In May of 2016, Brazil’s then-interim president Michel Temer made the controversial decision to axe the nation’s Ministry of Culture (MINC), folding it into the Education Ministry. The cost-cutting initiative – an attempt to address Brazil’s government deficit and part of Temer’s new conservative agenda – sparked a massive outcry from the artist and creative community. After all, it’s hard to imagine a Brazil without its samba street dances, Carnaval parades, elaborate costumes, live music, fight songs, capoeira, baile funk, vibrant theater, etc.

Thousands staged protests and occupied government buildings across Brazil, with high-profile figures like Caetano Veloso and Erasmo Carlos adding their names to the fray. Just days later, the MINC was reinstated.

But the political ramifications of this incident, as well as the eventual ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff (in an impeachment trial she decried as a coup), have continued to unfold. Funding for cultural projects is still precarious, as Brazil’s recession has meant less private and public revenue available for sponsoring arts & culture. Moreover, MINC’s initiatives, such as the Rouanet law, have been criticized for the way they enable funds to be diverted to support wealthy artists. Government funds are rarely used to create opportunities for people in favelas to have access to cultural events.

There is an ever-increasing restlessness amongst Brazil’s young actors, producers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, dancers. Many of them have been searching for new autonomous ways of creating their work and addressing the disparities in access to cultural projects. Such is the case for many young people in Salvador da Bahia, the beating heart of culture in Brazil. From certified dance students offering free dance lessons to keep their schools open, to poets breaking the notion of exclusivity by reciting poetry in public spaces and on busses, many young people are creating new ways to keep their culture alive.

We talked to five young creatives at the Fundação Cultural do Estado da Bahia (FUNCEB) to hear how they’re participating in this autonomous movement.

1

Meirejane Lima, 27 years-old

What is your personal and artistic background?
I am a third year dance student at Fundação Cultural Estatal da Bahia (FUNCEB). As an occupation, I am a dancer and a cultural promoter.

What inspired you to get involved in the autonomous movement in Bahia?
To be honest, our restlessness sprang from this political crisis Brazil is experiencing. From the moment a government goes against the people, the first thing they do is cut all budgets for culture. As art students, we depend directly on that funding. We had a series of actions like the occupation of MINC and of the dance school. The project began when we started to feel the hurt. They delayed the payment of professors, our second semester was delayed, and to this very day we are without classes so we would have ended the semester in total chaos.

The movement was established by three people. We started to talk about the movement each one of us wanted, expressing our political values, our social values and the need to value artists. We do this movement so people can become united, so the public can have access to art, so they know they have a right and that they too can consume art. We now have over 60 collaborators in the project; dancers, poets, theater, lectures on race and gender, visual artists – all working in a collaborative way. We are supporting one another, artists supporting artists, artists supporting communities, public supporting artists, everyone one is helping out in the way that they can. It goes to show, money does not impact many things, what really matters is giving myself to the public, to my community.

How would you like to see culture promoted and preserved in Brazil?
I believe in art and culture as a way of liberation. What we want with Dança em Movimento is for art to grow, to go to other places, to nurture communities, and to nurture other artists so more people can liberate themselves.

2

Luana Silva, 23 years-old

What is your personal and artistic background?
I am Bahiana, I am from here Salvador. I have always loved the arts but I began to dance professionally at 20 years old. The majority of my education has been at FUNCEB and at the dance school at UFBA.

What inspired you to get involved in the autonomous movement in Bahia?
I’m telling the government and the politicians that this school is important to us dancers, because it is a technical course and it needs special attention. As a dance student, I’m here to show this. Even though some of my colleagues aren’t participating because the school is closed, I want to be here, I need to be here. I spend money on transportation, I wake up really early, sometimes I am running really late, but I am here to demonstrate that this is important for me both politically and for my education as an artist.

How would you like to see culture promoted and preserved in Brazil?
It is going to require special attention, the same way politicians have considered healthcare, public safety and security. How is it that the salary of a politician increases but the salary of a teacher doesn’t? A professional dancer still does not have a formal contract, it’s not considered as a “real” job. This is difficult because even some of our family members don’t recognize it as real work because it doesn’t bring money. The aim should be that the government sees culture as valuable for the city. I believe art stabilizes humanity and I believe the world wouldn’t be so violent if art were practiced from the beginning in schools as obligatory material.

3

Douglas Rodrigues, 23 years-old

What is your personal and artistic background?
My artistic trajectory began with capoeira. I grew up in a favela here in Salvador and I didn’t realize the cultural and artistic importance of capoeira. Here, capoeira has many paths; some people do it as a sport, as a fight, and some do it as a dance. I began to do capoeira as a sport, something that would keep me fit. It was something very natural and little by little it awoke in me an interest in art. I started to do aerial silk acrobatic classes, then I started to do circus classes. I did that for 2 years. From there, I started to look for other ways to dance. That is when I came to FUNCEB in the beginning of last year, 2015, and I’ve been here ever since.

What inspired you to get involved in the autonomous movement in Bahia?
So, long story. In the beginning of this year, we suffered a coup here, where the president elected by the people was ousted by the Brazilian elite and a white man took power. We live in a government system that represents us, but he does not represent the Brazilian people. The people got restless and started the phenomenon of occupations in the entire country; in public schools, in the Ministries of Culture all over the country, and that movement of occupations also came here to the dance school. And that’s how we created Ocupa FUNCEB (Occupy FUNCEB). We saw that Brazil was going through a very complicated time and here we were doing ballet classes as if nothing was going on. So we started bugging our professors, we didn’t accept doing just any type of classes, they had to be different. Eventually, me and two friends started to brainstorm the Dança em Movimento project. We originally wanted it to be part of the dance school, but there was a problem with hiring professors, so the school would have been closed from July to October without any classes. We saw that as a way the government was trying to diminish culture, because it is always [culture] that fights against oppression. Artists always reveal themselves. It is part of our history, we lived under a dictatorship here in 1974, and artists were fundamentally important for the change of that system. It is obvious that when someone takes power they don’t want the people to have power to fight against the system. We were conscious of that, so we said the school is not going to close, we were still going to continue to do dance classes and those classes were going to be a way to talk politics, to mobilize, to fight against the coup.

How would you like to see culture promoted and preserved in Brazil?
The problem runs deep. It is not in the interest of our government for the people to make culture, because art and culture have a large, transformative role and Brazil has a corrupt government. The investment of the government is very controlled. We have a system of editais, where we write up a project, present it to the state government, and they give some money and they announce it as a public investment. But this product is very controlled, because if it’s the government giving the money then you have to do what they want and that doesn’t generate transformation. Dança em Movimento comes with a different perspective precisely because of that. We have complete freedom to say, for example, that we are against the current illegitimate government. And we won’t accept for culture to stay on the level where it is now. It is not the lack of interest from favelas or working class neighborhoods, but rather it is that we don’t understand art, we are taught to think that art isn’t for us and that it’ll be boring. The more art someone does, the more human they become. And the more human they are, the more sensitive. [There is] less violence of all types, less machismo, less homophobia, less racism. And that is what we want.

4

Luan Gusmão Rocha 29 years-old

What is your personal and artistic background?
I was born into an artist family, all my family and friends are artists of some sort. My mother does theater, my dad is a musician and my aunt is a musician. I left the artist life for a while and started working in sales. There, I started to deal with depression, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t meeting people so I returned to doing art. And that is what brought me to do poetry on the bus.

What inspired you to get involved in the autonomous movement in Bahia?
One of Poesia em Transito’s (Poetry in Transit) characteristics is to be in all places possible.The majority of the population here in the city doesn’t have access to art, so we grow up forgetting what poetry is, what music is, what the human connection is. I say access because it is expensive, and there is no help or cultural incentive. Poesia em Transito breaks down that idea of walls and barriers in theater and in art. From the moment someone receives a poetry book, a sonnet, a cordel, I am doing the role of an educator in the city. It is easy to get lost in the life of the city and continue to be a machine and a part of the system. Our work disrupts that mindset by being a public display of art, and humanizes people by bringing them poetry, bringing them words that can change their day, and a lot of times it does change. A person claps, a person smiles, they feel good they just heard poetry. So in a way, the work is about educating and organizing people.

How would you like to see culture promoted and preserved in Brazil?
The history of cultural projects in Brazil is rich with stories of conquest. As a Brazilian and as an artist, we are living in a moment of aggression and are suffering from a very violent political time, and we don’t have a way to talk about the future or the violence we are currently living through. Our democracy was attacked. I feel powerless about the situation. We don’t know what is going to happen from here on with culture. But we really need to rethink the models of survival for artists.

5

Manoel Joaquim de Miranda Rodrigues, 26 years-old

What is your personal and artistic background?
I am from Salvador da Bahia. I’ve lived here my whole life, in the same house. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology. I practice regional capoeira.

What inspired you to get involved in the autonomous movement in Bahia?
My story with capoeira started when I was 10 years old, and I did it for about 3 years. I ended up stopping because of my studies, and I returned about 2 years ago. But my body didn’t forget capoeira, so even though I regret stopping, now that I’ve returned and I am happy and I won’t ever stop for the rest of my life. Capoeira in itself is a way of resistance. It emerged as a way as a way for slaves to defend themselves – a masked form of resistance. Yet, capoeira isn’t only a fight, it also has elements of music, of song, of touch. Capoeira has had the most success in expanding the Afro-culture because it holds many African elements.

How would you like to see culture promoted and preserved in Brazil?
Culture is very diverse here but it does not appear to be a priority for the government. It seems like their interest is more in art that generates money. And even though there are government programs that help, when we heard of the cuts of the Ministry of Culture, it goes to show that in 2016, the proliferation of culture will depend on an autonomous effort from every group to maintain itself. As for capoeira, I don’t fear for it because we were created in that autonomous way. From our songs to our dance, we have always maintained our culture. But other cultural activities, such as the interior areas with their traditions and rituals, will have major difficulty staying alive. I am very worried about cultural in general, but I know the Brazilian people are warriors and we will find a way to maintain ourselves strong despite the situation. There is no people without culture. I hope that the people scream, raise their voice, gain support from the public and are heard.

Advertisement