Leaders at Ten Cultural Spaces, Art Centers, and Museums in Rio Create Climate Projects Using Culture, Art, and Sustainability

27 September 2023

The Jorge Amado Popular Library’s ‘Collect Maré’ project promotes environmental awareness through reading, mural arts, and poetry in front of the Herbert Viana Cultural Space in Complexo da Maré, in 2022. Photo: Gabriel Loiola

Written by By Thaís Cavalcante • Translation by Ezra Spira-Cohen • September 21, 2023. Originally published by RioOnWatch

Creating awareness is a continuous process that we must incorporate into our daily lives. In this way, beginning with a big push, we are going to think about socio-environmental rights based on the cultural space in which we are inserted.” — Lidiane Malanquini

Faced with the increase in extreme weather events, museums, cultural spaces, and art centers in Rio de Janeiro have increasingly carried out projects focused on climate, linking culture and art with sustainability. Such spaces with great potential for education, organizing, and inclusion, both in favelas and the formal city, include: the Jorge Amado Popular Library in the favelas of Maré; Annita Porto Martins Library in Rio Comprido; Terra Municipal Cultural Space in Guadalupe; the Museum of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture (MUHCAB) in Gamboa; the Hélio Oiticica Municipal Arts Center, in downtown Rio; the City of Rio de Janeiro Historical Museum (MHC) in Gávea; the Sérgio Porto Cultural Space in Humaitá; Professor Dyla de Sá Cultural Center in Praça Seca; and the Jovelina Pérola Negra Cultural Space in Pavuna.

Lidiane Malanquini, manager of the Jorge Amado Popular Library in the favelas of Maré, says it is not possible to think about culture without considering one’s location, its socio-environmental issues, and the perspective of dialogue with residents. The use of educational tools to teach people about the causes and effects of the climate crisis and how they can do their part has increasingly been the goal of Rio’s cultural spaces. These initiatives build local awareness about challenges such as climate justice while supporting residents to take action to change their own lives and society.

The Jorge Amado Popular Library’s ‘Collect Maré’ project promotes environmental awareness through reading, mural arts, and poetry in front of the Herbert Viana Cultural Space in Complexo da Maré, in 2022. Photo: Gabriel Loiola

In the fight against the climate crisis, the starting point used by these cultural spaces is to encourage the community to connect with climate through art and education. Local initiatives against environmental racism and working towards climate justice need to be strengthened, but not just through community organizing. Public policies aimed at environmental education using culture and art are imperative. Making favelas climate resilient is urgent.

Launch of the Half-Fare for Cyclists program, initiative by the ‘BicicletaRio’ project at the Sérgio Porto Cultural Space, Humaitá neighborhood, in 2022. Photo: Gabriel Loiola

Diego Dantas, artistic director of the City of Rio de Janeiro Choreographic Center, spoke about his experience as a cultural leader committed to the climate. He mentioned the Maracanã River Alive in Dance and Music project as an effort to revive his neighborhood’s main river. The main results were building community ties around the river and offering educational, environmental, and artistic projects to children and young people from Maracanã and surrounding areas.

“We thought about impactful activities based on the Maracanã River through art, dance, music, and through the waste that we don’t correctly dispose of. One of the project’s activities was a parade that had water as its main element. We’re not working with clean water but with dirty water and its byproducts.” — Diego Dantas

The ‘Maracanã River Alive in Dance and Music’ project promoted neighborhood sustainability using music, art, and dance in Rio Comprido, in 2022. Photo: Gabriel Loiola

Also in the North Zone of the city, the Annita Porto Martins Library in Rio Comprido connected local artists and educators to create cultural interventions based on sustainable activities with young students from the Azevedo Sodré Municipal School. Partnering with public schools is one of the strategies to make the neighborhood more aware of the environment. A stencil activity and mural arts kicked off the project ‘For a Greener and More Cultural Rio Comprido.’

The Terra Municipal Cultural Space’s ‘Conscious Earth’ project, in Guadalupe, engaged children and youth with the climate issue, promoting awareness and preservation, and providing information on sustainable practices. “If we think about imparting knowledge and good deeds to children now, we will have a better society down the road. That’s what we believe,” says Alberto de Avyz, actor and cultural leader at the space.

In Gamboa, downtown Rio, a region known as Little Africa, Leandro Santanna, director of the Museum of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture (MUHCAB) has devoted himself to the ‘Ancestral Garden’ project. African and Afro-Brazilian epistemology and ancestry mesh very well with climate justice. Climate changes are caused by the predatory economic model implemented by European cultures over the last half millennium. MUHCAB embraces this Afro-diasporic cultural heritage through its climate-related actions.

“It’s a very common tradition for Afro-diasporic peoples, the relationship with sacred and healing plants, baths for instilling good energy. We have already included a seedling donation campaign in our planning, to spread greenery in homes, creating even more space for their connection with the environment.” — Leandro Santanna

In the same area of the city as MUHCAB, the Cultural and Community Garden of the Hélio Oiticica Municipal Arts Center benefits visitors and the surrounding population, who, in recent years, has suffered especially from food insecurity. According to Carolina Kezen, cultural producer at Hélio Oiticica, beyond nutrition, just like MUHCAB, the objective here is to be a catalyst to stimulate ancestral knowledge and promote environmental education among visitors. The community garden is intended to become a cultural attraction for activities linked to the art center.

In Gávea, with the return of activities at the City of Rio de Janeiro Historical Museum (MHC) in 2021, a cultural program now includes the ‘Spring in the City’ project, designed to raise awareness of the fauna and flora in Rio’s Parque da Cidade, a space with native plants and rare birds. Several walks were arranged, with around 40 participants per meeting. It is the beginning of local integration and environmental education in the midst of nature.

Also in the South Zone, the ‘Half-Fare for Cyclists’ project was launched at the Sérgio Porto Cultural Space in Humaitá to continue building a sustainable network through cultural events, artistic interventions, exhibitions, and discussions with the public. Local participation is guaranteed at affordable prices for those visiting the museum via bicycle. “Bringing the voice of the folks [here] is to encourage the surrounding area and to be a part reverberating this in the organization of the city,” says Luiza Rangel, manager of the space.

In the Praça Seca neighborhood in the West Zone of the city, Elis MC, an eleven-year-old rapper, was one of those impacted by the ‘Climate Connect’ project of the Professor Dyla de Sá Cultural Center. In her conscious rap, she uses rhymes to reinforce the roles and responsibility that all people—children and adults—must take in relation to the environment, demanding that everyone do their part to alleviate Rio’s climate and social problems.

The ‘Climate Connect’ project mobilized public school children, local artists, and residents, in environmental education activities in Praça Seca in 2022. Photo: Gabriel Loiola

Afrofuturist Girl

Looking for your childhood
Where’d you lose it
Gotta get tuned with nature bud
We’ll see if you got it

To rhyme I grab a pen
And I’m here like Captain Planet
And with the same unique powers
The mission is all yours
My future is yours too

Water earth and air
And the forest for us to care for
Living in ancestral culture

Like an afrofuturist
That does it all to be full of peace
Go ahead kid your time has come
The power is all yours

— Elis MC

In addition to participating in activities carried out in the cultural center’s garden, such as the biodiversity and climate crisis class, Elis MC was also able to plant in the garden and do mural arts with other local artists. ‘Climate Connect’ mobilized public school children, local artists, and residents in environmental education and biodiversity activities, cultivation practices, and mural arts. The free activities increased participation and facilitated the sharing of climate initiatives in the neighborhood.

The Jovelina Pérola Negra Cultural Space in Pavuna launched the Jovelina Pérola Negra’s Community Garden with various activities that benefited over 100 students from public schools in the area. For the space’s cultural leaders, transforming the environment will only take place with the involvement of children. That is why climate activities at the cultural space focus on the youngest residents of Pavuna.

All these initiatives combine environmental education, community participation, artistic activities, and integration with local culture, striving for a single objective: to put sustainability and the importance of the environment on the agenda. When culture is used as a tool in the fight for climate justice, it shows the role of each resident in this movement in practice and that solutions are possible—that they are collective, and can be very accessible. Solutions include meetings, theater classes, conversations, mural arts, visual arts and dance, arts and crafts exhibition, local organizing to clean streets and rivers, the creation of community gardens, and more. These projects impact all areas of the city.

Local Awareness, Global Impact

Citizens, movements, organizations from favelas and other vulnerable areas, and governments of developing countries raise this issue at the global level every year at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP), but we do not always see practical actions by governments like those taken by the people themselves. While in Egypt the discourse was global, the climate had its local contours in focus in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The event ‘The Climate Is One of Change’ took place at the same time as COP-27 on November 6, 2022, at Circo Voador, a decades-old hub for Rio de Janeiro culture, with the aim of promoting climate justice in the city and building political influence of the cultural sector and favelas and urban periphery. 

In Brazil, awareness of climate change is growing. According to the study Climate Change in the Perception of Brazilians by the Rio Institute of Technology and Society (ITS), 90% of Brazilians are so concerned about climate change that they have started to adopt climate-friendly attitudes and want the government to implement greener policies. Therefore, this movement from cultural centers for the climate has already influenced the city positively by fostering activities that promote climate justice, environmental education, and food sovereignty, always grounded in culture.

About the author: Journalist Thaís Cavalcante was born and raised in Nova Holanda, one of the favelas in Complexo da Maré. After acting as a community communicator, Cavalcante decided to study journalism. She believes in the power of information and its potential to change reality.