"Contemporary Brazilian Culture"
of Culture Gilberto Gil speaks
at Berkeley on February 17.
Building a Creative Utopia in Brazil
By Tiffany Linton Page
Brazilian Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil
has a vision of government-sponsored, grass-roots cultural
Brazil. During his CLAS talk, Gil, who is also a world-renowned
musician and one of the founders of the Tropicália movement,
described how he has attempted to make this vision reality
in his role as a member of the cabinet of President Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva.
As Minister of Culture, Gil’s focus is on promoting
what he calls full human development. He said that when governments
and multilateral bodies talk about development, they often
focus entirely on the economic dimension. However, he argued,
development is multidimensional and its social and cultural
aspects must not be neglected. Gil sees his role as revolving
around both “the economic dimension of culture and the
cultural dimension of the economy.” Above all he wants
to validate cultural endeavors as an integral part of Brazilian
society and development.
Gil insisted that art can be a mobilizing force that changes
society by changing perspectives, moods and visions. However,
he said that forcing art to serve specific political ends is
not effective. Instead, the government should support communities
so that art flourishes throughout the country. That, in and
of itself, contributes to the cultural development of the country,
Brazil’s new cultural program, instituted by Gil, follows
this philosophy by providing financial support for communities
to engage in creative projects. For example, the program aims
to promote community television and radio stations by providing
digital recording studios in communities across the country.
Members of the community can make and record music and shoot
films, among other artistic activities, at these community “cultural
points.” By the end of 2005, the Ministry of Culture
will be supporting six hundred cultural points across the country.
Gil’s cultural program aims to strengthen the capacity
of individuals, particularly in slums and rural areas, to produce
and share their art. The goal is the production and diffusion
of diverse cultural expression, representing the multiculturalism
of Brazilian society. Gil views hip-hop, for example, as an
important part of Brazilian culture and as a way for young
people to positively channel their anger. Hip-hop is one means
by which people can use their creativity to address the challenges
they face on a daily basis, he said. Through this program,
the government is attempting to mobilize the population’s
creative energy and combat the social and cultural exclusion
of the poorest groups within society.
The Lula administration, and the Workers Party
more generally, have focused on empowering segments of civil
society that were
previously excluded from politics. For example, Gil involved
civil society in the design and implementation of the new cultural
policy. Moreover, communities have the autonomy to choose their
creative projects. Gil explained: “The communities choose
their activities, the equipment and the training. They shall
be users and managers at the same time… It is a flexible
program shaped to reality rather than shaping reality itself.”
According to Gil, the government sees its role
as one of simply encouraging shared management of cultural
projects and helping
to establish a network linking different community cultural
sites. Gil described this network as “the means to link
public power actions and community actions and the means to
link the cultural actions of the diverse articulated communities.”
Despite these lofty goals, Brazil has limited
resources to devote to cultural development because of the
must make on its enormous national debt and the need to prioritize
spending on social services in a country with widespread, often
extreme poverty. Gil acknowledged this economic limitation,
and after describing his cultural program joked: “A lot
of utopia. Let us go for it. Let us not be shy. Let us just
go for it.” He believes that people must always have
a utopian vision on the horizon to strive towards in order
to continually enhance the condition of humanity. In pursuit
of this ideal, the government has come up with novel ways to
fund its cultural policy. For example, there are plans to create
a lottery to help fund the community cultural projects as well
as the creation of public-private partnerships that give tax
breaks to corporations that invest in culture.
Beyond the individual and community development
cultural policy promotes, Gil suggested that there is an economic
benefit in promoting cultural development and creativity. Although
developing countries are extremely restricted by the rules
and demands of the neoliberal global economy, Gil said that
governments still have some freedom to encourage creative alternative
strategies to promote local economies. Gil suggested that developing
countries can develop alternative ways to creatively build
up their economies by drawing on local knowledge, culture and
experience. Creative thinking, he said, can help the workforce,
for example, find ways to adapt to changes in the global economy.
Just as Gil emphasized the importance of multiculturalism
in Brazil, he highlighted the effectiveness of multilateralism
in achieving development goals. Creative development strategies
can be found through dialogue between people across countries,
he argued. Brazil has recently taken a leading role in the
development of partnerships with other countries in Latin America.
Through collaboration and solidarity the power of developing
countries vis-à-vis other global economic actors is
strengthened. Gil said that countries should jointly develop
strategies to promote creative economic solutions to the pressures
coming from the global economy. An approach to development
that focuses on creative thinking, he argued, is the key to
success in today’s global environment.
In the 1960s, Gil first gained fame as one
of the leaders of the Tropicália movement, which combined Brazil's
regional folk culture with international influences to create
a new sound. Tropicália influenced multiple areas of
artistic expression, including cinema, literature and music.
Gil is known for fusing music forms from all over the world
in his compositions, creating his own unique sound. His songs
have often touched on political issues and activism, leading
to his arrest in 1969 by the military dictatorship that ruled
Brazil. After his release, he left Brazil and took his music
to the rest of the world.
Though his talk focused on his newfound role
as a policymaker, Gil’s love of performing came through in the question
and answer session that followed his speech. He insisted, to
the audience’s delight, on playing a song before answering
any questions. After that he quietly strummed on his guitar
while Harley Shaiken, Chair of the Center for Latin American
Studies, read out several questions from the audience. Then
he insisted on a new arrangement: “Another question and
then I sing a song.”
Gil is Brazilian Minister of Culture. He is also regarded
as one of the most important singers
in modern Brazilian music. Gil gave his talk on “Contemporary
Brazilian Culture” as part of CLAS’s Brazil in
Berkeley series on February 17, 2005.
Tiffany Linton Page is a graduate student in the Department
the campus with
Professor Harley Shaiken,
Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies.
the first book published in Portuguese
(circa 1498), part of the Bancroft Library's
Gil answers questions from the audience
with Professor Shaiken.
Gil plays for a rapt crowd in Wheeler Auditorium.
Gil directs the crowd to sing along.