Monday, 4 March 2013

Guest post: "Santo André Cultura Viva Movement - society seeks dialogue", by Simone Zárate (Brazil)

Do you remember Santo André? The city where the unimaginable - for us – took place, when the population questioned the Secretary of Culture on his cultural policies and demanded participation? This case really intrigued me and it was a very happy coincidence that Simone Zárate and I have a common friend, André Fonseca, who put us in touch. Simone had been Secretary of Cultural herself, in that same city of Santo André, and she helps us understand how this came about. It´s a long and continuous process, the result of vision, hard work, determination. And it is good to know it´s possible. mv

Citizenship and Culture seminar, 1993. (Photo: Cibele Aragão)
“For the creation of a municipal library and a conference hall.” This was one of the proposals of the candidates of the Social Labour Party in the 1947 municipal elections in Santo André (Brazil). The candidates (prefect and MPs) won the election, but, due to political problemas at a national level, they were not able to carry out their mandate. The municipal library was created seven years later, in 1954.

The story of the struggles for cultural action of the public authorities goes back a long time in Santo André. In the course of time, it got to know different actors and proposals. Santo André is one of the cities of so-called Greater ABC region (A for Santo André; B for São Bernardo; C for São Caetano), located in the Greater São Paulo area; a region which was developed thanks to the industry; a region of labour and social struggles, but also of artistic and cultural movements.

Since 1954, the prefecture of Santo André intervenes in the city´s cultural development. For better and for worse. But it was in the early 90s of the last century that an incisive action of the municipal political power became evident in the cultural sector. I am referring to the Labour Party´s the first term in the city: creation of new venues and programmes, decentralization of services and of the power of decision, inducing social participation in the building of public policies (with adjustments and the mistakes that are natural for every innovative project). This was not a privilege just for Santo André, but for many other cities administered by a political party which spread the debate on the importance of cultural policies at a national level. Cultural policies that would say ‘no’ to cronyism (individual or corporate) and would promote reflection and critical citizenship.

Many of those who participate today in the Santo André Cultura Viva Movement formed also part of that historical period of public action in the city´s culture, as well as of other movements. As users of cultural services, as artists, as critics, as workers, as militants. In 1993, when times were quite different from now, the Permanent Forum of Cultural Debates collected thousands of signatures against the “cultural dismantling” that resulted from the change in the municipal administration and it organized the Citizenship and Culture Seminar; in 2009, the Free Movement SA organized a public event in order to raise awareness with the recently elected prefect regarding the “importance  of the cultural sector for the city”. In 2013, they claim involvement in the building of cultural policies.

Culture Fair at a community center in Santo André, 1991. (Photo: Jason Brito Pessoa)
The participation of the population in the building of cultural policies is a joint and lengthy learning  process in all areas, nevertheless, in the cultural area there as always some issues that end up permeating the debate: the population does not express a desire for culture; culture is not among the priorities – neither of the governments nor of the citizens; the interest regarding cultural policies is related to personal and/or corporate interests.  It´s in part true: for a long time (and still today) we´ve been bearing witness to umbilical claims, for “my own backyard”, for the funding of my artistic segment. In the meantime, though, these corporate claims have gradually been giving way in the last years to concerns regarding the collective, to concerns regarding cultural policy directives not only in relation to specific segments, but in relation to the city.  

In Brazil, the occurence of the change is certainly associated to the federal government policy, specifically that of the Ministry of Culture, which from 2003 onwards, among other audacities, has put into practice an enlargement of the concept of cultural in government policy, has stimulated social participation through conferences, seminars, forums, etc. And has implanted the Cultura Viva Programme, with the aim to allow for the empowerement, protagonism and autonomy of culture agents from all over the country. Culture beyond the arts and heritage, culture made by the people and the State as instigator. We may add to this the transformations in the social relations due to the internet, especially the social media and the free sofware movements: horizontality and colaborative processes.

An elected government has always got some kind of programme, as well as responsibilties and legal and budget limitations, though such limitations are not obstacles to the promotion of dialogue. No matter how illuminated and well intended, a cabinet cultural policy will not reflect reality, the wishes, dynamics and needs of the population. This observation alone should generate the need to build together, the result of the summing up of information, possibilities and limitations of the government and society translated into programmes and actions, but also a space of clarification and consensual and transparent resolution of legitimate and necessary conflicts.    

A meeting of the Santp André Cultura Viva Movement, 2013. (Photo: Marcello Vitorino)
The Santo André Cultura Viva Movement - according to my observations, as well as according to the letter given to the prefect and all elected city counsellors – does not mean to form an opposition and is not corporate. On the contrary, it aims to promote dialogue, collective building, autonomy, decentralization of power and leadership, cultural policies for the city which provide the right for effective citizenship. It wishes to participate politically, in the sense of discussin the polis, and thus to become stronger.

As Mercedes Sosa used to sing, “todo cambia” (everything changes). “Cambia lo superficial, cambia también lo profundo, cambia el modo de pensar, cambia todo en este mundo” (the superficial changes, as well as the profound, the way of thinking changes, everything changes in this world). As defined by the word itself, Movements also change, the y come and go, some times they fall asleep, other times they are on permanent alert. Cultural, poetic and critical accumulation, though, are redefinitions and remain present. Hopefully!

Simone Zárate has na MA in Culture and Information for the University of São Paulo. She has been working in the cultural sector since 1991, as a culture agent, as Secretary of Culture, Sports and Leisure in the Prefecture of Santo André, as well as Coordinator of Social Development in the Greater ABC Intermunicipal Consortium. She is an independent researcher and consultant in culural management and cultural policies and director of IFOC – Observatórioa & Formação Cultural (Culture Observatory and Training). 

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