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By Sarah Coursey, Editor

Petrobras unveils its Cultural Program for 2008-2009, photo by Steferson Faria for Agencia Petrobras.
Petrobras unveils its Cultural Program for 2008-2009, photo by Steferson Faria for Agencia Petrobras.

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Financial Times listed Petrobras as one of the world’s 50 largest companies in 2007. From the modernist Rubik’s cube headquarters in Rio’s redeveloped downtown to petrol stations with the familiar yellow and green logo, the Brazilian oil monopoly’s presence in Rio is ubiquitous.

The company’s sheer financial size is staggering, worth US$15.3 billion in 2008, and currently employing nearly 75,000 people. There is a softer side to the petrol powerhouse though, since the 1980’s Petrobras has been Brazil’s largest sponsor of culture.

Through its work to preserve the country’s cultural memory, it was voted the fourth most respected firm in the world according to the Reputation Institute. Its initiatives spread across class, race and region to tap into the essence of what it means to be Brazilian, and it could be argued that its patronism has become a cultural icon in its own right.

The Petrobras stamp of approval on an arts project has become synonymous with excellence, quality and posterity, and has allowed the space in society for works that might otherwise not see the light of day. The many performers, musicians, painters, writers, dancers and filmmakers who have benefited from this sponsorship have more than oil profits to thank.

It is the emphasis that Petrobras places upon Brazil’s heritage that fuels the sponsorship efforts, and the whole country reaps the benefits. Both in making exhibitions financially accessible to the public, to supporting community projects to fuel a new generation of artists, Petrobras has become a non-official extension of the Ministry of Culture.

The government is not without its part to play in making Petrobras’ efforts fiscally attractive. Sponsorship for projects is prioritized under the Rouanet Law, and must therefore have prior Ministry of Culture approval to be carried out.

The company sponsors projects approved under Article 18 of the Rouanet Law (which offers sponsors a 100% fiscal benefit) and Article 26 (through which sponsor benefits are limited to 30%, which is the case, for example, for all feature films sponsored by Petrobras).

As well as Rouanet Law approval, Petrobras also has to submit the projects to the SECOM Sponsorship Committee (Sub-secretariat for Institutional Communications at the General Secretariat of the President of the Republic) for approval before being contracted.

Petrobras’ focus on affirming the Brazilian identity adopted a more structured approach in 2001, when Visual Arts, Stage, Cinema and Music Programs were created, each with projects issued for public selection. It provides democratic access to the funding, employing transparent processes that are widely advertised throughout the country. The aim is to balance sponsorship with the rich ethnic and regional diversity of the country, and provide equal funding to states beyond the usual suspects of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.

As of 2003, these segmented Programs were replaced by a single entity, the Petrobras Cultural Program. The annual tender for the Program has always been released in November, the month in which Brazil celebrates National Culture Day (November 5th).

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