Fabio Szwarcwald at Mam Rio. Photo: Publicity Museum of Modern Art in Rio

Last Tuesday, the 1st, Fabio Szwarcwald's resignation from the board of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio took many by surprise. The carioca, who had been in office since February 2020, had been doing a job that was highly praised, both in the artistic and educational and financial areas. In two years, it repositioned Mam Rio as one of the most relevant cultural institutions in the country – after years of crisis, when a painting by Jackson Pollock from the collection had to be sold to create a fund for the museum -, including receiving recognition awards for its work. Something remarkable at a time when so many museums in the country have suffered from attacks, dismantling and crises.

The reason for leaving would be Szwarcwald's dissatisfaction with the new strategies of the museum's Board, which, citing concern with the increase in the budget, started not to continue the projects and investments commanded by the director. “Investments are necessary”, says Szwarcwald in an interview with arte!brasileiros. “A museum with this collection is essential and it is important to restore the electrical part; pay a fire brigade; cleaning the air conditioning duct; readjust the team and have an outstanding schedule.”

In fact, the (now ex) director increased the investments of the museum, including due to the pandemic - the budget, which was R$15 million in 2019, without it, was R$17 million in 2020 and R$21,5 million in 2021. As a result, the teams were reformulated, the creation of new areas of activity, the resumption of educational projects and artistic residencies, the establishment of free entry for the public and the hiring of an artistic director – Keyna Eleison and Pablo Lafuente. But at the same time, Szwarcwald achieved a great leap in fundraising, as the Council itself recognizes in an official statement (read the full text at the end of the interview).

According to data presented by Szwarcwald, of the BRL 45 million fund generated with the sale of Pollock, around BRL 10,5 million was used in 2019 (before its management); BRL 10 million in 2020 and BRL 4 million in 2021. This year's planning foresaw the use of less than BRL 2 million from the fund, something made possible by raising almost BRL 35 million in the two years of Szwarcwald's administration.

Among the former director's issues with the Council are the fact that Mam Rio remains uninsured – after Fabio's attempt to close a deal with the company Axa, the Council did not approve the initiative in time for it to be implemented; and the fact that, in September 2021, the Board removed Szwarcwald from the Executive Board, inviting him to assume the Institutional Relations Board. At that time, Paulo Albert Weyland Vieira was appointed on an interim basis as executive director, but only now has he actually assumed the position.

Strangely, this information was not made public at the time. “The fact is that, even after this Board deliberation, nothing has changed, in practice I have continued to respond as Executive Director until now. People didn’t even know about any of this.” Szwarcwald states that he did not leave at that time to be able to finish at least part of the work he had started: “If I left in November or December, that could greatly disrupt the capture. I wanted to leave the museum structured for 2022 and I didn't want to let my team down.”

To better understand the situation – which is not without unclear intricacies – read the full interview below and, subsequently, the statement released by the Council.

ARTE! - Dafter two years as director of Mam Rio, with a work that had been highly praised and that you celebrated a lot in interview we did three months ago, you just resigned from the museum board. What made you make that decision?

Fabio Szwarcwald – When I joined, in 2020, one of the things that the councilors wanted most was for Mam to have an intense and good cultural program again, to put the museum back on the radar of the main museums in Brazil. And also, that I manage to bring greater funding and economic sustainability to the museum. So all the work I did was, first, to analyze and restructure the teams, and then I created areas that did not exist, such as strategic partnerships and communication and facilities. I changed the management of the educational area, since one of the big projects was to retake the Bloco Escola – the first piece of equipment created in Mam, in the late 1950s. of art courses, aimed at different types of public. This educational project started digitally and then funds would be raised for the restoration and to carry out the courses in person. So we did a whole project to structure the fundraising part of the museum, not only in Brazil, but also internationally, with these funding agencies. For example, it was establishing an agreement with the Brazil Foundation – which is an international NGO that helps fundraising for sustainability, education, art and culture projects – to internationalize the museum's fundraising. We negotiated for a year and they sent me the contract to be signed. The Block School project was in progress to be approved by BNDES, worth R$ 19,9 million. And we went from three companies supporting the museum in 2019 to 25 at the end of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. Now, we close 2021 with 38 companies. We raised over R$34 million in two years.

At the same time, I was playing all the projects. The Council's main issue was that they were very afraid to use the fund's money. But it is not possible to make any transition, any transformation in the museum, without funds. So, in fact, we used the money from the fund – not least because we were in a pandemic – to make some necessary layoffs and readjust the museum in various infrastructure projects. We installed a fire brigade, metal detector, security cameras, changed the electrical wiring, cleaned the air conditioning, ozonated, painted the museum, sealed the exhibition area and so on. And all these investments were strictly necessary for the good maintenance of the museum and for us to change the level. And I used the money from the fund, because it was the money we had, and then we raised the funds. It's not possible to capture if you don't have programming, structure, if you're not making improvements to the museum.

ARTE!There was also the establishment of free admission to the museum… 

Yes, the museum became free, with a suggested contribution, creating greater accessibility to bring new audiences. We did more than 40 free courses, with incentives, and six artistic residencies. We made Cinemateca go online, reaching an audience of over 270 people in 60 countries. All of this was extremely important, so much so that at the end of 2020 we won an institution of the year award by Select; in 2021, as one of the four most relevant institutions in Brazil in cultural programming. And all investments made were approved at Board meetings.

ARTE!In a statement released this week, the museum says that in September 2021 the Board of Directors deliberated on its dismissal from the Executive Board, with an invitation to assume the Directorate of Institutional Relations. On the same occasion, Paulo Albert Weyland Vieira was appointed on an interim basis to assume the Executive Board and Pedro José Rodrigues the Planning, Administration and Finance Department. Was this not publicized at the time? And you continued working as an executive director?    

This was very confusing and for no reason. When Pedro joined, in June, to be administrative and financial director, one of his duties was to review the entire cash flow and accounts, and nothing was changed from what had been presented before. He saw that it was all right. The fact is that, even after this Board deliberation, nothing has changed, in practice I continued to respond as executive director and manage the team until now. People didn't even know about it.

ARTE!And why did you decide to leave specifically now?              

If I went out in November or December, that could really get in the way of fundraising. I wanted to leave the museum structured for 2022 and I didn't want to let my team down. So I didn't agree with the strategic and management decisions defined by the Board, but I accepted to stay in that position until now to deliver the museum in a way that they can survive this year almost without using the fund's money.

Fabio Schwarcwald
The Mam Rio team, with Fabio Szwarcwald in the middle. Photo: Instagram reproduction of Mam Rio

Read the statement from the Board of Directors of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro:

The Board of Directors of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio) confirms that it received, on February 1, 2022, a resignation request from Fabio Szwarcwald from the position to which he had been appointed on March 1, 2020.

On September 14, 2021, the Board of Directors resolved to remove Fabio Szwarcwald from the Executive Board and invited him to take over the Institutional Relations Board, a position that seemed to the directors to be more consistent with his professional profile. On the same occasion, Paulo Albert Weyland Vieira was appointed on an interim basis to assume the Executive Board and Pedro José Rodrigues the Planning, Administration and Finance Department.

It was, therefore, while negotiations on the invitation to take over the Institutional Relations Board were still ongoing, that the Board of Directors of MAM Rio received from Fabio Szwarcwald, on February 1, 2022, the aforementioned resignation.

In the almost two years that Fabio Szwarcwald served as Executive Board, after a rigorous selection process for the Board of Directors, MAM Rio increased the number of Associates, Patrons, and supporting and sponsoring companies; as well as bringing talents to integrate the management, as well as new audiences, thus strengthening the institution's historic role in the country's cultural scene. The Board of Directors of MAM Rio not only applauds and appreciates the dedication and enthusiasm of Fabio Szwarcwald, who is leaving us, but also that of the entire team of employees who will remain with us.

The board led by Paulo Albert Weyland Vieira takes this opportunity to share with the internal and external audiences of MAM Rio its commitment to the implementation of the current Artistic Board program, conceived by Keyna Eleison and Pablo Lafuente, which encompasses education, research and and residences, as well as the upcoming “Nakoada” and “Independências” exhibitions, which reflect on different movements in Brazilian history.

MAM Rio recalls that its collections comprise more than 16.000 works, one of the most important sets of visual arts documents in the country, and that its Cinematheque safeguards a set of more than 150.000 titles and the largest documentary collection of national cinema, in addition to to keep the Gilberto Chateaubriand and Joaquim Paiva collections on loan. By the way, and of course, the museum's security is one of the priorities defined by the Board of Directors of MAM Rio. At the beginning of 2021, it asked for proposals for contracting insurance, but only one was presented to it by the Executive Board at the time. After receiving the aforementioned proposal, of an initial and non-binding nature, the directors made a series of questions that were not satisfactorily answered and, later, the international bidder informed the market that it would no longer cover this type of risk in Brazil. The search for a specialized structure suitable for the institution is in full swing.

Ensuring a rigorous balance of accounts, which guarantees their viability in the future, is also one of the priorities that mark the performance of the Board of Directors of MAM Rio.

Looking to 2023, when MAM Rio celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Board of Directors has already asked the institution's team of employees for a museological plan to match and in line with the unprecedented doubts and challenges that the new times impose on us.

The Board of Directors of MAM Rio is, as it has always been, at the disposal of its audiences to clarify any and all uncertainties on issues relevant to its role as the highest body of the institution.

Rio de Janeiro, February 2, 2022.

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