Expect flashmobs during the Olympic Games, but possibly not much more. Amidst government turmoil in Brazil, Rio’s schedule of Olympic culture events has been drastically slashed, reports Donna Bowater.
From “baile charme” street dances to the famous sanctuaries of live samba and the Afro-Brazilian martial art “capoeira,” Rio de Janeiro has a unique blend of Brazil’s diverse heritage.
But for the first time since 1992, the Olympic host city has not organized a four-year cultural program to culminate in the Games.
Instead, it has focused on activities throughout its Olympic year and during Games time.
Yet with an interim government taking over while President Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial, plans to celebrate Rio’s vibrant cultural scene have been thrown into disarray.
A shortfall in the budget for cultural events at the Games emerged amid a nationwide outcry by artists, musicians and writers after interim president Michel Temer initially announced the Ministry of Culture would be merged with the Ministry of Education.
It was later reinstated; however, of the R$85 million package promised for the Olympics by Rousseff’s Ministry of Culture, less than R$10 million were released by May, according to the same department under Temer.
The rest is now under review as Brazil gets to grips with a protracted downturn and a target fiscal deficit of R$170 million.
“The new management of the Ministry of Culture found the programming for the Olympics seriously compromised by delays to the schedule and planning,” the government said in a statement, adding that the ministry would reassess the situation from a legal point of view.
Disappoint over slimmed down event schedule
With the Opening Ceremony just several weeks away on August 5, Rio 2016’s cultural program – dubbed Celebra, or “celebrate” – has been held up. Organizers admitted there had been setbacks but said the line-up would be revealed soon and would feature flashmobs and “surprises.”
“The program has already been set but many events cannot be revealed because of their ‘flashmob’ nature,” a spokesman for Rio 2016’s culture department said. “There have been delays but as everything was planned well in advance, it will get going soon.
“It is an important element to represent a country at a time like this. I am sure that Brazilian culture will not disappoint.”
But there are others who have felt let down by the scaled back cultural activities.
Even the culture secretary for Rio’s City Hall, which has been relatively buffered from the impact of Brazil’s financial crisis, has admitted that there had been budget cuts and changes to their plans.
While the City Hall’s Cultural Passport festival has 900 events running from May until September, those involved said the program turned out smaller than expected.
‘Rio is stronger in culture than athletics’
Music school Favela Brass in Pereira da Silva favela was one of the acts that won a place in a call for 140 performers to give between one and five shows around the city during the Games.
But the band of children aged five to 15 has since been told they will get to play one show with the other cultural projects at a venue with a capacity of just 130.
“I can’t really take the children to that and tell them they’ve played in the Olympics,” said Tom Ashe, founder of Favela Brass.
Instead, the school has launched its own program of events in public places to show their achievements in just two years.
“We’re going to go for it,” Ashe added. “We want the kids to have an amazing experience, to feel they are a part of the Olympics. The lights are going to shine on Rio in a way they’re not going to for a long time.
“It would be a massive shame because Rio is stronger in culture than it is on athletics. I’d have thought they would have gone with their strong suit.”
Balancing local needs with global expectations
Beatriz Garcia, head of research at Liverpool’s Institute of Cultural Capital in the UK, is studying Rio’s cultural programming for the Olympics, and has studied nine previous host cities.
Last year, as Rio reached its one year milestone, she said, “From a cultural perspective, the key is to strike the right balance between the need to reach out to a worldwide audience during Games time and the need to respond to the expectations of diverse local communities, particularly those based throughout the city’s favelas.
“If the Games are to provide a platform for sustainable cultural legacies, these communities cannot be treated in a tokenistic way.”
But despite political and economic challenges, the local government is confident that Rio’s culture of spontaneity and creativity will reflect well on the city well during the Olympics.
It also plans to turn the Cultural Passport into a permanent policy continue promoting a range of attractions in all parts of the city even after the Games have ended.
Rio a platform for Brazil’s cultural identity
“We’re in a really restricted moment. For us, it’s frustrating too,” said Junior Perim, municipal culture secretary, who added that the City Hall had directly and indirectly invested more than R$100 million in cultural activities.
“But we’re happy. It makes me proud to be the secretary at such an important moment for the city, the first Olympics in Latin America and maintaining a cultural program.”
Perim pointed out that a plethora of street art is created without the financial support of the government, adding that the city has established “environments to facilitate the life of these people who appropriate these spaces as an artistic expression.
“Brazil has many cool things, many cultural experiences that define the national identity,” he added. “But I think nowhere else is capable of producing a synthesis of this identity like Rio.”