Photo: FAU, the Architecture school, Universidade de São Paulo, a project by architect Vilanova Artigas. Photo by Leonel Ponce/ Flickr.
The Times Higher...
If we compare the cultural sectors in Brazil and the Netherlands, some major differences emerge. In the Netherlands the government is present at all levels, especially when it concerns funding. In Brazil, several institutions at the federal, state and municipal levels are managed and funded by the government. Their approach is radically different from that of institutions in the Netherlands. Funding is usually just enough to pay for buildings and staff, so little remains for exhibitions and practically nothing at all for expansion of the collection. Managers of these institutions may be replaced at every new funding round, which hampers continuity and which makes long-term planning difficult. Fortunately, the idea that these institutions should be managed at ‘arms length’ at all levels (federal, state, municipal) is gaining ground, leading to, for instance, museum directors staying on in spite of political changes. At the state level this trend is mainly visible in the states that are better off economically, at the municipal level in the bigger cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. At the federal level, however, the situation is more difficult with vacant positions no longer being filled. As a result, a great deal of professional expertise is being lost and institutions are forced to use funds raised through sponsorship or other ways to engage new staff.
Institutions set up by private initiatives are in an even more difficult position. These private initiatives include some of the highest-quality museums in the country, such as the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Fundacao Bienal de São Paulo, Instituto Tomie Ohtake and the Museu da Escultura MUBE. Often, these institutions receive little or no government funding, so that they have to raise money for exhibitions, as well as for the maintenance of their buildings and collections and to pay their staff.
As a result, directors of Brazilian museums have to look for creative and enterprising solutions. To be able to adopt an active exhibition policy, the average museum director has to be a keen sponsorship seeker. New ways to raise extra funds are being explored, such as setting up friends’ schemes, auctions and renting out rooms in the museum for receptions, etc. Museums are also looking for partners abroad, through international cultural institutions and international sponsors.
In extreme cases the lack of financial resources has forced private cultural institutions to charge money for hosting events. This can happen when the event is being organised via independent exhibition organisers and sponsoring has already been arranged. The philosophy behind charging money is that if the organiser and sponsor are so eager to exhibit at the museum in question, they should contribute to the institution’s operating costs.
Another difference between the Netherlands and Brazil is the short-term planning so common in Brazil. Final go/no-go decisions are usually made after sponsorship has been arranged, often at the very last minute. As a result, some initiatives fold in the medium term. Most Brazilians are used to this situation, but this can be very frustrating and some foreign partners are not prepared to work with this level of uncertainty. For instance, in 2007 Art Unlimited, organised a major exhibition of work by Kurt Schwitters. Up to two months before the opening date it was not clear whether sufficient sponsoring could be found. At an early stage our foreign partner, the Sprengelmuseum, was warned about this, so they could get used to the idea.
In Brazil the importance of educational projects in museums is becoming increasingly evident. The vast majority of the public has very little knowledge of art, so a great deal of attention must be paid to explaining the works exhibited and putting them into perspective. Practically all institutions devote a lot of energy to devising guided tours, educational literature for the teachers, recreational activities, special printed matter, etc.