Eduardo Saron, director of Itaú Cultural, during a seminar organized by arte!brasileiros and by IC in 2019. Photo: Disclosure
Eduardo Saron, director of Itaú Cultural, during a seminar organized by arte!brasileiros and by IC in 2019. Photo: Disclosure

DDirector of Instituto Itaú Cultural (IC) for ten years, Eduardo Saron believes that “from now on, we will have to find a new normal, or rather, a new reality”. During and after the crisis with the new coronavirus, in an extremely affected cultural and economic ecosystem, “institutions that have the ability to respond and take risks to help design this new real will stand out.”

In an email interview with arte!brasileiros, Saron, who has also been one of the directors of MAM-SP since 2019, states that “paradoxically, the post-corona period will bring about a humanization of society, which, in turn, will demand the strengthening of science, the advancement of education and the expansion of artistic work. We, who are intimately connected to the world of knowledge, will need to be ready to respond to this desire.”

With a series of initiatives on its digital platforms (read more), the IC launched in recent weeks emergency notices aimed at artists from different areas, from music, poetry, performing and visual arts. Asked if the edicts could not encourage a harmful competitive mentality at this time of crisis, Saron argues that the initiative “proposes to welcome part of the artists subject to acting alone and without remuneration in this period of social suppression”, helping “to offer liquidity to the economy of culture in this critical period”.

The IC director also spoke about the need for cultural institutions to make a leap from the idea of ​​democratization – “where the metrics of success have become the ratchet” – to that of participation, where the tripod “training, promotion and enjoyment” gains space . He also criticizes the lack of a State policy for Culture and highlights the importance of preserving memory. Read the full conversation below:

ARTE! - We are living through an unprecedented moment in history, due to the coronavirus pandemic, so I would like to start by asking how you are dealing with this at Itaú Cultural? How are they acting and what kind of planning are they doing?

In this period of pandemic, one of our first measures was to guarantee the social suspension of Itaú Cultural employees, who are working remotely. On another front, we launched a series of actions to expand our digital operations, offering more art and culture to our different audiences in the virtual environment.

One of our concerns was also to keep the culture economy active. In this sense, another measure that we immediately adopted was to guarantee, for now, the remuneration provided for in the contracts of all artists who were going to perform at Itaú Cultural and had their activities suspended due to the quarantine. Subsequently, they will be part of our programming schedule again. Within this thought, we still create emergency notices that welcome the production of artists currently subject to working in this condition of social suppression.

I confess that planning is not an easy task. I have talked a lot with the team and sought guidance from the president of Itaú Cultural, Alfredo Setubal. Like everyone else, we had to reinvent ourselves and reorganize our resources, not only financial, but also organizational and human, since, despite the unique situation that Itaú Cultural has, we are part of this cultural and economic ecosystem, which is currently extremely affected.

ART! – The IC has just launched the third emergency public notice for cultural productions created during the pandemic, related to this period of social isolation. I would like you to talk a little about the purpose of these notices, more specifically the visual arts and photography, and the importance of the initiative at this time.

Itaú Cultural has a strong tradition of issuing public notices and calls for funding. For example, the Rumos Itaú Cultural program, which for more than 20 years has promoted support for artistic production and the dissemination of art and culture among registered projects from all over the country and selected by committees of excellence, or the a_ponte: university theater scene, which we launched in 2018, aimed at students of various educational profiles. These experiences always surprise us by revealing new productions and artists.

We decided to launch these emergency micro-edits for this reason, coupled with the fact that we need to help provide liquidity for the culture economy in this critical period. In addition to, of course, offering affective creative oxygen to the people who virtually accompany us on our channels.

We started with performing arts, with the challenge of this language to generate virtual actions. A week later, we moved on to the field of music and now we've opted for the visual arts. Not only does this initiative lead to a record of how art is being made at this historic moment, but the institution also proposes to welcome part of the artists subject to acting alone and without remuneration in this period of social suppression. Our aim is to launch a public notice per week and cover as many areas of artistic expression as possible.  

ARTE! – In a text published in the magazine Select, entitled “Stop competition now”, the artists and researchers Flora Leite and Daniel Jablonski question the role of this type of incentive in the current context. They argue, among other things, that the stimulus to production during the quarantine increases the pressure on artists, as if it were urgent to create an “imaginary of the crisis”; that it can result in the creation of works of dubious quality; and that encourages a competitive mindset that rewards productivity as the only bargaining chip. Anyway, they propose that there are other ways to support the work of artists at this time. What do you think about this?

As I mentioned at the beginning, we have a tradition of holding public notices in multiple areas of expression, something that was consolidated under Milu Villela's management. Associated with this, we have noticed an intense artistic diffusion taking place on virtual platforms at that moment. Our intention is to offer more dignity to production and artistic thinking in a period like this, even knowing that, naturally, we have limited scales to be able to do this kind of support.

Public notices have always been welcome in Brazil, legitimately consolidating themselves over the years as an objective mechanism to support art and culture projects carried out in the country. We are not able to respond to all the proposals in circulation. In this moment of urgency, they allow us to establish criteria to keep the culture economy running. 

As in every moment of crisis, artistic and intellectual production naturally intensifies. When we move away from this historic moment, we will have, in my view, two issues to be observed. The first is which readings, analyzes and artistic provocations were forceful to the point of overflowing the very time of the coronavirus. In the second, we will be able to observe what was fragile and did not remain, becoming just a record of a pandemic.

ARTE! – In a text recently published in Folha de S.Paulo, artist and professor Giselle Beiguelman stated that after a month of isolation it is possible to see that cultural institutions in general are still in the “stone age” of the internet. Who were caught completely unprepared, without good content created for the web. I would like to know how you see this issue in general and in the specific case of Itaú Cultural.

The artistic-cultural activity has, by nature, a modus operandi of aggregation of people. In fact, it is something that is in line with, or was in line with, the pre-corona. However, I consider very strong the statement that Brazilian institutions are in the stone age of the internet, after all this period was limited to the propagation of texts only. I see that many cultural institutions have not only overcome this phase, but also reached spaces for interaction with their audience through courses, educational paths, broadcasting of programming; all in the virtual field. From now on, we will have to find a new normal, or rather, a new reality. In this sense, institutions that have the ability to provide answers and take risks to help design this new real will stand out.

In our case, we are committed to seeking these answers. It's not easy and maybe we still make a lot of mistakes, because nothing will ever be the same again. At this moment, we are, more than ever, rediscovering the origins of Itaú Cultural. The organization was created to be a visual arts database, which today is part of the Enciclopédia de Arte e Cultura Brasileira. Today we are much more than that, but this pandemic has made us look carefully at our original mission, pointed out by Olavo Setubal more than 30 years ago when he created Itaú Cultural. Let's deepen our performance in digital.

ARTE! – I imagine it was something planned long before the quarantine, but you have just launched the Data Panel of the Itaú Cultural Observatory, a digital platform dedicated to the analysis of data on culture and the creative economy. I would like you to briefly explain what it is and the importance of a project like this, unprecedented in Brazil.

This question allows me to continue answering the previous one, because, although we have been developing this Data Panel for more than eight months, it reinforces our vocation of producing material through digital means. The Data Panel is an open and unprecedented tool, which allows researching indicators of employment, companies, public financing and international trade of creative products and services, to subsidize research, market agents and the formulation of public policies. This is the first digital platform in the country entirely dedicated to data analysis on culture and the creative economy. The project aims to provide visitors with an arsenal of data on these sectors, in three main areas: employment/companies, public financing and import and export of products and services. For the execution of this Data Panel, approximately 10,4 million data were processed, from various public sources, such as IBGE, RAIS, the Ministry of Economy and PNAD Contínua.

ARTE! – Still in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, in recent times we have seen a series of layoffs in museums such as Serralves, MoMA and others. Is there any risk of this happening at Itaú Cultural?

Institutions, in Brazil and in the world, will undergo a profound reorganization, including opening a debate on their mission and purpose. Of course, this will not be noticed now, right away. However, later on we will understand and live this as an effect of this new normal, this new real. The layoffs that some institutions carry out today are certainly part of a program that includes survival itself. In our case, we have a different situation, but we remain attentive to the economic situation and the new models that will come.

Itaú Cultural's headquarters, on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. Photo: Edouard Fraipont

ARTE! – In a recent debate held by the arte!brasileiros and through Itaú Cultural you analyzed the situation of cultural management in Brazil in the last two decades and spoke of the need to move from the idea of ​​“democratization” of access to culture to the idea of ​​“participation”. I would like you to explain a little bit what this “leap” would be and what exactly this idea of ​​participation you speak of means.

In the last 30 years, cultural policies have been guided by the great purpose of democratizing access. This was fundamental so that we could increase the scale of the public reached, multiply stages and expand the Brazilian artistic and cultural diffusion. To give you an idea of ​​what this means, in 1995, the relevant exhibition that generated a large audience attracted almost 200 thousand people. It was Rodin's show, at that time promoted by the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, when Emanuel Araújo ran the house. The audience record was applauded by critics and recognized by the media. Recently, MASP brought in a Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral, and had an audience of almost 500 people.

The democratization of access is here to stay, but we need to think of a new purpose, in which democratization is part of it, but not an end in itself.  My criticism of this concept is that, as the center of our orientation, over the years, it has generated a distortion in our performance. We started to be guided by an analog location of the CEP, where the metrics of success became the turnstile, the spectacularization of the art and the new buildings. These three factors end up pushing cultural management into a dangerous field of entertainment in which the volume of people, fireworks and new equipment were used to  respond, in a superficial way, to the theme instead of thinking about Brazilian culture and art as a whole.  All this, legitimized by the distortion of what, in fact, is the democratization of access. Obviously these three items are relevant, but, as I said, they cannot be the big metric.  In relation to new buildings, of course, I am not against the emergence of cultural facilities, on the contrary, as long as they are created with a real institutional need and with a sustainability plan for their maintenance after opening.

In my view, the main purpose of a cultural institution and of a cultural policy has to reach another level, in which the democratization of access must be a part, but the main purpose must be the participation of the subjects. This repositions us as responsible, through art and culture, for the transformation of society and for contributing to its economic development. For example, we have to have, in a more consistent way, a training, fruition and promotion program. With this, the public, the production and the artists are intertwined under another perspective, which is the exchange of repertoires, the dialogue between contents and the interaction of people. This set becomes much more relevant than the simple availability of content.

ARTE! – Now, I was also thinking about how it is possible to deal with this idea of ​​participation in this moment of quarantine… Despite the impossibility of the physical presence of visitors, is it still possible to guide the work from this idea of ​​participation?

Returning to the idea of ​​the tripod formation, promotion and fruition, an important set of these actions can be carried out in a virtual way. Naturally, we have the challenge of overcoming a low speed and high cost internet for the most needy population. On the other hand, this provokes us to offer products and programs that are not simply a transfer of in-person actions to the digital universe.

The paradigm shift, the answer to be given soon, is how to do digital programming to take it to face-to-face and not the other way around. By the way, this criticism of mine, in particular, about the turnstile and the spectacularization will be even more forceful in post-corona times when gathering crowds, unfortunately, will have to be rethought. In my view, none of this will weaken us. Paradoxically, the post-corona period will bring about a humanization of society, which, in turn, will demand the strengthening of science, the advancement of education and the expansion of artistic practice. We, who are intimately connected to the world of knowledge, will need to be ready to respond to this desire.

ARTE! – Talking about IC's work over the decades, some projects are very important in this institution's trajectory. One of them is Rumos, which is over 20 years old and is a project to support and promote culture. Returning a little to the subject of public notices, to what extent is the role of private companies to promote culture in the country? Would this path be an alternative to the absence of state support in the area?

Art and culture cannot be held hostage by cultural leadership, from whatever source. In my opinion, the multiplicity of public and private resources and initiatives is essential to have a good State policy. Itaú Unibanco has a history of supporting art and culture, which is manifested through Itaú Cultural, Espaço Itaú de Cinema, which receive direct resources from the group, as well as direct sponsorship of initiatives such as Rock in Rio. It also supports more than 100 third-party projects across the country, through tax incentives.

In addition to the Rumos program you mentioned, we have the largest collection of corporate artwork in Latin America. It circulates through various cultural institutions in and outside Brazil for free, as are all the activities that Itaú Cultural offers. This understanding results from the perception that the XNUMXst century requires more and more creative people with a critical sense so that the country can transform and develop. Art and culture have the strength to make this happen, otherwise we will succumb to automation and algorithms.

ARTE! – You have stated several times that Brazil does not have a consistent policy for the arts, for culture. The artistic class, however, does not seem to have felt so threatened at any other time in the country's recent history as in the current context, with the current federal government. How do you see this moment?

In fact, Brazil does not have a State policy for our area. It's not from today. For seven years now, the National Culture Fund, a very important instrument in the constitution of a consistent cultural policy, has seen its budget successively reduced, despite having a secure source of funds from the lotteries, which would generate around R$350 million to R$400 million for the fund.

This year marks the end of the first decade of the National Culture Plan, which is an important reference document for our sector due to its novelty and federative outlook, but it is fragile in terms of its goals. Mistakenly, the PNC indicates more than 50 goals. A plan with an exaggerated number of goals makes us imagine that it has practically no goals. In my view, this government should prioritize the analysis of these goals and, in dialogue with society, propose new and more objective priorities for the next decade, from the perspective of participation and a systemic view of the set of cultural initiatives and the guarantee of freedom. of expression.

Another indication of vulnerability in public policies is the fact that in the 30 years of existence of a governing body of culture, we had, on average, one person in charge every 10 months, with the exception of Francisco Weffort, who remained in office for eight years, and by Gilberto Gil, for five and a half years. All this without even counting the historical fragility of Funarte, in theory the public institution that should be responsible for promoting art in Brazil.

ARTE! – But talking about this current government, situations of censorship, which in general seemed to be part of the country's history, are back on the agenda of the day, creating situations of tension for artists and cultural institutions. As director of an institution of this type, how to work in this context? Is there a concern in this regard on the part of the IC?       

For us, freedom of expression is an essential prerequisite for artistic creation, but it is always important to seek dialogue with other legal instruments, such as the Statute of Children and Adolescents. With this, the work and art are guaranteed and preserved, but parents and guardians must be properly informed about the reasons for indicating the age group, so that they can decide whether or not children can access that content.

ARTE! – Finally, one of the main focuses of the IC has been working with history and memory. This relates not only to the history of the dictatorship, but also to slavery, indigenous and African heritages and the various periods in the country's history. What is the importance of this work and how has it been done?

The country barely has policies to preserve its memory. We are very fond of the new, the immediate, but there is no innovation without conservation. Therefore, dealing with our memory is crucial for us to understand ourselves and our development process, in order to gain awareness of our various trajectories to even propose not only multiple narratives, but also to prepare ourselves for the originality and the new. .

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