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Brazil: The Cost of Financing Culture

Recent news that the Brazilian Ministry of Culture has authorized famous singer Maria Bethânia to raise R$ 1.3 million tax free (Brazilian reais – approximately US$ 777,000) to create a poetry blog, has aroused the anger of bloggers, Twitter users and other cultural activists.

The financing of the project would fall under the so-called Lei Rouanet (Rouanet Law) [pt], which is designed as an incentive to promote Brazilian culture. The law allows companies and individuals to invest part of their income tax in cultural projects.

Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia. Image by João Milet Meirelles, under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia. Image by João Milet Meirelles, under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

According [pt] to the website Comunique-se, singer Bethânia will record 365 videos for the blog O Mundo Precisa de Poesia (The World Needs Poetry), in which she will recite poems of her own, or from other authors:

Os 365 vídeos, um para cada dia do ano, serão dirigidos por Andrucha Waddington, famoso cineasta. O valor do blog e a escolha do cineasta para dirigir os vídeos causaram polêmica. Muitos internautas questionam se Maria Bethânia não conhece o WordPress, Blogspot e YouTube, ferramentas gratuitas.

The 365 videos, one for each day of the year, will be directed by famous filmmaker Andrucha Waddington. Both the cost of the blog and the choice of the filmmaker to direct the videos has caused controversy. Many critics have wondered if Bethânia has never heard of free online blogging tools and platforms such as WordPress, Blogspot and YouTube.

Cultural survival

The main criticisms of bloggers and Twitter users has focused on the project's cost and the fact that a well-known artist like Bethânia can rely on such a process to get sponsored, while hundreds of other minor artists cannot find ways to survive.

Poster of the protest "We want to be Maria Bethania". By Leon Prado on Facebook.

Poster of the protest "We want to be Maria Bethania". By Leon Prado on Facebook.

On Twitter, the reactions have been of outrage:

@M_Caleiro: Bethãnia é uma grande artista, não se contesta. Mas não precisa de dinheiro público para montar blog, enquanto muitos, com talento, precisam

@M_Caleiro: Bethânia is a great artist, one cannot dispute. But she doesn't need public money to build a blog, while many, with talent, need it

@bete_davis: @M_Caleiro tb acho que ela e o andrucha não precisam disso, verba pra cultura devia ir pra quem ñ consegue captar

@bete_davis: @M_Caleiro I also think thar andrucha doesn't need this, money for culture should go to those  that are not able to collect

On Facebook, lawyer Maria Carolina Campos comments [pt]:

depois dos outros 3 milhões que ela conseguiu pra turnê que aqui em BH custava quase R$ 200,00 o ingresso!

after the other 3 million she got for a tour that here in BH [Belo Horizonte] cost almost R$200 per ticket!

The Ministry of Culture's authorization for the project means that the state will give up of thousands of reais in taxes:

@viniciusduarte: Autorizar a Bethânia a captar R$ 1,3 mi corresponde ao governo ABRIR MÃO de R$ 520 mil em impostos, no mínimo.

@viniciusduarte: To authorize Bethânia to collect R$ 1.3 million equates to the government GIVING UP a minimum of R$ 520,000 in taxes.

@viniciusduarte: No mínimo, porque ela pode captar 100% do valor com pessoas físicas (há mercado pra isso) e o valor sobe pra R$ 1,04 mi.

@viniciusduarte: At least [R$ 520,000], because she can collect 100% of the cost from individuals (there's a market for it) and the figure rises to R$ 1.04 million.

Pablo Villaça, from the blog Cinema em Cena estimates that, taking out the amount that would go to the collectors, around R$ 1.17 million would go toward the blog's production. Each video will cost about R$ 3,200. He says [pt]:

A pergunta, então, deveria ser: três mil reais por vídeo é um valor tão absurdo assim? Impulso inicial de quem sabe como é caro produzir audiovisual: não, não é.

The question, then, should be: is R$ 3,000 per video such an absurd cost? The initial reaction of someone who knows how expensive it is to produce audiovisual is: no it is not.

But he adds that this cost would not be compatible with videos of 3-5 minutes length consisting of just one person reciting poetry, and adds:

Claro que, para ser completamente justo, eu (na verdade, qualquer um) só poderia bater o martelo nesta acusação depois de estudar a planilha de custos apresentada pelos proponentes ao Ministério da Cultura. Mas ainda assim, considerando a logística da produção e uma experiência básica em audiovisual, a conta ainda soa exageradamente salgada e fora de propósito.

Of course, to be completely fair, I (actually, anyone) could only hammer out this complaint after studying the cost sheets submitted by the tenderers to the Ministry of Culture. But still, considering the logistics of production and a basic audiovisual experience, the account still sounds overly dodgy and pointless.

Tiago Agostino released [pt] via Twitter the original project sent by Maria Bethânia to the Ministry of Culture. The blog Implicante promptly smashed [pt] the predicted costs and pointed out indignantly:

A própria Maria Bethânia é a DIRETORA ARTÍSTICA (R$ 600 mil) e também ocupa os cargos destinado à “pesquisa” (R$ 36 mil).

Maria Bethania herself is the ARTISTIC DIRECTOR (R$ 600,000) and also holds the “research” position (R$ 36,000).

The Ministry of Culture however, released a statement [pt] affirming the legality of the process and reiterating that the approval has strictly followed the rules:

Os critérios da CNIC são técnicos e jurídicos; assim, rejeitar um proponente pelo fato de ser famoso, ou não, configuraria óbvia e insustentável discriminação;

The criteria in the CNIC [Comissão Nacional de Incentivo à Cultura – National Commission on Cultural Incentives]are technical and legal, so reject an applicant because she/he is famous or not, would set up obvious and untenable discrimination;

Antônio Mello, in his blog, responds [pt] to the question of whether the funding is legal:

Está. É a lei.

O que se deve discutir é se o governo deve abrir mão do poder de escolha de onde deve investir integralmente o dinheiro dos impostos.

It is. That's the law.

What we should discuss is whether the government should give up the power to choose where to invest tax money in full.

What then, is the big question that generated this controversy, which prompted the term “Maria Bethânia” to spend days in the Brazilian Twitter trending topics? The blog Imprença explains [pt] that:

[..] é preciso esclarecer que a questão não é o blog, nem a Bethânia. O problema maior é a “Lei Rouanet”.

Para quem não está familiarizado com a lei Rouanet, eu explico e é algo bastante simples. Todo ser humano {{ou empresa}} que tenha intenções culturais pode mandar um projeto para a lei Rouanet. Você (…) preenche os formulários (… e) o projeto é aprovado {ou volta para você corrigir, repetir o processo até que seja aprovado}. Lindo! E aí?!

Aí você pega o orçamento aprovado, vai até alguma empresa e diz: “Oi, eu sou Fulano, tenho um projeto cultural aprovado pela lei Rouanet e gostaria do seu patrocínio”.

[..] one need to clarify that the issue is not the blog or Bethânia. The biggest problem is the “Rouanet Law”.

For those not familiar with the Rouanet Law, I will explain, it's something quite simple. Every human being (or company) that has cultural intentions can apply a project for the Rouanet Law. You […] fill out the forms [and] the project is approved (or goes back to you to correct, and you repeat the process until it is approved). Beautiful! Well, so?!

Then you get the budget approved, go to some company and says “Hi, I'm so-and-so, I have a cultural project approved by the Rouanet Law and would like your sponsorship”.

“]Screenshot of the satyrical blog, "Blog da Bethânia, 1 milhão de motivos para você acessar" (Blog of Bethânia, 1 million reasons for you to access).

Screenshot of the satyrical blog, "Blog da Bethânia, 1 milhão de motivos para você acessar" (Blog of Bethânia, 1 million reasons for you to access).

This process, appropriated by the interests of big names and governed by the market, has suffered from great distortions over the years, favoring respected names over beginners, explains [pt] blogger, journalist and filmmaker Mauricio Caleiro:

(…) o imbroglio envolvendo a cantora baiana pôs a nu as vicissitudes da “Lei Rouanet”, instrumento que, logo após ser criado, desempenhou papel fundamental na sobrevivência de determinados setores artísticos durante o outono neoliberal, mas que, como o episódio em questão evidencia, acabou por gerar graves distorções nas relações entre economia, ideologia e produção cultural.

(…) the imbroglio involving the baiana [from Bahia] singer revealed the problems of the “Rouanet Law”, a tool that, shortly after being created, played a key role in the survival of certain artistic areas during the liberal autumn [metaphor for a falling capitalist paradigm], but as the episode in question shows, eventually lead to serious distortions in relations between economy, ideology and cultural production.

Alfredo Manevy, in an interview with the website A Rede, illustrates [pt] the problem:

O Minc aprova 10 mil projetos por ano. Desses 10 mil, 20% captam recursos e 80% batem nas portas das estatais e de empresas privadas sem sucesso.

The Minc [Ministry of Culture] approves 10,000 projects per year. Of these 10,000, 20% raise money and 80%  knock on the doors of state-run companies and private companies without success.

Conceição Oliveira, in her blog, adds [pt]:

Os artistas que já estão inseridos na indústria cultural e que têm, devido a sua fama e visibilidade, muito mais chances de conseguir recursos que possibilitem desenvolver um produto profissional.

The artists who are already working in the cultural industry have, because of their fame and visibility, much better chances of getting resources in order to develop a professional product.

It is worth noting that the Ministry of Culture, headed by Minister Ana de Hollanda, has been bombarded by criticism since the beginning of the year, after removing the Creative Commons licence from the Ministry's website, as reported by Global Voices in January 2011. It has also taken various measures considered setbacks by a wide range of cultural and political activists.

To mock this whole issue, the satirical Blog of Bethania: 1 million reasons for you to access [pt] has been created by blogger Raphael Quatroci.

Article co-authored by Raphael Tsavkko Garcia.

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