My blog may have been quiet since I returned from Northern Ireland and Ireland in May, but the insights I gained from the trip have been ringing out loud and clear in everything I do at COCA and beyond.
And, though it’s hard to believe, here I am ready to head out on the final leg of my 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship journey. I leave today for Brazil on a trip that will take me from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte to Sao Paulo to visit and learn from 30 different arts, culture and community organizations, schools, businesses and government agencies. My travels will take me into Rio’s favelas to visit with organizations working in some of the country’s most impoverished areas; to the extraordinary Inhotim, a unique and massive botanical garden which houses one of the most significant contemporary art collections in the world as well as a botanical collection containing rare species from every continent; to one of Sao Paulo’s most cutting edge electronic media organizations…and everything in between!
Brazil is the largest country in South America, with 82 of every 100 citizens living in cities. The combined population of the three cities I will visit is nearly 21 million! Brazil has been one of the fastest growing economies in recent years, but, as is often the case, rapid growth and urbanization have led to mounting social, political and environmental challenges. So where does arts and culture fit in all of this? That is exactly what I hope to learn. Is culture at the core (or should it be) of the public policy agenda? What is the role of arts and culture in major cities…can investing in arts and culture address deeply ingrained inequities, strengthen social capital, and/or fuel the economy? How are the arts making cities more livable, more sustainable? And how do arts and culture shape the identity of cities?
It’s a fascinating time to be traveling abroad. As I touch down in Rio, Americans will be headed to the polls to finally bring to an end this polarizing campaign season. With a recently impeached president, Brazil’s political climate hasn’t exactly been congenial to say the least. I imagine that both of our countries’ politics will color many of my conversations. It is really quite fitting, because Art has always been political – it shapes our cultural identity, it sways public opinion, it gives voice to marginalized and oppressed groups, it raises our consciousness to social issues of our day, and it transforms our society. And did you know that those who participate in the arts are 20% more likely to vote? That’s you….so get to the polls and VOTE!
I embark on this journey with an open mind and an open heart, and look forward to sharing my experiences (and a little bit of Portuguese) with you along the way.
Até mais tarde! (See you later!)