Why Winning Back the Ministry of Culture May Have Been a Loss for Brazil’s Artists

Artsy Editorial
Jun 9, 2016 9:31PM

In May, the interim Brazilian government shuttered the country’s Ministry of Culture. As Silas Martí reported for Artsy, Brazilian artists protested the measure en masse, and the ministry was reinstated. But was that actually in the best interest of the country’s artists and long-term cultural future? Some are skeptical.

In late 2014, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, along with vice-president Michel Temer, was re-elected by a margin of less than 3% of valid votes. It later came to light that the government had forced a public bank to advance payments on social benefits with its own funds before the election, and used the extra money for other ends, an administrative crime punishable by impeachment. While in power, Rousseff’s government created many Ministries: At one point 39 distinct entities existed, up from 23 under her predecessor. The expansion was met with significant negative attention in the media, cast as a politically motivated effort to distribute jobs among parties in order to secure their support.

Following Rousseff’s impeachment, interim president Temer fused many of these ministries in an effort to demonstrate that his government would be serious about cutting costs during a time in which the Brazilian economy has struggled. The entities cut notably include the Ministry of Science and Technology, something that received relatively little attention. As Artsy previously reported, much attention, however, was given to Temer’s folding of the Ministry of Culture into a department within the Ministry of Education. This was how the Ministry of Culture was structured up until the 1980s. But doing so now was a mistake: Artists occupied public buildings across Brazil and protested in Cannes. Two weeks later the Ministry of Culture was back.

Artists protest against Brazil’s interim government. Photo Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil.

Was that really a victory? According to Leonel Kaz, who was among those who helped create the Ministry of Culture in the ’80s, maybe not. In a column for O Globo, Kaz points out that the budget for the Ministry of Education is 100 times larger than that of the Ministry of Culture. If an additional 1/100 of this budget could be directed to Culture, there would be a lot to gain. Like many, the country struggles to engender the average Brazilian—an undereducated citizen with little money to spare—with an interest in culture. What better way to do this than to introduce culture into basic education? Arts and culture programs in schools are lacking and, because of it, culture remains, for the most part, a product for the elite.

The Ministry of Culture’s main initiative in recent years has been the Rouanet Law, which allows private companies to receive tax deductions for their donations to cultural projects. Effectively, the measure serves as a government subsidy of culture using public money but directed by the marketing departments of private businesses. As a result, Brazil invests a lot of money in high-profile music events where tickets sell for $50 and movies. Meanwhile, relatively minimal public funds are given to theater workshops or libraries in favelas, or to projects that make art accessible in small towns. The newly appointed Secretary-turned-Minister of Culture intends to keep Rouanet Law as it is. But a group of congressmen has filed for revision and evaluation of projects financed through its channels, which some find insulting.

As much as the Ministry of Culture’s fusion with the Ministry of Education was a status downgrade, in practical terms, it would be beneficial to look at the country’s cultural policies through the lens of education. Whether as a minister or chief of a department, a strong hand is needed to defend culture in government. That individual must understand that culture is vital to Brazil’s development and that it must be introduced in the widest possible swath of the population, and preferably at an early age. Many of us would be willing to wait a few decades for such an initiative to bear fruit. But given the status quo where those responsible must bend to the interest of political parties and private citizens, there is little hope that such an initiative will come about.

—Liege Gonzalez Jung

Liege Gonzalez Jung is the director of leading Brazilian visual arts website and digital magazine, Dasartes.

Artsy Editorial