Priscila Arantes is artistic director and curator of Paço das Artes, in addition to teaching at PUC-SP.

Since the beginning of 2016, when the Paço das Artes was evicted from the space it occupied at the University of São Paulo (USP), there has been a sense of uncertainty as to what the institution's future would be. A year later, it started to occupy a room at the entrance of the MIS-SP (Museu da Imagem e do Som), while internally it articulated itself in the search for a new headquarters.

Only last year, this issue had a substantial development, when it was announced that the house Nhonhô Magalhães, in Higienópolis, would be the new headquarters. Since then, the institution's team has been working on transferring its activities there. The opening already has a date and schedule: an individual by Regina Silveira that will open on January 25, 2020.

The process over the four years of searching for a new place to call home was not, however, easy. This is what the artistic director and curator Priscila Arantes says, in charge of Paço das Artes. “People say, 'Oh, I'm glad you waited.' No, I didn't wait. It was a job that we conquered as a team”, she says in an interview with ARTE!Brasileiros, reproduced in full below.

In the conversation, Priscila tells about the period between 2016 and the end of 2019, but also comments on future planning, with the strengthening of the Project Season, an international artistic residency and the process of musealization of Paço das Artes. In addition, she discusses the possibilities of cultural management from the expanded perspective of understanding the museum and the struggle of women at the head of cultural institutions.

ARTE!Brasileiros: I would like to start by asking you to tell us a little more about the eviction at USP in 2016.
Priscilla Arantes: That was quite traumatic. In fact, it is a process that we are only able to reverse now, after four years. Of course, at the time there was always a certain specter of the possibility of Paço leaving there. Due to the fact that, historically, the Paço does not have a definitive headquarters. Still, it took us by surprise. We had been there for almost 20 years, with very serious work, a powerful work. We were in a very ascending moment of Paço das Artes in terms of audience, because exactly there it was a very interesting place to be inside USP, Cidade Universitária, which allowed us many partnerships. A wonderful space, which was a Jorge Wilheim building, so it was a big space. On the other hand, it was a complicated space, because it was far away. Anyway, it took us by surprise. It was all very fast. The request for us to leave there was made at the last minute. We still managed to negotiate to stay longer, even because we already had a commitment to develop an exhibition, which was our last there, by Harun Farocki. But another exhibition that was already scheduled, which was that of Lenora de Barros, we had to do at the Oswald de Andrade Cultural Workshop. So that moment was very traumatic for the team in general. We had demonstrations, petitions for us to stay.

It was very tough. It was a demand from the Secretary of State for Culture at the time. We were in a moment of public expansion, with the annual program already closed. So, as much as we knew that the contract existed, that it was an exchange with the State Department of Health, it is always a surprise. Would we get out of there and then? There was no place. At that moment, there was nothing in concrete terms of a new possibility of headquarters. What was said is that we had to leave because we had to return the space to the Health Department, because they were possibly going to use the space for a vaccine factory, something that never happened. When we left, the space was very empty. Only more recently has it been taken up by more administrative issues. Anyway, there was no speech at that moment in the sense of putting ourselves in a new place, or even that soon we would be given a new space. It was leaving without knowing exactly what the near future would be. There was only one statement that, possibly, together with the Health Department, they would verify a space for the Paço. This also never came to fruition. We later had meetings, where the possibility was that we would go to a space that was an old ambulance parking lot in Bom Retiro. We even went to a meeting there, but it never happened. Then we started a work of struggle to, in fact, get a new space.

The feeling I have is that it's like a rug being pulled. The issue was never quality of work. We always had a very small budget allocation for our programming, and even so we managed to work. Paço has always been in a very complex situation, but even with this little budget, we worked as a team to expand this program. So we made a lot of partnerships.

Now Paço gains a headquarters in Higienópolis. How was that and what were the attempts during that period?
We started four years of struggle. Because these four years between 2016 and 2020, when the new space is scheduled to open, were the result of a lot of struggle. It was a period, on the one hand, of learning to survive in adversity, because it has been very complex. On the other hand, it was an achievement. People say, "Oh, I'm glad you waited." No, I didn't wait. It was a job we conquered as a team.

When we realized that there was, in fact, no sign that a new place would be made available for us after the eviction, we were in limbo for two years. There were two years in which movements were made internally. I went after a space there in Praça Victor Civita, a movement made internally by us at the Social Organization. But it wasn't something from the Secretariat. We saw some possibilities to rent warehouses, but we didn't have the budget, because when we left USP we also had a budget cut that practically only paid employees. So you can't go because you don't have a budget, but at the same time you need to find a place. It is an equation that does not close. We also went to see a space in Vila Mariana, but it also didn't work because of the budget. Two years ago, there began to be a movement on the part of the Secretary of State for Culture, with this signal that we were going to go to this space where we are going now. One person who was very important within the secretariat was Regina Ponte, who was fundamental in this process. So, a year ago, we actually put this contract into effect.

It was a mixture of struggle, resistance and at the same time having to continue to develop our work during this period. The Palace could have simply been closed. But there was a movement of the public near the Paço, and also the resistance of our work, of the quality of the work we do.

View of the facade of the Casarão Nhonhô Magalhães, which after restoration will be the new headquarters of the Paço das Artes.
PHOTO: Joca Duarte.

And the partnerships in this period?
Establishing networks of relationships, connections, was our way of resisting. These networks were very important, because it was very confusing for people to know if Paço had closed or not. Until people understood that Paço was within the MIS… In short, it was a moment of reinvention. It was resurrect. MIS welcomes us. We are part of the same Social Organization (OS), we are under the same umbrella.

Eminently, what was most important in these four years was to ensure that the Projects Season remained, which is our flagship and the big difference that Paço has in relation to other institutions. It is a pioneering project that encourages the production of young artists, young critics and young curators. Therefore, strategically, it was essential that it be maintained. That's why he stayed here at the MIS and we managed, together with the director of the MIS at the time, to have him at the entrance. Despite being an 80 square meter room, it wouldn't be hidden on another floor. We also strengthened MaPA (Memória Paço das Artes), which was a project created in 2014 and which emerged from the understanding of the importance of the project season, as a cultural policy project for the importance of creating not only institutional memory, but this production of young artists who are often not on the hegemonic axes. The other projects, like the residency, had to stop.

“The Paço never had a collection in the traditional sense of the word, but I have also been building this idea of ​​the museum without a collection, an expanded understanding of the museum, as if our collection was our history, the artists who passed through the Paço”.

For the other projects, the other curatorships, we were making partnerships. It was important for us to create networks and work the Paço in a nomadic way in articulation with other cultural spaces. They were cultural spaces that opened up to this type of partnership and that had affinities with our proposals. We were very well received, for example, by the Oswald de Andrade Cultural Workshop. We had three exhibitions there: Lenora de Barros, Charly Nijensohn and the collective State(s) of Emergency. There was also a very important partnership with MAC-USP. It was something around the issues of dialogues around the collections of Paço das Artes and MAC. It was important for us because we stayed at USP for a long time, so it was interesting to have a joint experience in this farewell. The artist from whom we started the work was Regina Silveira. The Paço never had a collection in the traditional sense of the word, but I have also been building this idea of ​​the museum without a collection, an expanded understanding of the museum, as if our collection was our history, the artists who passed through the Paço. It was a period of a lot of struggle to not let Paço die. Another very important partnership during this period was VideoBrasil, when we held the Urgências na Arte seminar. We had very important partners in these four years.

How does this “expanded understanding of the museum” arise?
I started to work a lot with this story also because I had been working with this issue of MaPA, the memory of the Paço, which is an important project as an institutional policy, of this untold story, of this young production.

How do you feel this moment now, about to inaugurate this headquarters?
Now we have this new headquarters, which is almost definitive because we are going to have a 40-year contract. This is almost the existence of Paço. I feel this as a victory, at a time when the culture in the country is being dismantled. And a country without culture, without art, without production of thought, without reflection is not a country. If we understand that the cultural policy of a state has to be a democratic policy, of diversity, open to the plurality of the population that we have, we can only understand the importance of opening space for a young artist who arrives full of questions and experimentation. . And also to encourage it. This is a work of fundamental formation, also of education. So, we are really living through this moment in which culture is being attacked, also education and public universities, and there is censorship. This is extremely harmful for everyone. And the Paço having managed to reach this moment of having a headquarters is an achievement.

How is the relationship with the Secretary of State for Culture today?
On the one hand, there is a feeling of “I'm glad it worked out”. After all, this was also the result of a relationship with the secretariat in the old management. But we still don't have, for example, a definitive idea about the budget allocation. I understand that it is very important to discuss this, since Paço will occupy this new place, because our budget allocation so far is the same as in 2016, when we left USP, which is a budget practically focused on paying employees. We don't have a programming budget. I think we have a positive relationship, because it is a realization of something that we have been working on for two years, but on the other hand, there is a certain uncertainty as to how we will be able to act financially, because so far no context has been established and this is very important for us. .

What initiatives have you taken to try to circumvent this?
What we were working on during that time was the Rouanet Law. It's a job that Paço does together with OS, but it's punctual. And it is still in our case a tight budget. We also have one or another sponsorship.

Do you have any other long-term projects for this new headquarters?
There are some things, yes. We have been thinking about and studying this new place over these two years. I think it is also a time for Paço to reposition itself as a cultural facility, strengthening the backbone of the institution, which is working with young production. It is not by chance that in 2020 we are 50 years old. And from 2020 to 2021 we will have 25 years of Project Season. In this repositioning, we are articulating an international partnership so that, in March, we can possibly launch a new residence. We already had a residency, but now it becomes international. Thus, we also strengthened a work with Temporada, in which the artist passes through here and then, at another time, he has the possibility of doing an international residency. So, it is an understanding of continued development. There will be different public notices, but they will strengthen this link that Paço has in training and fostering the young artist, the young curator and the young critic.

“Now, we have become a museum with an immaterial collection. And, exactly, one of the great acquisition devices is the Project Season.”

We will also start the process of musealization of the Paço das Artes, which is fundamental. We are already working in such a way that we are concerned with both institutional memory and institutional survival devices. So it's a matter of making it clear historically the strength that the institution has. We have been thinking about this project since 2010, when Paço turned 40. We did a project back there that is the collection book, there it was a matter of archive, memory and cultural history. Now, we have become a museum with an immaterial collection. And, exactly, one of the great acquisition devices is the Project Season. If you are going to read the new call for proposals for the Season of Projects, there is the possibility, in common agreement between us and the artists, that we can keep a work in the collection. The database is being built, also in the understanding that the digital space will be our technical reserve space, since we do not have a physical reserve, and working with “non-material” languages. So it's not a collection for painting or sculpture, but a collection for digital art, for video art, for performance. We are, therefore, at the moment of our creation of a museum collection policy so that we can, with this strengthening of the Season, even have this collection of young artists and curatorship projects. After all, they are people who later enter the scene not only in Brazil, but also internationally, in a forceful way.

Priscila believes in an expanded museum perspective. PHOTO: Cinthia Bueno.

And the choice of Regina Silveira to debut this new space?
Regina was chosen because she is a unique artist in the Brazilian and international scene. She is an artist who moves through several languages. And she is a woman. I wanted to open with a woman, a Brazilian woman. There was also a history of Regina being this artist who was important in this exhibition of collections we did at MAC-USP. And yet, because she is an artist who works a lot with the issue of site specific, perspective, perception and architecture. For me, this opening moment was understood as something that was important to somehow rescue the memory of this new house, because for Paço it is a house, where we will be our headquarters for at least 40 years. She develops two site-specifics unpublished, one for the interior and another for the garden at the entrance. Along with these works, there are videos that Regina is donating to our collection. These will be our first five acquisitions. The name we chose is not for nothing. The exhibition is called thresholds, “the beginning”, due to a work of hers called Threshold, which is a work on the projection of light, the word pulsating light. So an idea of ​​the beginning, of this new light that pulses in the new Paço das Artes.

How do you evaluate Priscila's almost 13 years at Paço das Artes?
It's a life. It was fantastic. It's a job I do with passion. I think that those who work with culture work with passion, because it is a job where you are dealing with the production of knowledge, with art and culture, with life all the time. So it's exciting work. I learned a lot. I always learn a lot from Paço, because it is located in one of the largest cities in the country and is an equipment of the Secretary of State for Culture. I arrived here in Paço and I had never worked in a public institution. I've always been a university professor [at PUC-SP], I still am, it's my oldest profession. Therefore, this moment is now an achievement. I learned a lot in these 13 years, as a person, curator, manager, team, public policy and I also learned a lot with relations with the secretariat. I came here at the invitation of the then director and curator at the time, who was Daniela Bousso. She was a very important person at that time for me. I arrived here as a professor, at a time when I was supposed to be a curator of Fred Forest, due to my doctoral thesis, on perspectives of digital aesthetics, which was published and was a finalist for the Jabuti award. I came from the academic area, working with disciplines that worked in the areas of contemporary art, aesthetics. I got that invitation and thought I'd put my research into practice. And now I have the perception that working as a director in a cultural area is much more complex than that, it's a challenge, it's exciting, but it's always a lot of struggle, because working in the cultural area in Brazil is something of ups and downs . So I also started to understand myself in this place of what it is like to be the director of a cultural space, so I understand this as a great learning experience.

And what is it like to be one of the only women at the head of a cultural institution in the state of São Paulo?
I think it is a very big challenge, there are still many spaces for women to occupy. There are very few positions held by women in this area and it is very important, after all, the majority of the population is female and has extremely qualified women. There is, indeed, a process of discrimination with the figure of women not only in public spaces, but in other spaces of cultural institutions. So I think it's very important, even more when we talk about public policy that works with diversity, to think about that. Not only in the figure of the woman, but also specifically in the black woman.

Tell us about a time when you felt there was discrimination because you were a woman…
I think the biggest point is the difficulty of the work. I feel that women have to work a lot more, just because they are women. And that's discrimination, which comes in many ways. She has to be all the time proving and placing her work. I also feel that there has been more space, but it still lacks a lot. And it's not just a matter of occupying spaces, but also of equal pay. Often the woman occupies a position that has no similar value to the same position occupied by a man. It is not by chance that the movement that has taken place in various fields about the importance of listening to these lines, these diverse voices. And this is also reflected in curatorship, we have seen many exhibitions that bring this debate. We, for example, did the traveling show women on stage. I understand this discrimination not only as a public manager, but also in productions made by women who are made invisible by narratives that are always Eurocentric and masculine. It's not just a matter of the director, the manager, but an issue that contaminates this entire space.

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