By Richard Mann, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian government wants to redistribute grants for cultural projects and persuade companies to promote productions outside of major cities. People involved in cultural projects view this as symbolic politics against the art scene in São Paulo and Rio.
On April 24th, the Ministry of Citizenship published the new law for cultural promotion in the Diário Oficial da União, the official journal of the federal government of Brazil.
The maximum amount of funding for a project is now only one million Brazilian reais (US$ 250,000) instead of R$60 million (US$15 million).
Above all, this directly affects large musical productions as well as the cultural capitals of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. According to the competent minister, Osmar Terra, the aim of the new policy is to provide democratic access to funds for unknown artists and the structurally disadvantaged regions of the country.
Criticism of the measures has now also been voiced among the ranks of the governing party PSL (Partido Social Liberal). According to them, the law was enacted without engaging in a dialogue with cultural creators.
The Federal Law for Cultural Incentive was introduced in 1991 under the name Rouanet Law and is possibly the largest and most important funding for cultural creators in the country.
The Rouanet Law makes it possible for companies to transfer up to four percent of their taxes to cultural projects instead of government coffers. These cultural funds make up less than one percent of the total nationwide tax foregone that is granted in other areas.
Interested producers initially need to have the artistic value of their projects checked by a national committee before they go out in search of sponsoring partners.
Last December, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro announced via Twitter that “strict controls on approvals” would begin in 2019. Moreover, the patronage of the most important donor, the semi-public petroleum corporation Petrobras, was to be examined.
In April, the company decided to end partnerships for major film festivals in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília. According to a statement by the corporation, it wants to focus on projects in the areas of science, technology, and education.
This resulted in weeks of speculation and fears among cultural creators. This legislative amendment means that a significantly lower total funding amount per institution will enter into force in addition to the new funding limit for each individual project.
Instead of R$60 million as before, a maximum of R$10 (US$2.5) million will be envisaged for a total of up to ten projects. Last year, more than 120 musicals submitted project proposals for more than one million reais.
The Bem Sertanejo musical production alone had received R$7.4 million the previous year. For Billy Elliott, it was R$6.7 million. At the time, the ten largest funded production companies included three in the field of musicals with a total funding volume of more than R$40 million.
The new limit is not a cost-cutting measure, but “the end of an activity that will move a lot of professionals out of the entertainment sector,” director Claudio Botelho wrote in Folha de S.Paulo.
Producer Stephanie Mayorkis called it a shock, and by her estimates, more than 15,000 workers in over thirty major musical productions in the country will be affected.
An explicit goal of the government is to take away funding from major productions and, above all, to make projects in small towns and outside of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro more visible.
So far, 90 percent of the funds have been going to the two metropolises. Because of this, projects in the interior as well as in the north and northeast will receive twice as much funding.
The strict limits do not apply to the construction of theaters in cities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, nor to the restoration of historical cultural heritage or the annual programs of non-profit institutions, such as museums or orchestras.
A limit of six million reais now applies to regional events and popular celebrations, literary events, operas, festivals, festive parades or symphony concerts. The interpretation of this is in the hands of the competent commission, which was also newly formed along with the government. The number of free tickets for those in need will also increase from ten to 20-40 percent.
The name Rouanet will also disappear from the old law. It will now only be named after its function.
Sérgio Paulo Rouanet, the law’s namesake and cultural secretary of the center-right government of Fernando Collor in the 90s, spoke of a feeling of “relief” about this amendment but criticized the government’s actions: “The law is in need of an amendment, but this must be done after consulting with different cultural producers,” he explained to the Globo media group.
Criticism was also voiced among the government’s own ranks. Parliamentarian Alexandre Frota (PSL) from Rio de Janeiro criticized the lack of dialog with those affected. The minister did not mention that not all popular celebrations could be excluded from the amendment.
At the same time, former secretary of culture in São Paulo and professor at the public university USP Carlos Augusto Calil has doubts as to whether these measures will really promote the decentralization of the cultural scene. “Companies mainly have an active interest in the southeast of the country. It is only natural that this region is being favored.”
Just like the country’s GDP, its cultural scene is also concentrated here. Nevertheless, the core of the funding has remained intact.
The secretary of culture of the city of São Paulo, Alé Youssef, said on Twitter that it is “a shame that the amendments announced disregard the data on the effects of the funded projects on the economy and employment.”
In an interview with Estadão, he explained: “It is odd that a party that calls itself economically liberal is denigrating a law that channels private funds onto the cultural market.”
He suspects that there is an underlying “ideological intention that really shouldn’t be there”. Mayor Bruno Covas wants to speak out against the maximum limit in a joint open letter with his colleagues.
Some Carnival events that are traditionally financed in part by the law could be affected by the maximum limit. The Mancha Verde samba school had received more than three million reais in funding for this year’s Carnival parade through the law from the lending firm Crefisa.
This year, in particular, the parades were characterized by loud protests against the government. At the time, Bolsonaro threatened on Twitter that “these kinds of artists will no longer get rich with the Rouanet Law.”
The message was indirectly aimed at musician Caetano Veloso and singer Daniela Mercury, who released a song with the title “Proibido O Carnaval” (Forbidden Carnival), in which they criticize the censorship of culture in Brazil.
The changes in the cultural sphere are being viewed critically in Brazil’s cultural scene. Changes were already being discussed in previous years and also endorsed under the government of Dilma Rousseff.
These cuts now also stand against the Bolsonaro government’s background of defaming artists as beneficiaries of a supposedly leftist policy of indulgence in the cultural sphere.
Last year, a study by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation concluded that 1.59 real would flow back into the Brazilian economy for every real invested through this law.
The dissolution of Brazil’s Ministry of Culture earlier this year shows how important the growing creative industry is to the new government.
At the same time, the discourse of the president and his minister of education is dominated by the persecution of a supposedly indoctrinated left and the fight against “cultural Marxism” is a government maxim.
A couple of days ago, Bolsonaro announced budget cuts for philosophy and sociology departments at Brazilian universities.