This article was originally published in Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben.
Jair Messias Bolsonaro has been president of Brazil since the turn of the year. What changes are in store for the arts and cultural policy?
That is still unclear at the moment. During his election campaign, Bolsonaro did not make any statements on matters of cultural policy—culture didn’t figure in his election manifesto. So far, the biggest watershed has been the dissolution of the Ministry of Culture and its incorporation into a so-called Ministry of Citizenship. We now need to see whether the old structures and competences are retained.
How is the responsibility for cultural policy managed between national and regional levels? Who is responsible for the museums?
Our museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, is a state museum, and we are under the control of the state of São Paulo. Across Brazil, around thirty museums are managed on the federal level, but the majority are run by the local authorities or states. It’s different from how things operate in Germany: one of the most important instruments of cultural funding are the leis de incentivo—i.e., funding through sponsors that is tax deductible. This form of support is extremely important for all the institutions. In the case of our museum, it makes up around 40 percent of our annual budget. The sponsors may be companies or private individuals. The crux is that the decision to approve tax deductible status is taken at the federal level.
Is this provision up for negotiation?
The sponsorship law was repeatedly criticized during the election campaign, with condemnation also coming from Bolsonaro and his supporters. The main criticism was invariably that big companies use the system to circumvent tax payments. And that much of this funding only benefits the main centers. A company that supports a museum in São Paulo naturally has much more visibility than if it sponsors an institution in a small town in the interior of the country. It is completely understandable that this side of things should be criticized; mechanisms should be introduced to distribute resources more fairly. But a complete dismantling of the provision would spell the end for many cultural institutions.
From 2005 to 2012 you were artistic director at the Inhotim Center of Contemporary Art created by private collector Bernardo Paz, who was recently convicted for money laundering. Does this case play into the hands of the right-wing populists?
Bernardo Paz was convicted in the court of first instance; the case has now gone to appeal, and a final verdict is pending. It is important to understand that Bolsonaro is the product of a right-wing populist tendency that has been growing for years and is closely connected with the evangelical churches, which are very popular in Brazil. They claim to uphold conservative virtues and classical family values. Contemporary art, which ponders freedoms and the question of how one wants to live and express oneself, is naturally a thorn in their side. Thus, for some time now, art has been a target of right-wing populist attacks. It’s a fair assumption that the charge leveled against Bernardo Paz is a consequence of this.