There’s more to Brazil than football, says Marta Suplicy, the nation’s minister of culture
Making the arts accessible to all—and showing there’s life beyond carnival and sport—is a priority
By Le Journal des arts. Web only
Published online: 05 June 2014
Psychologist, sexologist, former TV presenter, feminist and progressive: Marta Suplicy is a media-friendly, original and respected figure within Lula and Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. She comes from an aristocratic family in São Paulo and was mayor of the city from 2001 to 2005, notably creating schools and cultural centres, or CEUs (Centros Educacionais Unificados), in the poorer districts. After a stint at the helm of the ministry of tourism, where her outspokenness became legendary, she was appointed to oversee the country’s cultural brief in 2012, using her political influence to significantly increase her ministry’s visibility and budget, which rose by 45%. On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, which is being hosted by Brazil, she spoke to a Rio de Janeiro-based correspondent from our sister paper Les Journal des Arts.
You often talk about Brazilian soft power—what does this consist of?
One of my priorities is to associate Brazil with something other than carnival, samba and football. From that perspective, the World Cup is a handicap—and an incredible opportunity. Brazil’s successes abroad keep its culture rich, which we need to encourage. At the book fairs in Bologna or Frankfurt, where Brazil was a guest of honour [in 2013], the financial support of the ministry was fundamental. When more books and publishing rights are bought over there, there is a whole economy that benefits here.
Dilma Rousseff’s policy-making is guided by the fight against social inequality. How does that translate into cultural policy?
Our last two actions are good examples. First, the “vale-cultura” helps those who don’t otherwise have the means to access culture [the card is prepaid by employers in return for an income tax break; workers on low incomes can use it to buy cultural products, including books, newspapers and tickets for the theatre, museums and concerts]. The CEUs address the cultural fabric of poorer districts: we identify a region or area’s speciality or talent and map its institutions, schools and workshops; its “points of culture”. The CEUs enable these to develop. In this way, we can strengthen the cultural identity of a place using local elements. Culture becomes a factor in sustainable development. We have mapped around 3,000 points of culture.
Is it also a way of combatting the inequalities between regions in terms of culture?
Obviously. The modification of the Rouanet law [which gives companies and individuals investing in culture a proportional income-tax deduction] should also lead to a better regional balance in encouraging businesses to finance projects in priority areas. The states also have a role: the National Culture System, which is being adopted by the regions, redefines the federal pact and local hand-outs in terms of culture.
After decades of policies in favour of production, is this an ideological shift?
We continue to encourage creativity by facilitating the mechanisms of production. But in fact this policy of demand is a new position that follows the line of the Workers’ Party. It’s also linked to my personal political history in São Paulo and at the ministry of tourism.
A programme of major works to conserve historic towns finally began last year. What progress has been made?
The “historic towns” programme in phase two of the Growth Acceleration Programme (Pac2) represents the biggest investment in culture ever made by a federal government: R1.6bn [$700,000] invested across 44 towns. The historical, technical and financial stakes are such that the procedures are long—we are launching more than 420 interventions across the country. But according to the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage, we are on schedule, with ten major projects already launched. It should be noted that an additional R300m [$130m] has been allocated to the owners of houses classed as historic. In Salvador, this measure should finally make it possible to restore Pelourinho, one of our national treasures, to its former glory, and at the same time change Brazilians’ mentalities with regards to the heritage they are responsible for.
Are you going to fund any new museums?
The Museu Nacional Afro Brasileiro de Cultura e Memória (Afro-Brazilian museum) will open soon in Brasília. It completes the mission of the Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo in telling a history of slavery that is still too little known in our country. Fifty-two per cent of the population today claim to be of African descent. Our famous music, which we love, produce and dance, is fundamentally African. Of the ten million Africans who came as slaves, five million remained in Brazil, while around 300,000 went to the US. We should keep this figure in mind when we are dealing with cultural policy in Brazil. We are also gently “federalising” two regional museums in Brasília and Salvador.
The acquisition budgets of public museums are small. Will this change?
There is no precise budget line for this. But the new museums statute, despite the polemics it raises, partly addresses your question: when a work of art of national interest is on sale, a museum can apply to the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram) to help add to its collection. There is a certain hypocrisy that needs to be dispelled regarding the so-called “intrusive” side of the decree: in Brazil, few private collections are solicited for the big exhibitions, because there is first and foremost a problem of inventory. We don’t want to interfere with the market but simply to know where the major works of our culture are.
Visual artists often don’t enjoy the same financial rewards as singers or actors. Can you see that changing?
Our thoughts on this are in the early stages, but we’re working on it.
What are your key measures in terms of art education?
The “More Culture in Schools” programme invests R100m [$44m] via an open call system from teachers in public schools. They organise cultural projects with bolsa familia children [the bolsa familia is a state hand-out given to poor families on the condition that they send their children to school]. The same measures exist in universities, but to encourage cultural programming on campus.
Interview by David Robert; translation by Hannah McGivern. First published in our sister paper Les Journal des Arts, 23 May
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