From Yale to Babylon, via Pompey

My trip to America and Brazil: June/July 2015:

A long two week haul took me to New Haven (Connecticut) for a short residency at the excellent International Festival of Arts & Ideas, thence all the way to Brazil, ending up at magical Paraty for the extraordinary literature festival, with which we have an ongoing partnership.

New Haven invited me back after three years to do another stint!  This year it was a set piece speech on Arts and Politics leading onto a response from two excellent cultural commentators (one from American PEN).  Next day was a conversation on Arts and Citizenship, including Matt Wilson, an expert on arts advocacy - how can we as a sector be more effective and assertive.  Finally a great panel on Arts & Cities, with excellent contributors from Chile, Boston and Derry.  Shona McCarthy told her story with passion and inspiration, Javiera Parada (now Chile's cultural attache to the US) told how Santiago a Mil Festival helped move Santiago's cultural life forward after the dictatorship, whilst Cedric Douglas astonished us all with his strategic community based arts work on the streets of Boston.  So many ways to reassert the power of cities in the arts and creative sectors.

Although New Haven is home to prestigious Yale, it's also home to the greatest social inequality in the US, with all the concomitant problems in its streets and spaces.  A point I made in several meetings in Brazil, where they are so accustomed to the closeness of rich and poor in the big cities, such as the Morro da Babilonia favela in Rio, just metres from opulent beach side apartments and hotels.  It's now also the home for the FLUPP literary festival, of which the British Council were a founder partner.

t was set up as a counterpart to FLIP in Paraty, some 300 kilometres away from Rio, along the coast in a magical wooded and mountainous natural park, by the sea: it's an old "gold" port, for many years abandoned, and now restored to life as a festival and tourist resort, FLIP being the brainchild of the amazing Liz Caulder, who oversees the festival (and FlipSide, its UK counterpart) with understated and friendly authority.  This year David Hare was one of the stars in a compelling tour de force interview ranging over his long and controversial career.  Did we know he had turned George Lucas down as writer for Star Wars 4, on the grounds he didn't really want to watch parts 1 - 3.  Apparently Lucas didn't find that amusing...

Other highlights from the trip included reacquaintance with the great architecture of Lina Bo Bardi at SESC Pompeia in Sao Paolo, a visit to an emerging new kind of cultural centre Vila Itororó, rebuilt with the local community out of about a dozen dilapidated, idiosyncratic houses.

I contributed to a lively seminar at Spectaculu, a training centre for cultural skills vocational work for young people from the favelas....tremendously inspiring environment, and a social and artistic force from which we could learn much.  

The centre of Rio is rapidly being transformed for next year's Olympics - from the removal of a hideous overhead roadway (which used to cut the city off from the sea), to the opening of the wonderful Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) and the nearly ready Museum of Tomorrow (more like the day AFTER tomorrow) with whom we have worked to help shape a partnership with the UK's Science Museum.

I have two serious issues arising from the trip: why do Brazilian washbasins not have plugs - it makes shaving very challenging - and why do Brazilians love queueing even more than the British?  Both are strange conundrums...pour me another caipirinha!