A Week in Brazil

Sitting in Sao Paulo airport, filling in time during a five hour wait to get the plane to Paris and then Manchester.  Arrived this afternoon from Recife but the traffic in Sao Paulo has led the Paulistas to warn me not to try to get into the city and back in time for the flight home……………very reluctantly, given that I’ve only had breakfast and the food in SP is wonderful and the food in the airport is not, nor will it be on the airline, I’ve had to give way.  Foodwise, worst nightmares realised!  But I have access to an exec lounge so a glass of the local Sauv Blanc is helping to retain my equilibrium!

It’s been a fantastic week – the Creative Economy is a significant topic in the general discourse here and  the Brazilian people are on an adventure, exploring with intelligence and passion.  Interestingly, they have recognised that the world suddenly sees Brazil as the new place to do business and they are being inundated by people wanting to come and size up opportunities.   Made me grateful to be here by invitation but I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t give my eye teeth to come back.  The atmosphere here is best categorised as ‘hungry’.   They want to know – they are acutely aware of the economic changes that are happening  globally and their own role in that.  They know about the Knowledge Economy, the creative economy but they want more – they want to make it theirs, to make it real, and to establish themselves as global players.   The stories I told about what is happening elsewhere in the world were the ones that resonated most.  From Singapore to Zimbabwe via Europe, there was real inspiration and recognition, and it was so stimulating to see the way  people reacted to it all.

My first session on the Monday night was with a group of practitioners who have set up their own network in the city, SEMEC. One of the members has inherited a (beautiful!) house and has converted it into the meeting place for creative entrepreneurs and practitioners.   Essentially, I was talking about the work of CidaCo and clearly there was much fellow feeling as they develop their own ways of supporting and strengthening each other as practitioners in the sector.

The next morning, I did a whistle stop tour of three fantastic museums/galleries – fabulous contemporary art in a stunningly beautiful Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of the Portuguese Language, which was fascinating and innovatively accessible, reminding me of the astonishment I experienced in the early days of Bradford’s National Museum of Film Photography and Video, now rightly acclaimed as the Media Museum; and finally the Museum of Sacred Art, exhibiting the wealth of Catholic history in Brazil, with all the contradictions inherent in that.   Their Director of Education,  Rodolfo Yamamoto Neves, a  Japanese Brazilian (a strong community in Sao Paulo),  showed me around and I found myself involved in a deeply absorbing discussion of the values inherent in the Museum and the relevance to issues of today.  He is astonishing – frankly, for me brought up in the Catholic tradition, it was exhilarating to see him using the art of such an established and recognisable tradition to stimulate and catalyse really original thinking, challenging and properly appraising that heritage but stimulating people to make connections and critically review societal values today.    An unexpected experience.

Part of the reason – the main reason, I think – that I was invited out here was to be part of the celebration of the 457th (I think!) anniversary of the founding of Sao Paulo – fantastic anniversary!  Don’t think I had fully appreciated the significance so was taken aback completely to find that my ‘talk’ on ‘Transforming the City through Creativity’ was actually one of the significant events of the anniversary celebration, sponsored by SESI and linked to the  Industries Organisation that brings all the major industries and corporate bodies together.  So it was politically (with a small ‘p’) important to help demonstrate the potential impact of the creative economy on the wider economy and to help persuade those major industry captains to support the nurturing and development of the creative sector.   The event took place in the SESI auditorium in the centre of the city – a fully professional auditorium, with around 500 seats, pros arch stage of about 35’ wide and stage about 40’ deep, so quite serious!!  Suddenly, to my amazement, I found myself being taken down to the dressing rooms,  where one had been allocated to me – the backstage felt just like every theatre I’ve ever worked in – orchestra in blacks, all warming up – trombones here, cellos there – fabulous, the air full of the musicality of those musicians, the choir rehearsing en masse in the chorus dressing room, the techies going about their business with their immediately recognisable air of authority – this is THEIR territory,  as it is in every theatre – they let me on to the stage to feel its dimensions, to test the sound, and to acclimatise to a powerpoint presentation on a screen that filled the stage!  As the beginners’ call was given, the Maestro passed me on his way to the stage and nodded at me – am sure he didn’t know who the hell I was but the professional recognition felt both important and reassuring!

The orchestra played magnificently, to wild applause – clearly everyone was out to have a good night! – they were the crème de la crème of Sao Paulo society and were united in their aim to celebrate their city.  The show had been oversold by 25% so the auditorium was full and there was standing room only – actually, around 600 tickets sold, so we were able to make it feel quite intimate still –

The orchestra were on first, and played magnificently, but there was no interval –  I was formally introduced from stage by the ineffable Ana Carla Fonseca Reis, who is a cultural economist and  world authority on the Creative Economy, a leading player in Brazil.  She has a shining intelligence and deep knowledge of the creative economy, both of  which are enhanced by a wonderful open interest in people, which makes her irresistible.  Everyone in Sao Paulo seems to know her and has been charmed by her!

The ‘talk’ (ha! felt more like a one-woman show!!)  went well enough – always difficult to assess your own performance but, happily, everyone seemed enthusiastic afterwards.  We went to dinner afterwards hosted by Luis, the Director of Arts with the SP British Council – he and his colleagues turned out to be a very interesting and ambitious group of  bright young things that genuinely made you feel that the creative economy concept is really going to motor in the city;  there was also a great group of people including local creative entrepreneurs and practitioners.  The  legendary Brazilian cuisine was quite fabulous, enhanced by some adventures with various versions of caipirinhas!  Rodolfo also joined us and we had a wonderful and lengthy conversation about his work – a man to watch, and the sort of person that reminds you about the wonder of working internationally –

Next day, at some unmentionable hour; god only knows how I made the plane! – I went up to Recife.  This is in the Pernambuca region, Lula country.  They have the Porto Digital and have just set up a new network for the creative sector.  The hotel was on the beach so the temptation to play hookey was pretty strong, but I behaved properly and had a great time.  It had been arranged at, literally, the last minute, and in two days they secured an audience of about 6o people.  I did the tried and well tested Creative Entrepreneur presentation which audiences of creative entrepreneurs all over the world seem to love, and we start most of our courses with it now – fabulous response and really long and complex but fascinating questions afterwards.  Brazil seems to be on the verge of doing so much that it’s an extremely challenging and stimulating time to be here.

So here I am now, waiting for my flight home.  An extraordinary, demanding, challenging, rewarding and thrilling week – with some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met – oh god, I’m joining the crowd – I really love working in Brazil!

Anamaria Wills  Anamaria@cida.org

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