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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The biggest topic for news media these days is the Temer administrative team, and his reduction in status of a dozen or so former Ministries. Most commented about is the demotion of the Ministry of Culture (MinC) into a “mere” Secretariat under the Ministry of Education (MEC). As an American, the Curmudgeon confesses that he is perplexed about this.

Michael Royster, Opinion, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

For many years, Culture was subsumed into the Ministry of Education; the “C” in the acronym stood for Culture, and the Ministry maintained the MEC acronym even after a separate Ministry of Culture was formed in 1985. This mirrors the practice in any number of other countries (e.g. Uruguay, Finland and Indonesia). In other countries they have often also been joined by sports, science and technology (e.g. Japan) or even religion (Greece).

In the United States, of course, there is no such thing as a Ministry of Culture, and for a very good reason—most people in the USA believe that government should have nothing to do with culture, which is an entirely private matter; except, of course, the government should give tax breaks to cultural projects.

Most people in the U.S. believe that if there were a Ministry of Culture, the Ministry would try to (a) define what “culture” is; and (b) define what types of culture ought to be supported financially. In Brazil, the now defunct MinC did both those things.

MinC dispensed funds directly to those “cultural” events it approved of, such as pro-Lula/Dilma bloggers. The Rouanet and Audio-Visual laws permit companies to deposit part of their taxes into a fund, which MinC only released to cultural projects it approved. MinC clearly influenced Petrobras, Eletrobras and other state-owned companies in their choice of which culture to promote.

MinC grew in importance during the Lula/Dilma years, and as a result the artistic elite support it wholeheartedly—they fear its downgrading will mean they will no longer be able to access free money. They are probably right in their fears, although the MEC budget is many times that of MinC’s.

Moving to the merits of the question, supporting public education is crucial to Brazil’s development as a country; Brazil urgently needs better-educated citizens. Education of an entire country’s people requires resources on a scale not available to private parties—the federal government must be involved.

Supporting and promoting Brazilian culture may be a good thing, but it is surely not as important to Brazil’s people as education. Cultural events are largely local in nature, and in every locality in Brazil, there is always some way to support and promote them, particularly in this electronic day and age.

And, finally, education ought to expose citizens to culture, to help them appreciate its worth. MEC is not going to forget about culture; the newly appointed Culture Secretary is a lawyer, who will argue his case in Brasília as he did in Rio de Janeiro’s state government.

The Curmudgeon has lived in Brazil for a very long time, but he’s not a culture vulture—yet.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The United States government DOES support the arts with more than tax breaks. The National Council for the Arts gives money to individuals and groups and institutions. And many state governments — like New York — support the arts as well. There is no consensus, Curmudgeon, that the government should leave arts funding entirely to the market. There is a vigorous debate about this.

  2. What I learned from education in the United States (in a very diverse military town) in the 80s, is that education and culture are one and the same. We learned English with an emphasis on European (British) literature. We learned music with an absence of Latin and African rhythms; more specifically we focused on classical music (European composers). History had a very Euro-centric (and ultimately Anglo-centric) bent. The point is that the two arenas everyone seems to want to separate are intrinsically intertwined. Removing funding for one while promoting the other, ensures that you end up with neither a well educated populace or coherent cultural values.

  3. A further point, the United States is placing cultural preservation over the actual education of its populace. The result seems to be evident in the last 20 years.

  4. I live in Ireland. Embarrassed to say it is only recently that I am obtaining a true understanding of the culture and history of the Brazilian people. But such is the impression it has left upon me that I find myself following politics, social, economic and cultural goings-on. This coming shift in government involvement on culture is fascinating. Will it mean a greater opportunity for tribal groups and smaller, rural elements obtaining more funding to promote their culture?

  5. To the Kevins. I know about the National Endowment for the Arts. I know that’s just about the only thing the Federal Government does for “culture” which it refers to as “the arts”. And I’m happy with that. I simply do not believe that government can make culture. Furthermore, I do not believe that government should choose which types of culture to promote. I, as an aging white male anglo-saxon protestant, have a great difficulty believing rap, funk and such like loud noise are “culture” but I know that, since the late 1960’s, I have always thought Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are culture.
    And what I know is that the US government never ever tried to promote Mick or Elvis or the Big Bopper as culture, and that is good. Culture must come from the ground up, not from the top down, as any Ministry of Culture will act. Ministries do not believe in ground roots, they believe in tax subsidies and rulings from on high.

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