Monday 20 June 2011

House with a roof but no foundations?

The brazilian portal Cultura e Mercado announced last week that the House of Representatives is going to create a commission in order to analyse the Proposal for an Amendment to the Constitution, that recognizes access to culture as a social right. In the same piece of news they were talking about the Culture Voucher bill, according to which each worker who earns up to five times the minimum salary will get a monthly subsidy of R$50 (approximately €22) in order to be allowed access to products and services in the visual and performing arts, audiovisual, literature, music and cultural heritage.

I was very curious about this project. I thought about practical issues (is it going to be a card from which the value of the products will be discounted, a voucher booklet, will it be exchanged in establishments that accept to be part of the initiative, will workers have to present receipts…?), but I mainly thought about the objectives and expectations of the project.

I found some answers in the final draft of the bill:

“Art. 1 It is hereby instituted, under the management of the Ministry of Culture, the Worker´s Programme of Culture, aimed at providing workers with means in order to exercise their cultural rights and have access to cultural sources.

Art. 2 The Worker’ s Programme of Culture has the following objectives:

I – To allow for access and fruition of cultural products and services;

II – To stimulate the visitation of establishments that provide the integration of science, education and culture; and

III – To encourage access to cultural and artistic events and performances.”

In another article in Cultura and Mercado, entitled Democratização do acesso à cultura (Democratization of access to culture), I read a critical analysis of this proposal. The author, Roberto Baungartner, presented statistics such as: only 13% of Brazilians go to the cinema at least once a year; more than 92% have never been to a museum or art exhibition; 78% have never attended a dance performance. Some of these data are also mentioned in the Culture Voucher official video.

Roberto Baungartner believes that this initiative, apart from benefiting culture itself, will create more jobs and revenue, it will reduce violence and will increase, in what concerns demand, the production chains involved. He also believes that it will make brazilian companies more competitive in the international field.

Once again, I don´t find the objectives and expectations to be realistic and well structured. I always have serious doubts that democratizing access to culture is something one can take care of, first of all, with measures like this one, that seem to be leaving aside the main issues in what concerns access.

In Baungartner´s article we can also read that more than 90% of brazilian municipalities have no cinema rooms, theatre, museums and cultural spaces in general (he actually mentions that the 6000 cinema rooms Brazil once had are now reduced to 200). So, my questions are the following:

- Without the necessary spaces and cultural habits related to the programmes these places normally offer, can we really believe that a R$50 subsidy is what´s missing in order to create access?

- It is very promising that a government is willing to recognize the social right to culture (it is actually a human right) and to consider it in the constitution amendment. Nevertheless, it needs to be clear for all what is ‘culture’, how it is produced, by whom, where, and what is necessary in order to provide access to it (both in what concerns production and consumption). I say this, because the Culture Voucher official video, quite well done, presents, in the meantime, a vision of what culture is quite concentrated in the so-called ‘high culure’, access to which – for the majority of the people who never go to the cinema, to a museum or to the theatre – is not provided, in the first place, with a R$50 monthly subsidy.

At a time when cultural institutions are looking for ways to share the responsibility of managment and programming with actual and, mainly, potential audiences, through the recognition of various forms of cultural fruition and the creation of conditions that would facilitate access to it, the brazilian initiative seems to ignore recent developments and trends and to be limited to issues that, in my opinion, are important but secondary in this discussion. It is, nevertheless, an interesting initiative, probably innovative, that has produced a large amount of consensus among the different agents that will be involved in it and from which many people will certainly benefit. It will be interesting to follow its development and be able to compare the results against the initial objectives.

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