ARTE! – And do you intend, based on this experience, to continue with online courses even when it is possible to resume face-to-face courses?

Yes. Now, in planning for 2021, we are thinking about having both the localized, face-to-face experience and the online EAV. So there are many possibilities. For example, we can create a project in which online students can do a type of residency here, because the school experience, with the forest, is also something that we today perceive as very powerful. Even because of this moment that we live, in which the attack on the forests we are living impacts all of us. And this asset is something that I consider one of the biggest risks we take. Because this type of attack is irreversible. All the other losses that we are having, I think we have the capacity to rebuild, to fight, but not the environment. He is bigger than us. And so we feel very responsible for giving an answer in the sense of valuing what we have, which is this coexistence with the forest. 

ARTE! – And in the physical space you always had exhibitions and other activities. What are the plans in this regard for the near future?

In fact we are planning both online and in-person exhibitions. I mean, we are already working online as something embedded. So we want to have four exhibitions next year, two online and two in person. And in this we always work with students, or former students, or with themes that deal with EAV issues. In the virtual exhibitions we will also follow in this direction. 

ARTE! – In a lecture last year, Fabio Szwarcwald spoke a lot about the attempt to bring EAV closer and closer to the periphery and favelas, to the poorest population in the city of Rio. Does this follow as a goal?

Yes, it follows. We even have the plan to create a Training and Deformation Program in which we will give scholarships, with a project especially aimed at students from the periphery, students who have some kind of vulnerability in relation to this issue of training. This was hampered in the 2020 planning, but in 2021 it happens again. Our idea is to create at EAV the possibility not only of gratuity, but for students to even receive scholarships to study art, which is normally a prohibitive type of training for those who cannot afford to support themselves. Fabio was already coming in this direction, we remain with that and we recognize that it is one of the pillars of the school today, to be a differential of the school. I mean, we create conditions to give the same training to students who can afford it and to those who don't have this condition, but who have all the conditions to become a wonderful artist and a representative of our art.

ARTE! – Thinking about the environmental issue you mentioned, there are a number of other extremely current themes that are increasingly present in political, cultural and artistic debates, such as structural racism, indigenous causes and gender issues. Is there a concern to insert these themes more strongly into EAV activities and courses? And does bringing a greater diversity of students, from different social classes and regions of the country, help in this regard?

Yes, including exposure Queermuseu gave that tone a lot. But it is important to say that this is at the origin of EAV. The school, created by Rubens Gerchman, has already emerged with this line of existence and resistance. And when I arrived, one of the things I did was read the school's history. And I even came across a book that will be released at EAV, which was organized by Clara Gerchman, Isabella Nunes and Sergio Cohn, about Rubens Gerchman's early years at EAV. And when reading this book I realized that these themes are already from the origin of the school. We also recently held a meeting with the professors and one of the new things we are bringing is a proposal to form working groups with professors and people from the administration. One of these groups is exactly about diversity, in the broadest way you can see it, gender, race… So we want to expand that at school. Another group that we are putting together is dedicated to the reoccupation of the building. In other words, when we come back, whether at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, how are we going to come back? In addition to all the sanitary and health requirements, we want to think about how the building is occupied today and how we, teachers and staff, think it should be from now on. Also because we have a visitation of over 50 thousand people a year, and we need to deal with it, think about how to attract these people who go there because of the tourist spot that is the park. We want these people to see the school, see the art there.   

ARTE! – We talk about Fabio here a few times, so I think it's important to ask about it. You enter after the troubled departure of the last director, with a very controversial exoneration, in which he received the solidarity of even a large part of the artistic class. Is it difficult to get into context? I mean, how do you position yourself in relation to that?

See, Fabio is a great friend, a person who even endorsed my trip. So there is no problem with this issue. I have the greatest admiration and respect for him. I think this controversy that took place was more from the point of view of the public manager who managed it than from Fabio himself. I found a well run school. I didn't find any problems there. So today the situation is very different not because there was a change, a rupture, but because there was a pandemic in between. But the work that was done there is admirable work. And I think Fabio is doing a great job at MAM, and we are partners. So what happened was an issue there with public management, which also changed (Ruan Lira left and Danielle Christian Ribeiro Barros joined). And today the relationship is different. I consider myself respected, things are going very smoothly, even because there are other agents in the secretariat. And I follow with a lot of tranquility and autonomy.

ARTE! – In the more than four decades of EAV Parque Lage, the institution has gone through several phases, some more prosperous, others troubled, financial crises, recovery. Anyway, I would like you to talk a little about the current moment of the School, about its sustainability in this difficult time.

Look, there were a series of inferences about how AMEAV and EAV would be financially at that moment of rupture. But what I found was a comfortable situation. Of course, at the moment, when everyone is going through a situation of broken expectations, of plans that have not been carried out, we are managing the school's finances very carefully and responsibly. So we work with a very safe and controlled budget, we don't take a bigger step than we can. At first, we reduced salaries, including to maintain activities, but we are now back to normal, because we have already realized the way in which this can be done, how things are already being organized. So we are in a line of guaranteeing sustainability for the school throughout this more delicate process that we are going through, where sponsorship is more difficult, where the possibilities are fewer. But we are also imagining that even because of this national visibility that we are achieving, in 2021 we will have good sponsors. Because our sponsor will have national visibility, he will be able to work with us on all these diversity issues that we are proposing. And we have projects related to the issue of the environment, to the issue of physical and mental health. And always being a resistant, questioning school, as every art school needs to be, posing these gender, race, and social issues that the pandemic brought even more to the forefront. Because the poor are the ones who lose the most jobs, who don't have access to good hospitals, who dies the most. And we want to bring up all these questions and put them as a point of discussion, of reflection, and deliver to society artists and works of art that can translate this.

ARTE! – Finally, one last question about the political context. EAV works with the environment, education and culture, three of the areas that seem to be the most affected, or even attacked, by the current federal government. How do you see this situation and how to work in this context?

Art has always worked along this line of questioning. Historically, it has always pointed out the fragility of more totalitarian, more closed discourses. That's what art is. And an art school cannot be different. So what we propose to the students, and the teachers do this with mastery, is to reflect on it, to point out these weaknesses. And also to point out the power that a country like ours has, the power that has a classroom with 20 people from ten different states. What doesn't come out of a discussion like this? What art paths do you have there? So we are in a line of resistance, making it clear that we are going to bring students who historically, socially, would not be able to attend our classes, we are going to provide that for them, create scholarships, remunerate students so that they can exchange with us. And for us to learn from them the experiences they have. Because it's an exchange. We are not doing anything because we are cool, but because it is a debt that exists, socially, historically. So let's provide this dialogue in 2021. Democratize access. Finally, another thing I think is cool to talk about is the Memória Lage project, which rescues the history of the school since its formation. And we started to raise this memory and put it on the internet, on social networks. We want to take this further because this is the memory of a democratic construction. It has to do with the history of democracy in Brazil. So this is important, powerful and super current. 

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