Recession takes a heavy toll on Brazil’s art scene

Some museums have closed their doors as other ailing institutions look to the Olympics to raise funds

As Brazil sinks into its deepest recession in more than two decades, museums and cultural centres are struggling to stay afloat. Some institutions are preparing to rent out their facilities during the Olympic Games to generate much-needed cash. Others are cutting staff and putting ambitious exhibitions on hold.

Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8% in 2015, the biggest drop since 1990, according to data released by the government in March. Unemployment is on the rise and the national currency has shrivelled to a quarter of the value of the dollar.

In Rio de Janeiro, the location of this summer’s Olympics, the Parque Lage art school and its sister cultural centre, Casa França-Brasil, have made 40% of staff redundant and cut their budget by half, from $3m to $1.5m. To raise money, the Parque Lage will close to students and rent out its facilities to the British government for events during the Olympics.

Museums in São Paulo, the country’s largest city, have been hit the hardest. The Paço das Artes, a cultural centre known for its experimental programming, was evicted from its home of 22 years in late March to make room for a government-run laboratory that produces dengue fever vaccines.

The Museu Paulista, the oldest museum in the city, has been closed since 2013 because it has been unable to repair its collapsing roof. (It has raised only 5% of the $25m needed for repairs.) Meanwhile, the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, part of the University of São Paulo, is unable to fund temporary exhibitions because its mother institution is in debt.

“Money is very tight,” says André Sturm, the director of the Museu da Imagem e do Som, which lost 10% of its funding and a fifth of its staff last year. “We did set aside more funds as we predicted the crisis would worsen, but what seemed to be a more stable year now doesn’t seem so nice.”

Larger institutions such as the Museu de Arte Moderna, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo have extended exhibitions to reduce costs. The Museu de Arte Moderna is known for staging large-scale survey shows to coincide with the Bienal de São Paulo, scheduled to open in September. This year, it will display its permanent collection instead. “We normally stage seven to eight shows a year,” says Felipe Chaimovich, the museum’s chief curator. “This year, we will have five new shows, and this is tied to the financial situation.”

The Instituto Inhotim, the country’s biggest private museum—run by one of its richest men—has also begun to downsize. Its artistic director, Rodrigo Moura, was made redundant in January. The museum, north of São Paulo, is postponing new additions, including pavilions for site-specific works by Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, Ernesto Neto and Nuno Ramos.

“The outlook is not good at all,” says Antônio Grassi, the executive director of Inhotim. “What we have observed is an across-the-board drop in volumes of sponsorship—which is why we are not yet able to announce a programme for this year.”