ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: The SESC Story
Duration: 01:21:37; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 18.385; Saturation: 0.175; Lightness: 0.244; Volume: 0.305; Cuts per Minute: 2.365; Words per Minute: 23.829
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Sudhanva welcomes everyone to the fourth day of the seminar. A talk by SESC and a schedule for the day.
Ivan: Whenever I stand before a foreign audience explaining what SESC is, I usually start by praising the entertainment and social service organisation I have worked for the past 40 years as ‘one of a kind’. SESC is an initiative of the Brazilian business community, that in the 1940’s, started to offer, in partnership with the government, an educational and cultural alternative to a country that was rapidly urbanising and industrializing. At the time, Brazil was receiving an immigrant influx from Europe, and experiencing an urban population growth due to a mounting exodus from the countryside to the cities. Thus, the foundation of SESC took place in a time when Brazil was experiencing considerable urban development and facing the appearance of a new type of workforce. In these circumstances, a document titled’ Letter For Social Peace’ (Carta da Paz Social) proposed to the government that companies in the commerce and services sector pay a compulsory contribution, which today is equivalent to 1.5% base on their payroll, to a mutual fund. The great innovation of this system is that entrepreneurs created an independent structure supported by their own resources, to be audited by the government -and guaranteed by the law - today it is part of the National Constitution - so that they may provide their employees and society in general with access to important, necessary activities in the fields of culture, arts, sports, education, leisure, health etc.
The founding principle is that what is collected from the different companies does not fund a foundation promoting the brand of one company or another, as it is common in Brazil and elsewhere but an enduring institution called Social Service of Commerce (SESC) that shuns mere marketing to support:
- Social well-being
- Artistic production.
- Personal Autonomy, growth and interaction,
- Actions that involve technical interaction and cooperation.
In short, it supports the educational and transformative character of culture, defending a formula that combines quality, professionalism, a certain degree of novelty, audacity, and a great appreciation for diversity.
One of the first questions posed by those who know SESC is - what is its income in the state of Sao Paulo, with the largest population in the country of 41 million inhabitants, and with the largest network of social- cultural centres in the country, with 33 facilities? SESC Sao Paulo’s annual revenue is 1.5 Billion reais, roughly equivalent to 800 million US Dollars. They are used to support the maintenance of the infrastructure (there are 32 centres in operation and 12 in various stages of development and construction). In addition, this budget supports the organisation's activities, that in 2011 included over 7500 workshops, 7700 theatre shows, 970 dance shows, 780 art exhibitions, 5000 concerts, 3500 movie screenings, 11 million health consultations, 620 Congresses, seminars and lectures, sports activities attended by 74000 people, 15 million meals served and over 15 million visitors to our cultural centres and alternative spaces. We run 62 swimming pools, 32 gyms, 29 theatres with a total of 8300 seats, 62 gym studios, 109 dental offices, 54 cafeterias, 45 indoor courts, 44 outdoor courts and fields, and 42 exhibition spaces.
Additionally we operate a vacation facility in Sao Paulo seaside with a thousand beds, a cable TV channel broadcasted over the country, a publishing company and a record label. 1.7 million of those registered work in the commerce and service sector, and can consequently join SESC free of charge, but many more attendees take part in our activities open to the public in general. 81% of them earn unto 3-base salaries, which equals 1635 Reais or 1022 US dollars per month. The success has been to add all the criteria mentioned before (social preoccupation, novelty, daring etc) with a policy of low-cost admission and a programming that ranges from hip-hop to classical music, from experimental theatre to contemporary dance, from explanations on the cuisine from different regions of the world to courses on recycling and environmental education, from physical activity and sports as a right to art exhibitions, always free of charge. The diversity is explicit and our audience is as wide as our social spectrum.
It is only natural that the engine of SESC’s activities reveals a broad sequence that corresponds to the multiplicity of our society, as a result of studies on leisure and debates on the preservation of material and immaterial patrimony. We were the first institution to work with the elderly population, who trust SESC with their desire to continue their social interaction. We also have a programme for public school children who participate in a project that values culture as a non- formal type of education. We promote educational and cultural tourism, which we call ‘Social’, as well as a programme against hunger that includes a safety policy and strives to educate various social agents (donors, membership organisations, food providers) on the concepts of social, economic and environmental sustainability, supported by a large number of restaurants. Called ‘Mesa Brazil’, this programme was created 17 years ago and inspired the Federal government’s Fome Zero ( Zero Hunger) implemented by our president Mr Lula’s administration in 2003 as a top-priority policy designed to address the disparity in food consumption that results from Brazil’s uneven income distribution. More than 110000 people benefit from this programme.
Well before anyone spoke of a global convergence of social and economic values, as has been the case in Brazil in the past 12 years, and well before we could see a significant change in peoples behaviour and an increase in cultural consumption, SESC had, from its inception, a concern for personal choices and the management of leisure time. Social well being is the guiding expression that accompanies and often anticipates people’s needs in their relationship with the city and the symbiosis that develop in it.
SESC’s branches venture into the emblematic (and sometimes problematic) urban spaces and transform knowledge into a valuable commodity without making it expensive.
There is, indeed, a transmutation of the urban space caused by SESC’s democratic facilities. In the 1960’s Brazil’s population outgrew the rural population. Not coincidentally, it was during this time that SESC abandoned an assistance-focussed objective that frequently collaborated with the structure of the city as a space of transformation and adaptation to Brazil’s industrialisation and shifted its socio-cultural goals (?) to working on leisure time, on sports for all, and on various artistic disciplines as the leading force in individual identity.
Be it individual or collective, the focus of SESC’s leisure offerings is human development. It is thus of fundamental importance to get the most of each cultural centre’s localisation, and that their architecture be welcoming and comfortable to the visitor that the individual may reflect on his or her choices and consider even the possibility of doing nothing once inside.
SESC’s facilities scattered through the cities are not ‘cultural oases’, there is no express intention to be in discrepancy with the city. Rather the idea is that, in these spaces, the right to the culture has to be respected for those who already live in the frantic urban rhythm (?). These architectures designed to shelter citizens, also agglutinate cultural and sports programming without preconceptions - SESC centres offers possibilities to all artistic fields and all intellectual positions.
Instead of avoiding one tendency or another, SESC gathers the contradictions of the present to stimulate an active and critical participation, fostering a better understanding between man and his environment. Far from a utilitarian or consumerist perspective of cultural goods, we have a true preoccupation with personal freedom, with the citizen’s own reflection, self-knowledge and with the satisfaction experienced by someone who feels deserving of a privileged environment and who makes use of alterity the way to discover him or himself. Unfortunately in Brazil, public space has been for a long time, avoided by the population because it was considered ‘Nobody’s’ space, rather than ‘Everybody’s ‘space (in great part due to lack of a public safety policy). So the many sociable spaces available to SESC, to simply stay there are also a way to address this lack in the public infrastructure. With throbbing creativity, SESC centres become inventive clusters scattered throughout the urban mesh, but that interact with the city and its natural diversity.
SESC network is the largest private employer and provider of services in the cultural sector in Latin America, with 5500 full- time employees, 2000 contractors working in security and maintenance and thousands of regular independent providers.
(Description: Ways of programming)
The tendency is that SESC itself, being the engine of this creative economy and supporter of goods of intangible values, be seen as a stage and laboratory, so that the value it adds to the productive chain may stimulate the creation of formal stable jobs and change the paradigms that weave new strategies of economic growth. It is necessary to develop culture’s catalysing role, even more at a time when information technology and communications almost force us to enjoy everything quickly. The arts and leisure have to be above the preoccupation with real time, this fast and superficial way of dealing with the moment. Even after behavioural modifications, it is still not understood that life cannot be made deeper by discarding consciousness and the memory of the places, personal contact and important events. Spending more time with others and with creativity, diving into enjoyable activities only makes sense when they are truly lived
SESC is an institution that is always reflecting on how to improve cultural policies, engaging popular traditions as well as contemporary artistic representations. Its programming permanently questions reality. Those who make this programme turn themselves into researchers on what the daily life can give us, so that we may lose the conformism with the world repetition. To repeat life is to dilute sensations. What needs to mature in society, and that is the role of the organisation that respects the right to culture, is the perpetual self-renovation.
Cultural diplomacy for example, is an artifice that accelerates the glance on oneself and the other. It is natural to be in agreement or not, that the world’s politics and economics are based on an irreversible process that includes open capital, stock markets, currency exchanges, contested political processes, and attacks against authoritarian regimes. Economy and politics united over the course of history incorporate also the cultural symbols of various societies. The role of contemporary creation not only dilutes or intensifies the symbols, but it also sees what lies outside, mixes with them, and this intellectual dialectic has great potential for the dynamization of interpersonal relations.
Thus, in addition to figures, quantity and economic indicators that gild very well with the reports of any serious institution, there is an emotional factor that permeates the whole concept of what SESC is about: the figures and the growth of the network are dependent on the average level of satisfaction of the people who attend. To be pleasantly surprised at the moment when someone enjoys free time, can be the fuse that ignites a new aesthetic or cultural restlessness, a new hobby, a sagacity to marvel in the face of many other things.
SESC’s act is very wide open and it is showing an important issue to this - most of the times - chaotic urban life in Sao Paulo state.
Concluding this lecture, I would like to remember it is a dream to export SESC model to India. We are part of the BRIC countries. As two examples of the democratic regime, Brazil and India can build another cultural pattern, instead of the Anglo- American fund-raising or the French- German model.
This possible third way of financing culture brings up some very relevant results to the societies.