Boom to bust: Brazil's arts lose out as economy stalls

Funding squeeze causes museums and institutions around the country to postpone or cancel exhibitions

The crisis in Brazil is hitting the arts, as institutions postpone or cancel major exhibitions.

The Brazilian real hit its lowest level for 10 years in February, and has lost around 30% of its value against the dollar over the past five months. There are major water and power shortages in states including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, and the country has been hit by its biggest ever corruption scandal, centred around the government-controlled oil giant Petrobras, formerly a key sponsor of the arts. Around one million Brazilians took to the streets on 15 March, calling for the impeachment of the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, formerly the minister for mines and energy.

Major institutions are pushing back shows originally scheduled to open later this year and in 2016. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil has postponed a retrospective of works by Edward Hopper that was due to open in October, as well as a group show of masterpieces from the Louvre that was scheduled for next year.

Tour cancelled

The current retrospective of works by Marina Abramovic at the Sesc Pompeia in São Paulo (“Terra Comunal”, until 10 May) is unlikely to travel, as was originally intended, and a display of dinosaur fossils from New York’s Museum of Natural History that was planned for the Catavento science museum in São Paulo later this year is in doubt.

One of the country’s most prominent institutions, the Instituto Inhotim in Minas Gerais, has postponed the opening of two pavilions dedicated to the works of the Swiss photographer Claudia Andujar and the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The pavilions were originally scheduled to open in September 2014. The reason for the delay is the fall in the price of iron, says Antônio Grassi, the museum’s executive director. Bernardo Paz, the founder of Inhotim, made most of his money from mining, so he is maintaining his 30% share of Inhotim’s $12.3m annual budget less comfortably than in the past, according to Grassi.

Other companies are also suffering. The car industry produced 16% fewer vehicles in 2014 than in 2013, and firms such as Fiat are struggling to maintain their previous levels of cultural funding. The Casa Fiat de Cultura in Belo Horizonte, for example, is expected to delay plans for an exhibition of works by Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi.

Short of cash

Economic problems aside, Brazil’s exhibition model is itself problematic. Under the so-called Rouanet law, most exhibitions are financed by tax breaks given by the government to corporations, and budgets must be approved in local currency around a year before a show opens. Because of the drastic downturn, many institutions are now short of cash.

Petrobras has not invested a penny in the arts through the Rouanet scheme since 2012, when it spent $16.6m. “It is no longer a key player in cultural sponsorship,” says Maria Ignez Mantovani, who produced hit shows including “Impressionism: Paris and Modernity” at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in 2013.

The crisis comes after years of record exhibition attendance in Brazil: half of the ten best-attended exhibitions internationally took place in the country last year. “We saw a boom, but now we’ll see a downgrade, which is a sad thing since we had just begun to open some doors abroad,” says Arnaldo Spindel, a director at the production firm Base 7.

• The author is the arts writer at the Folha de São Paulo newspaper