Original Article

Photo of a Portela member

Carnival: a spectacle joining Brazil and the Netherlands

By | Original Article, Uncategorized

Logo of Portela’s storyline

Carnival in Brazil is not just a party, it is an event with continental proportions and has deep impacts on the culture, identity and history of the country. Each region has its own repertoire that in turn materializes in different costumes, not to mention the different musical rhythms. But the vibe is the same and a wave of joy makes the country literally stop during at least 5 days. We had the chance to see the Dutch commemorations in the Arnhem-Nijmegen region a couple of times and noticed that it has nothing to do with the Brazilian version. So it definitely sounds strange to think that these two nations would somehow be linked by carnival. But, strangely or not, it happened this February.

This amazing bridge was built during the most important and gigantic Brazilian carnival parade that takes place in Rio de Janeiro. Actually, it is a competition between 13 samba schools – teams with up to 3.500 people that in the rest of the year form very strong communities. Each samba school chooses its own storyline, a kind of briefing that guides the creative process behind a musical performance that takes place at an avenue specifically built for this purpose – the Sambódromo with its 700 meters long and designed by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Yes, Brazil could have been a Dutch colony

For this year the samba school Portela chose to tell the story of the arrival of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen on January 1637 in Recife, a city located in the northeast region of Brazil. At that time the country represented a land of opportunities for Dutch explorers and also Portuguese Jews escaping from the inquisition, and looking for a new land to settle in. As the governor of the Dutch possessions in Brazil, Johan Maurits proved to be a talented administrator, providing Recife with a Dutch accent through the construction of public buildings, bridges, and channels. This shared heritage is still relevant and visible nowadays. The town was then named Mauritsstad. In 1654 the Dutch surrendered to the Portuguese army and abandoned Brazil taking also 400 Jews that were dispersed between the Caribbean and the Netherlands. Also, twenty-three reached New Amsterdam (New York), founding the first Jewish community in North America. During the parade we were mesmerized seeing the cars carrying huge sculptures such as a Dutch windmill or the Statue of Liberty. Another one was conducting an armadillo whose exterior armour opened from time to time revealing lively people on its inside. With this storyline, Portela was fourth placed in the 2018 parade. And the whole spectacle once more represented the well-established samba creative industry of Rio, mixing dance, music and other artistic representations.

Besides the artistic effort, the annual event at Sambódromo involves a complex infrastructure to receive up to 90.000 spectators during 4 nights, impacting the city’s downtown region. When the party ends, the cycle restarts: each samba school chooses the storyline for the next carnival and the creative team starts immediately the research to produce the new spectacle. At the same time blacksmiths have to dismantle the heavy cars that sustained the weight of the sculptures and dozens of dancers, to build the new structures. Later, carpenters and sculptors give a new shape to these cars, while art painters, costume designers, dressmakers, makeup artists and set designers complement the work, bringing to life not only the cars, but also to dozens of characters that will parade on the ground to help telling the new story. Around October, an internal competition determines the music that will join all these pieces together and bring the new storyline to life. The process resembles the production of a play or opera, except for the huge scale and of course for being a one-of-a-kind show.

From this single event we can notice how the Netherlands is perceived by other nations. In the one hand, the Dutch stereotypes arise in full power, and reveal how the past still influence contemporary views of the country. On the other hand, the creative industry once more finds its way as a bridge able to communicate different cultures, overcoming barriers through universal languages and remarkable experiences. More importantly, the samba creative industry is an example of a successful endeavour where craftsmanship is the protagonist and still rules, while technology has to wait for its turn, somewhere in the future, to become essential.

Dutch creative industries: smart uses for disused urban spaces

By | Original Article

Photo by G.Lanting – Own work,
CC BY 3.0

After having completed a MA in Creative Industries in 2015/21061, I returned to my civil servant position at Arts National Foundation2 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was a hard task to face Brazilian reality again once I have experienced the Dutch mindset on Arts & Culture. At the same time, I realized that there is a huge gap between the two countries, far beyond the economic issues. For example, one of the most iconic Brazilian prisons – known as Carandiru Penitentiary3 – were the scene of a massacre of 111 prisoners, due to a riot in 1992. In 2002, after an intense debate on what should be the future of Carandiru, the state government decided to implode the building, except for a hidden wing that was left and adapted into an unimpressive museum. It seems Brazilian decision makers have opted to erase the past instead of fostering initiatives towards a resignification of the building, which could bring together the citizen participation.

In this sense, what I think Brazil should learn with the Netherlands is the interplay between cultural policies and the entrepreneurs/citizens. For example, on the oncoming of the contemporary world scenario, where overcrowded prisons take place in most countries, the Netherlands has been in evidence due to a declining rate of incarceration and the subsequent proposals for the reuse of the penitentiary buildings. In this regard, the domed prison in Breda named Boschpoort4 serves as a good starting point. Designed by J.F. Metzelaar around 1883, the domed prison follows the Panopticism principles: an all-embracing point of view which should maximize the surveillance methods. It can be understood as a classical use of social theory emerged first from the philosopher Jeremy Bentham and elaborated by Michel Foucault. Closed in 2014 and marked by a heavy past, the Boschpoort prison has flourished as a new cluster for start-ups ventures, centre for asylum seekers, escape games, among other uses5.

In the realm of the Creative Industries, I intend to develop a research (luckily a PhD, back in NL) focused on the diverse uses for closed prisons and the role of public policies in the emergence of citizen initiatives in order to re-use prisons for economic and social projects. The central question asks: what is the role of public policies in enhancing the attractiveness of cities for citizen initiatives? To answer this question, I would like to establish an innovative combination of a theoretical study of both public policies and regional development, focusing on citizen initiatives in an international comparative study of disused prisons in six diverse countries, as follows:

Place Prison Purpose
Continental Europe (the Netherlands) Breda > Boschpoort prison start-ups ventures, centre for asylum seekers, escape games;
Continental Europe (the Netherlands) Veenhuizen > Norgerhaven prison “importation” of prisoners from Norway;
Anglo Saxon world (US and UK) San Francisco > Alcatraz prison experience tourism, film locations;
Anglo Saxon world (US and UK) London > Tower of London historical tourism, museum;
Global South (French Guiana and South Africa) Devil’s Island exotic tourism, scenery for the Papillon novel;
Global South (French Guiana and South Africa) Robben Island ‘political’ tourism, Nelson Mandela was held there;

Lastly, I find it enriching to compare European countries with Brazil, taking into consideration that as a “Third World” country, many solutions are not necessarily to be grounded upon sophisticated technological apparatus, showing that creativity can emerge from social exclusion as we see illustrated during the Samba Schools parades, especially in Rio de Janeiro, a phenomenon which we could classify as part of our cultural legacy.

1 Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
2 Ministry of Culture of Brazil.
3 Accessed 08 November 2017.
4 Accessed 19 October 2017.
5 Accessed 20 August 2017.

Jose Moreira's photo - creative industry innovation

Jose Moreira is an historian with an extensive experience in research activities on cultural entrepreneurship in developing countries. For the last decade, he has managed pilot projects in critical areas like the Amazon region, the Brazilian Northeast, amongst other social risk venues. Jose holds an MA in Creative Industries and is Post Graduated in Health Sciences/Cultural Accessibility.