2015.8 – on Embedded Residency, #III {Cultural Centers in Occupations}

Todd Lester writes a monthly blog post on RU’s Dialogues detailing the preparation and implementation of, a 5-year residency project in Sao Paulo.

View all Lanchonete posts here.

In the third part of the series on ‘Embedded Residency’ (see part one and two), I will discuss the role of a cultural center inside a housing occupation. To do this, I draw from experiences of working with the São João Occupation since 2011, sharing what we’ve learned in the process of hosting artist residents therein and, importantly, the function of the cultural center to a broader housing movement.

I first got to know the Cultural Center at São João in 2011 when the artists Paula Z. Segal and SWOON came to São Paulo to participate in the De Dentro / De Fora exhibition at MASP, and one of the side projects they made was a set of wheat paste collages (featured image) on the first floor of Hotel Columbia Palace (a.k.a. Occupation São João). At that time, the 1st floor space was already evolving into the Cultural Center at São João, and the space was built out around those two collages (you could say) under the oversight of Nazaré Brasil, who heads up the cultural program of Occupation São João along with Mildo Ferreira, Daniel Santiago and many other moradores. When the collages were first installed, it was an early moment after the community there had recently occupied the building.

Since our introduction in 2011, has collaborated with Cultural Center at São João in a variety of ways, including a book drive to help expand their library (Pivô, October 2012); public programming during the 2013 Architecture Biennial; an artist engagement and residency program that has hosted Jakub Szczęsny (Poland) and Pepe Dayaw (Philippines/Germany); designing and implementing a community garden; and a project cycle during which we co-produced one of their monthly Café Imaginario events on the theme of ‘home’ (March 2014), made a strategic introduction to the human rights organization, WITNESS (for usage of its forced eviction campaign tools), and produced/installed an exhibition of their family portraits by local photographer, Leandro Viana.

In a recent workshop at the Cultural Center, occupation leader, Antonia Nascimento explained why the Cultural Center is so important within an occupation:

  • It helps occupiers to get used to the Center, which may be quite different than where they have moved from;
  • It helps to re-politicize families on the cause of the social (housing) movement of which they are a part, and it serves as a;
  • Transitional apace between the movement and broader public (city).

The Occupation São João is a constituent member of the citywide housing movement, Frente de Luta por Moradia (FLM). Its smaller size (170 people, 60 families), women’s leadership, and relative homogeneity (most of them come from the same part of the east periphery, São Mateus, and many are related) even if the community includes newer arrivals from other parts of the city and a family from Colombia. Perhaps most importantly is their use of strategy (knowing that they are not ‘legal’ tenants, they find ways to ‘inch’ forward in justifying staying and claiming their right to be there by—for example—leading the process of land-marking their building, the historic Hotel Columbia Palace. Additionally, the Occupation has a quasi-public cultural center, and is therefore eligible for public monies to run a variety of programs and accommodate church and political meetings, language lessons, LGBT and other identity groups, Capoeira instruction, etc. both for people living there and the broader community.

Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and professor at University of São Paulo told me that one new development she sees is the role of cultural agents active in the social movements. As a corollary to her insight, I observe that cultural agents — a loose category that may include artist, architect, urbanist, student, professor, activist, community organizer and concerned citizen — give shape to (as the actors on or animators of) the progressive, urban, cultural platform.

Other occupations, such as Maua, Cambridge, Marconi have cultural spaces (centers, libraries, film clubs) onsite and it is common that their sarau, exhibitions, film and poetry nights attract moradores from throughout the cities housing movements.

Source: Residency Unlimited

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