From left to right: Jochen Volz, Solange Farkas, Danilo Miranda, Eduardo Saron and Ricardo Ohtake.

CWith the political and economic crises that have taken place in Brazil in recent years, they have become  even more profound and remarkable are the historical difficulties faced by the country's cultural institutions. Museums, cultural centers and other organizations, already accustomed to working with little slack in their finances, entered a period of growing uncertainty with budget cuts and, at the same time, strong political attacks on the field of culture. The situation worsened drastically with the inauguration of the current federal government, Jair Bolsonaro, who, in addition to budget restrictions and the dismantling of mechanisms for the sector's action, intensified discourses and practices to confront artists and cultural institutions in the country.

In a year and a half of government, culture was downgraded from ministry to secretariat – linked to Tourism – and now reaches its fifth holder in the portfolio. “This shows that culture is of no importance to them. That it is just a bureaucracy, devoid of any relevant fact that justifies its presence in a government apparatus. Subordinating Culture to the Ministry of Tourism is an absolute lack of vision, including strategic. It is understanding culture only as entertainment or an element of tourist attraction for a country, a society”, says Danilo Santos de Miranda, director general of Sesc-SP, one of the institutions constantly threatened with a cut in its funding, linked to the S. For Solange Farkas, director of Videobrasil Cultural Association, culture was declared an enemy by the government, which demonstrates a typical practice of fascism. And she goes further: “We have a government that disrespects culture, attacks culture, eliminates culture. In fact, this concerns culture, the press and democratic institutions, in this clear flirtation with totalitarianism.”

What already seemed an extremely troubled and threatening situation took on even more dramatic contours with the arrival of the new coronavirus pandemic and the need for social isolation – in Brazil, since March this year. Between April and June, after the close of on-site activities at museums, cultural centers, associations and galleries, the arte!brasileiros initiated a series of interviews with managers of some of the main institutions in the country. In addition to Miranda and Farkas, we spoke with Jochen Volz (Pinacoteca of the State of São Paulo), Eduardo Saron (Itaú Cultural) and Ricardo Ohtake (Tomie Ohtake Institute). In this issue, we also hear Marcelo Araujo and João Fernandes (Instituto Moreira Salles) and the series of interviews follows on our website with directors of institutions from other regions of the country.

It is worth noting that when the interviews were carried out, the government had not yet sanctioned the Aldir Blanc Law, a measure that guarantees emergency income of R$600 reais to cultural workers and from R$3.000 to R$10.000 to micro and small companies, associations and area organizations. The law, through which the government must release R$ 3 billion, was the result of pressure from the artistic class, which appealed to Congress to circumvent the inaction of the Secretary of Culture. Until the publication of this article, there was still no clear information about the recipients of the program or a defined date for the beginning of payments, since the president had vetoed the article that required the immediate release of funds.

In conversations that covered specific subjects of each institution and more general themes, the five interviewees showed great concern with the political and social context of the country, but also reflected on the possible ways of acting at this time. They also talked about the intensification of the virtual performance of institutions in the period of the pandemic, about the art market and about a global reality that needs to be rethought after the passage of the coronavirus, among other topics. Read the main excerpts from the interviews below. 

Acting in times of isolation

“The museum is a place for dialogue, for participatory construction. Now we are in a moment of reflection, learning and experimentation to see what are the ways to keep that same spirit, but in a digital way, from a distance”, says Jochen Volz about the work at Pinacoteca. For him, “nothing replaces a face-to-face visit, but while this is not possible, the museum takes advantage of the possibilities of the internet”. As a result of the various activities promoted – such as a campaign about the works in the collection, lives with curators and artists, a virtual tour of the museum and the opening of an exclusively virtual exhibition -, Volz highlights not only a considerable increase in the number of followers on the networks, but also new ways of interacting with the public.

Jochen Volz, director of the Pinacoteca
Jochen Volz, director of the Pinacoteca. Photograph: Public Relations

The director of Pinacoteca also realizes that this change in performance during the pandemic should leave a legacy for the period that follows, even when face-to-face activities return. “We are discussing how we are going to integrate online initiatives more with face-to-face activities. It is important to understand that the museum and the public are still learning how to relate effectively in digital media. But everything we have done in this period shows us that we have to be more attentive to these developments that go beyond the physical space of the museum.” 

To talk about Sesc-SP's intense online programming in recent months, Danilo Miranda initially highlights the attempt to continue working with the idea of ​​“social well-being and living well”, which represents the institution's mission. “We deal with culture in this very broad sense. Culture, for me, when we consider it in a more anthropological 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 then we work on issues of physical activities, food, health and the field of the arts”, he explains. “Right now, Sesc seeks to meet this expectation using the tools it has at its disposal”, he says, highlighting the virtual music and theater presentations, the availability of a vast audiovisual digital collection and the holding of conversations and debates on ethics, social and artistic issues, among others.

For Miranda, however, in a speech in line with Volz's, virtual acting will never be enough. “After all, human beings have the issue of personal, face-to-face relationships, inherent to their nature. And sooner or later the meeting will happen again, but for now the path is isolation, distance. So at this point there is no way to get involved in person, but digitally there are resources that have been improved. The pandemic would be much more serious if it weren't for these virtual approximation tools.”

With a series of testimonials from artists, curators, philosophers, writers and filmmakers, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, in turn, created the series entitled #juntosdistantes, dealing with various topics, including those related to social isolation itself. He also remained active virtually with courses, podcasts and discussions on issues such as racism, blackness and the place of speech. Ricardo Ohtake does not deny, however, the difficulty in dealing with the moment. “We don't know when things are going to happen, so you take the ideas to a certain point and from there you can't plan anything else, it's all in the air.”

Edurado Saron, director of Itaú Cultural
Edurado Saron, director of Itaú Cultural. Photograph: Public Relations

“I confess that planning is not an easy task”, agrees Eduardo Saron. “Like everyone else, we had to reinvent ourselves and reorganize our resources, not only financial, but also organizational and human, since, even with the unique situation that Itaú Cultural (IC) has, we are part of this cultural and economic ecosystem, today , extremely affected,” he says. By intensifying its online activities, IC also benefited from a vast collection it already had, relating to the most varied artistic fields. Saron recalls that the institute was created more than 30 years ago to be a visual arts database – today part of the Enciclopédia de Arte e Cultura Brasileira – and that, in this sense, the organization is reconnecting with its origins.

Part of pre-isolation planning, the IC also launched in April the Itaú Cultural Observatory Data Panel, a digital platform dedicated to analyzing data on culture and the creative economy. In addition, the institute started from the particularity of being an institution linked to a bank to create emergency notices in different artistic areas. “The institution proposes to welcome part of the artists subject to acting alone and without remuneration in this period of social suppression”, says Saron. “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 accompany us virtually on our channels.”

Despite the financial injection in a fragile market, the initiative was not immune to criticism, on the one hand for having selected, among hundreds of beneficiaries, some already renowned names; on the other hand, because it is seen as a stimulus to competition and productivity as the only currency of exchange in this moment of crisis. On the subject, Saron argues that Itaú Cultural already has a strong tradition in issuing public notices and that, realizing an intense artistic diffusion circulating on the networks, it aimed to “offer more dignity to production and artistic thinking in a period like this one, even knowing that, naturally, we have limited scales to provide this type of support”.

The global imbalance

In a different direction from the institutions that have intensified their virtual activities, Videobrasil has remained practically absent from social networks in recent months. “This mandatory stop was for me, at first, something quite paralyzing. Not only because of the pandemic, which is tragic, dramatic, but because it is very accentuated and worsened by our political condition”, says Farkas. “I was really trying to think about what is happening to us and how to react to it. Even rethink our way of operating. I think there are issues that are so serious, so deep, that all of this makes us rethink the role of art, the role of these structures and how they were working.”

Solange Farkas, director of Associação Cultural Videobrasil
Solange Farkas, director of Associação Cultural Videobrasil. Photos: Ale Ruaro

In announcing the postponement of the next Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil, initially scheduled for 2021 and which should only take place in 2023, Farkas also states that the institution intends, from now on, to dedicate itself more diligently to working with the vast collection (especially video) built in more than three decades. The movement is being planned with the creation of a new platform, Videobrasil online, which will continue to look at the production of the so-called global South – a term that refers to the cultural, economic and political condition of countries and territories on the margins of hegemonic modernization and the central capitalism.

When talking about these less affluent regions of the world, Farkas also emphasizes that the current context, with the Covid-19 pandemic, makes the social and economic differences between countries even more open. “We know that the global South is hit hardest by a crisis like this. The differences are indeed exposed.” On the other hand, she says, it is also possible to think that “when the apex of all this passes, maybe we will be a little ahead in relation to some alternatives and exits. Because if this pandemic situation affects the entire globe, we who live in underdeveloped countries, in subaltern conditions to this place in the world where money circulates, have always had to deal with precariousness and find alternatives, especially in the field of art and of culture".

The geopolitical framework in the context of the pandemic was also the subject of the conversation with Danilo Miranda, for whom “what is happening shows the imbalance and lack of social equity in the world”. For the director of Sesc-SP, “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”. To make matters worse, “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.”

In addition to the consequences, Miranda also emphasizes that the causes that led to the current situation are not disconnected from the treatment that human beings give to nature, to the planet. “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 that are on earth. ”, he says. In this sense, he says, the crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates the need for a much broader debate than it may seem: “It is not just a health problem, but it concerns the economy, human relations, culture, education and life as a whole.

In agreement with the director of Sesc, Farkas cites recent writings by indigenous leader Ailton Krenak to defend that after the pandemic it will not be possible, nor desirable, to return to life as it was before. “We are not going to try to continue in a normality that does not exist. I think all this is not happening for free. As Krenak says, this is a crisis of humanity, of the human being. The problem is not the world, nature, animals. It's us. We are the ones who are sick. And in this sense, I think that native peoples have a lot to teach us, to tell us. ”

The post-coronavirus

The theme of the world that will come after such a crisis for humanity also permeated, in different ways, the interviews of all the managers. For Saron, “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.” Miranda, in turn, believes that the “new normal” will require people to show more solidarity with each other. “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’s almost an obligatory, indispensable solidarity”, she explains.

From the point of view of the institutions' daily practices, in addition to the intensification of virtual activities, the reality that will come will require changes in the face-to-face modes of action. “We will have to review habits”, says Miranda. “And while we don't have the vaccine, how are we going to get people together to see a movie, a theater or a concert? So it's going to be a huge challenge from a practical, architectural point of view. What will the new face-to-face look like?”, he asks.

Paradoxically, Solange Farkas considers that the tragic context of the pandemic may have helped people to pay more attention to some latent social issues and injustices in society. Asked about the recent cases of the death of the boy João Pedro, in Brazil, and of the American George Floyd, which triggered protests and debates about structural racism in both countries, Farkas says that “social isolation has made us realize certain things more . Because when you're in a situation of normality, people generally miss it. They don't look at each other, they don't look at these issues. But this issue of social difference, structural racism, the level and degree of violence against the black community, as well as the indigenous community, this has always existed”.

And as much as she regrets that it took an explosion of discussion in the US for many in Brazil to start talking about anti-racism, she considers that the pandemic is helping “to look at our weaknesses as a society”. “I think that this Brazilian personality, so racist, so superficial, has never been as evident as it is now. And maybe, from that moment on, something might actually start to happen. To wake people up to this political issue, to the open racism, to this disgrace, this pity that this current authoritarian, fascist government is”, he adds.

When talking about these political themes historically dealt with in Videobrasil – through the production of black, peripheral, indigenous and LGBT artists, among others – Farkas also emphasizes that he cautiously sees a growing view of the market for the work of these artists. “It's not exactly art, but the market is looking at this place. And anything endorsed by the market, especially this predatory market, I don't see it with good eyes, I don't think it's healthy,” he says. “Discover  these places, they realize that there is a powerful production and that there is a favorable moment, in which these works sell, but do not move an inch to change, for example, the conditions of production for these artists”. One of the risks, therefore, is a trivialization of this production, with the creation of labels, for example. “But artists are not fools. They are powerful, they are smart. Many artists, curators and managers of these more marginal places are very politicized, very articulate. So they are also a little wary of us, for obvious reasons. And they have an awareness of their place in the world.”

Ricardo Ohtake, in turn, does not fail to welcome the greater attention given by the art world to a more political production – including the market, which has “turned less towards a very formal and 'well done' art and more of a political art,” he says. “Because I think that in times like the ones we are living in, we have to show this type of production, escape from more conservative things”, he adds.

Ricardo Ohtake, director of Instituto Tomie Othake
Ricardo Ohtake, director of the Tomie Othake Institute. Photo: Disclosure.

Parallels with a dark past

The “times we are living in”, in this case, refer to the moment when the country has a “government that does not like culture and also does not like the progressive positions that culture usually takes”, according to Ohtake. For him, who from a young age was involved in the fight against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), the current government has parallels not only with this period of Brazilian history, but also with regimes such as fascism and Nazism that governed European countries in the first half of the last century. This is clear, among other things, in the reappearance of attempts to censor the work of artists and cultural institutions.

Miranda, in the same sense, considers “that there are many ways to censor”, in addition to the control that was exercised by the military government. “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 and mechanisms.”

Farkas, who held the first Videobrasil Festival in 1983, during the last phase of the dictatorship, also emphasizes that some experiences lived at that time seem to reappear, in other guises, in the current context. “It feels like I'm sadly revisiting a moment we spent back there. When we started the festival, there was still a very strong state censorship mechanism. And I was sued several times for showing work that had been censored.” Nowadays, she adds, there is another type of censorship, “to the extent that you cannot produce and cannot speak what you think because you are not in a position to do so”.

The scarcity of resources directed to cultural institutions would not be, in this sense, disconnected from a government project that excludes culture from its planning. For Farkas, this dismantling process refers to the previous government, under Michel Temer. “If it weren't for Sesc, which I always say is our cultural policy, we wouldn't have held the biennial since 2016, because there are no conditions for it”. And with the situation worsening due to social isolation, “either you have to reinvent yourself, in fact, or wait for this earthquake to pass. And in that sense, the pandemic totally takes us out of a comfort zone. I think that this moment forces us to rescue a little the marginal spirit that permeated artistic creation before all this professionalization”.

According to Ohtake, fundraising at the institute, without a direct link to the State, has been increasingly difficult and, therefore, the number of annual exhibitions should be reduced. “Because we also don't have a sponsor, a patron, as most large institutions do,” he says. “And the fact of having a government like the current one requires us to invent things to do. We need to be more inventive. We have to find ways, look for ways out of all this, but it is very difficult to know what to do”, he adds. In the case of Pinacoteca, a cut in funds from the State Government due to the pandemic resulted in a reduction in the working hours and salaries of employees and in the temporary suspension of other contracts. So far there have been no layoffs, but the risk is not entirely ruled out.

For Sesc-SP, the threat of cuts in the S system (formed by institutions such as Sesc, Sesi, Senai and Sebrae) has been a constant since the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration – a Provisional Measure to reduce transfers from companies to the system transits Congress during the period of publication of this report. “Precisely at a time when institutions are most needed that deal with these issues of debate, discussion, information, education and culture, so that we can overcome all this”, says Miranda.

Saron, in turn, considers that the lack of a State policy for culture is not something new. “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 lotteries”, he says. “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 Gilberto Gil, for five and a half years. All this without mentioning the historic fragility of Funarte, in theory the public institution that should be responsible for promoting art in Brazil.”

Danilo Miranda, director general of Sesc-SP
Danilo Miranda, director general of Sesc-SP. Photo: Aduato Perin/ Sesc-SP

playing forward

Even with all the obstacles, economic and political difficulties, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the five managers interviewed say they are looking for possible ways to keep the institutions they run alive and active. “So I think that everyone is doing their job, something that can respond to this situation”, says Ohtake. And on a “macro scale”, he adds, “we have to go back to building a country project. And a country project is about art, education and culture.” Jochen Volz, in turn, recalls the 2016 Bienal de São Paulo, living uncertainty, of which he was the curator, to say that it is necessary to “think about how to embrace this moment of uncertainty. And instead of retreating into fear, think about how to turn that moment into action.” For this, art can always serve as an inspiration: “I think it's a time to look at artistic strategies again and see how artists have always imagined the unimaginable”.

Danilo Miranda, despite everything, is still hopeful. “Because 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. You go anywhere in this country, or in the world, they are producing culture. 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. No matter how hard they try.” ✱

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