Cultural Playing Field

Points of Contact visit to Brazil by Robin Simpson
March 30, 2010, 4:23 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On his appointment as Brazilian Minister of Culture in 2004, the legendary musician Gilberto Gil launched a programme known as Cultura Viva – Living Culture. Gil’s Secretary of Culture, Celio Turino, developed a system called ‘Pontos de Cultura’ – Cultural Points: Gil described Cultural Points as “sharp interventions into the depths of urban and rural Brazil that aim to awaken, stimulate, and project what is characteristic and most positive in communities in marginalised societies”. The aim was to build a programme based on “what already exists and works legitimately within the community… local bodies, organisations and mechanisms that can be strengthened, improved and continuously evaluated.” Gil said “I’m not talking about giving people fish, nor about teaching people how to fish. I am talking about enabling the ‘fishing’ that has been going on for a long time, especially in areas prone to social vulnerability”. There are now more than 2,500 Cultural Points, each receiving around £48,000 to develop activities according to what it needs and wants to do, usually a continuation of existing practices, in some cases never previously remunerated. Approximately 10% of the funds must go towards the purchase of multimedia equipment that is supported by free software provided by the Ministry. The idea of building on existing community cultural activity rather than always starting something brand new and offering funding with little stipulation about how it should be used, trusting that the groups selected as Cultural Points will use it in a way that will create a positive social impact, fascinated me.

I was very excited to be offered the chance to visit Brazil to learn more about Pontos de Cultura as part of ‘Points of Contact’ – an exchange programme between the UK and Brazil organised by People’s Palace Projects (and funded by the British Council, Arts Council England and the Brazilian Government). A dozen British arts organisations have been twinned with Brazilian Cultural Points with the UK representatives visiting their Brazilian colleagues in March and return visits to the UK happening in July. I was invited to join a small group of policymakers and funders to visit Brazil during the initial exchange visits. Our group included Mick Elliott, Director of Culture at DCMS, together with senior representatives of Arts Council England, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Liverpool City Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation as well as two Clore Fellows. It was great for Voluntary Arts to be included in this company – not least for the opportunity to network with the other members of the group.

Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo

Our visit started in Sau Paulo – the fourth largest city in the world with a population of 20 million people. We were taken to see a range of cultural facilities and organisations and took part in a formal seminar with the Secretaries of Culture for the State and the City of Sao Paulo.

Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro

Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro

We then flew to Rio de Janeiro where we took part in a debate in the old Ministry of Culture building with representatives of the federal and municipal governments. We also visited several Cultural Points, including the Spectaculu school of theatre, acting, costume design, illumination, and carpentry. Spectaculu is located in the docks area near to the bus station – deliberately neutral and accessible territory in order to attract young people from several rival favelas. See:



On Wednesday we visited three of Rio’s favelas to see the work of AfroReggae – an amazing organisation which is using culture to bring hope to some of Brazil’s poorest and most violent communities – literally saving lives. See:

AfroReggae drummers in the Vigário Geral favela, Rio de Janeiro

AfroReggae drummers in the Vigário Geral favela, Rio de Janeiro

From Rio we flew to the North East of Brazil to the city of Fortaleza to join the Teia (literally ‘the web’) – the biennial festival of the Pontos de Cultura. Representatives of most of Brazil’s 2500 Cultural Points had travelled from across this vast country for a week of celebration, performances, demonstrations and discussions. It was wonderful to wander around the Dragão do Mar complex, stumbling upon an amazing diversity of cultures and activities. I had been particularly hoping to hear some forró (“the hip-swiveling, dancefloor-filling, rural party music of Brazil’s northeastern states”) in its natural habitat – and I wasn’t disappointed. It was also great to see such a mass of voluntary artists celebrating the cultural activities developed in their own communities. The Teia is a unique event but if you could imagine transplanting The Gathering or the National Eisteddfod to somewhere just south of the equator you wouldn’t be too far off!

The Teia, Fortaleza

The Teia, Fortaleza

I had a brilliant time in Brazil but the real value of the trip will be in what happens next. As we prepare for the return visit by the Brazilians in July our policymakers group will be meeting to discuss whether the Pontos de Cultura system might provide models we could adopt in the UK. I think I left Brazil with more questions than answers and some scepticism about the replicability of the scheme – though it is obviously producing fantastic results in Brazil. But I do feel inspired to continue the debate and I think we have the beginnings of a strong alliance with the other UK organisations in the group which may produce some exciting results for the voluntary arts sector.

I am incredibly grateful to Mick Elliott for the chance to be part of the policymakers group and to everyone at People’s Palace Projects for organising such a truly wonderful experience. Particular thanks must go to the amazing Paul Heritage – the inspiration and driving force behind ‘Points of Contact’.

Robin Simpson.


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