Brazil: The clock is ticking

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited is just back from Brazil, the land of football, samba, cocktails… extreme poverty and endemic corruption. In the lead up to the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio 2016, she reports on arts, disability, access and British Council’s ongoing Transform project…

I had been invited to speak at ENTRE arte e acesso (BETWEEN Arts and access) at Itau Cultural Centre in São Paulo, a cultural venue hosting its first ever festival focusing on disability and the arts, but before heading there I stopped off in Rio to get a sense of the country and its plans.

Brazil is complex and currently both in the grip of its worst recession since the 1930’s and an impeachment challenge to its President. The clock is ticking for the Olympics and Paralympics and Rio is in the middle of preparations. The Cultural programme is yet to be finalised – all that has been released so far is that the festivities will focus ‘on the streets’.

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Decisions in Brazil can change rapidly. I visited a library and arts complex which until this year was funded by the state. Until the state suddenly stopped funding, with no notice. After four months of campaigning, the municipal authorities stepped in for 12 months so the library can open and programme activities – at least for now.

Transform has been working its magic for a number of years now – with training courses in access provided by Shape Arts and artists such as Claire Cunningham, Julie MacNamara, Marc Brew and Robert Softley-Gale already visitors. And the impact can be seen – I attended an access meeting in Rio for curators, educators and others where people passionately debated the best routes for developing continued change.

Access standards are improving – the soon to be opened Museum of Tomorrow (I had a sneaky look around ahead of its opening on the 19 December) has great access with some really innovative features and access provisions.

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Once in São Paulo I had a few days before the festival began so I spent time with the British Council team talking about embedding disabled artists in the mainstream, at the amazing Museum of Modern Art looking at the detail of their incredible access provisions and then had the privilege of speaking at the 3rd annual Human Rights Festival giving a presentation on disabled women artists to an incredible mixed audience. The Festival is for all people in Brazil, and was attended by those who live on the streets and the favelas, trans people, disabled people and anyone else who happened to be wandering through the streets of São Paulo!

ENTRE arte e acesso was a fantastic mix of performances, discussions and debates, featuring performances by Gira Dança (powerful, raw and provocative), Pulsar Cia. de Dança (fantastic balloon ending!) and Unlimited’s own Jo Bannon. I was delighted to also catch Billy Saga, a talented Brazilian rapper who I’d love to bring over to the UK.

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Brazil has left me exhausted and questioning. How do you keep pushing forwards when everything surrounding you is changing and you just can’t firm up commitments? How do you support artists and initiatives to flourish? How can you build both trust and audiences?

Remarkably, Transform is managing to do just that. Hats off to Paula Lopez and all at British Council – keep the transformation happening!

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