One friend that read this blog yesterday asked me to put in some more specific context, and I had to admit that I cut this (and other) part of the text to put onto the blog, because basically I feel much more comfortable with the other part of the text, but of course I will put here anyway.
this part comprises the introduction and the end of the text of the talk, and again had been edited.
The idea of bringing this talk about public art in Brasil comes with my perception of the difference in the context of doing it there and here. The difference is quite evident since Brasil is in a distinc position in the production of a system of art in comparison with US, and fortunately was able to develop a different point of view. There's no folclorism implicit in this fact or much of a national flavour, but in fact there is some identity that emerges from local specificities.
I use the term Public art very loosely, but I refer to a kind of art that is essencially urban produced in the streets, ephemeral, in general anonimous, and that relates more to the public in general than to the art world itself, but yet have strong connections with and derives from it.
The art system in Brasil has been continuously absorbing with no distinction the information from the outside. So from the start, this "absorbing" concept always been stimulated, since in general terms is there's not a genuine national language except incorporate other's. But maybe the only significance in the art of peripheral countries lays in the way it uses this information to create something new from that.
The public art In Brasil also derives from the activism that took place around 90's arrived with anti globalization movements also had its artistic counterpart. The emerging generation was influenced by the situacionism and was more interested in the public contact rather to the art system itself, quite often using institutional apparatus in order to criticize it.
So it's to say that this new generation had been creating a political way to act with the art environment, although its repertory is not new: happenings, performances, mob flash, interventions, public art, they all been set since at least the 60's. The works in collective were also a distinctive trace of this generation. In Brasil we can follow collective art development since the 60's and 70's, under dictatorial rulers. We witnessed an explosion in collective art in the 2000's.
The boundaries of art and activism is very slight. some - some would say that public art is not art, for not being inscribed in any art circuit others would say doesn't matter if you are interested in an art that can propose changes in society.
The media explored it quite well when frame it under "activism" tag, that could englobe almost anything that could happen on public space no matter the political issue involved.
The public art scene in Brasil mostly had some political precedents with it. After 20 years of dictatorship, the use of the street for expression of ideas- which was vigorously denied- had been gained again. The two major events of this era -the public act against the dictatorship in 1984 and the impeachment of president Fernando Collor in 1991- were only possible under extreme social pressure (and a lot of media influence too). After that slowly social groups could join together again. After a while the new generation of art collectives and collective practices began to spread, but not until the 2000's it came to the surface of public notoriety.
The artists began to promote their own interventions in public space and also new spaces and contexts were found without institutional interference. This made possible a more open approach to the subjects, but also made necessary from artists independent efforts, that were only possible with group work.
The official support for arts in Brasil is very hard to get. in visual arts you are confronted with a tax deduction support, that you as artist must apply, but only a few can get due to the exhausting bureaucracy and the fact that few supporters are kind to open their books to the tax scrutiny of the government. So in general this mechanism only works for big projects which already has both ends tied, when the project and the supporter already know each other. It is very controversial way to support, because by one hand it only helps the ones that already have a lot of influence to propose its projects and provide the big investors a good chance of making their own propaganda with public money. That's how mostly projects fund works.
Another way of getting public funding is applying to some public project where you are likely subject to be accepted or not depending if your project fits into the aims of the institution. In general the official funding are very bureaucratic, very restrictive in content, and very heavy about taxes.
The general idea is that art projects should not generate money to their creators, because is based in the idea that this is a great chance to expose their works and their names and consequently sell it as a product. When it comes to collective projects or that doesn't really have a "product" involved, in general the funding is denied.
Through the years we've been searching for solutions that could give us some material conditions without taking our freedom away. The Cultural institutions are a source of funding, but also it's necessary to know how to deal with them, as sometimes they don't like to have their names attached with sensitive or critical issues.
Private funds also carries this problem and not always like to give funds to any cultural project without having their logo in it.
Difficult but not impossible, as several groups and individuals take advantage of these funds to execute good projects indeed and it is responsibility of artistic community to stick together and make the pressure for their rights. More and more the network created by the artists work in order to spread the news and opportunities.
This barely explains one of the reasons why artists rather work on the street than apply to this public funding at first. If you have a good response for your art project in the street, it can help you to have your name known, and also you can create a product of it like videos, photos or any kind of document.
This and other features turns art in public space attractive to many artists.
In a large view, its possible to say that a parallel system has been created and institutions has been changing their ways to absorb it. Many groups had been working on the streets for only later puts this work into the galleries or institutions, still getting tied to it. Other were much more into media than art field to show their works.
But mainly, a network has been created by these artists, with the help from the Internet. This is where several ideas are discussed and action plans are established. These discussion groups in the web became very strong and several times subject to scrutiny of the government, police, marketing and media agents.
The tasks of finding a place to public art in Brasil are many. We live in a society that has a very poor side and some very rich one. Acting in streets is about to deal with this problems and differences. It's impossible to ignore poverty and social problems in São Paulo as it is impossible not to think about ecological problems there as well.
You can likely ignore it as art and call it activism. We rather think about the problems and try to respond to them. When it comes to the surface is more likely that touch other people that can help and take the discussion ahead. And if art is about making things visible, that is what the collective efforts in São Paulo are about.
For me and the people I've been working for some years now the streets are the most democratic place where you can show your opinion and we encourage people to join us in using it. When Cultural institutions come after us they know what to expect and in general we only associate with the ones that we want. This is the good thing about independent projects.