SCALES by Thais Rivitti

The SP-Arte art fair opens today. After reading some articles that have recently been published in the press about the fair, I think of the figures involved in the event. More than six million reais have been spent on making it possible, out of which almost two million are governmental funds (under the Brazilian Tax Incentive Law). In total, 136 galleries participate in the fair, and 60% of them are Brazilian galleries. According to data from research conducted by the Brazilian Association of Contemporary Art (Abact), organized by researcher Ana Letícia Fialho and partially published in the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper ( noticias/impresso,galerias-ja-vendem-mais-obras-para-as-instituicoes-de-fora,1147260,0.htm , last year 64% of the Brazilian art galleries had gross revenues of R$3.6 million (the revenues of 31% of them exceeded that amount). These recent figures do not refer to SP-Arte, but rather to the galleries’ monthly revenues, including participation in other fairs and regular sales. What do those figures mean? Is it too much? Too little? I have to say that for me – and for many others who participate in the art world from a place that is very different from SP-Arte – it is hard to put them on a scale. I have been running Ateliê 397, an independent art space in the Vila Madalena district, São Paulo, for over four years, and I always listen to those who speak of a booming art market with great curiosity: where does this money go to? Ateliê 397 as well as many other art spaces in São Paulo and other big cities in Brazil struggle to keep their doors open. The two directors of Ateliê 397 (artist Marcelo Amorim and myself) have invested heavily in the space – not so much money really, since we don’t have it, but we did contribute our time, energy, contacts, work – and we haven’t been able so far to be decently paid for our duties. The funds supporting 397 come from a mixed economy, as they say in economic jargon I think: part of the funds come from calls for proposals from state and federal governments in which we are successful (that happens occasionally, though – every year we have to submit many projects and rely on a favorable decision from the jury), and from our poor sales of artworks, which happens mainly in our end-year auction called Surpraise, to which many artists donate their works, which are sold at prices far below market prices (to the despair of gallerists, who are not very fond of this initiative). In other words, the space is supported mainly by Marcelo and I, who have been working without pay for over four years, and by our collaborators who are symbolically paid for their help, the artists who donate artworks and occasionally funds from winning proposals. During those four years, there has been only one exhibition in which two galleries (both from Recife) have provided funds to exhibitions featuring artists represented by them. All other attempts to negotiate a partnership with the galleries have failed. Ateliê 397, as it is now (renovation is required and we need to increase our staff, among many other urgent actions), needs about 120,000 reais a year in order to continue to operate. That amount corresponds to the space maintenance and a small budget for the events. Specific information, such as a monthly spreadsheet containing all expenses for 2013, is available to the public and was submitted by our producer Rodrigo Grasso in a debate last year, in which funding strategies were discussed. Those funds would allow us to hold more than ten annual events (art exhibitions, debates, video art sessions, performance events, among others). Last year, Ateliê 397 showed the public in various forms (solo and group exhibitions, video shows, performances, etc.) the works of more than 300 artists. It is a lot – almost one artist a day – but it is still little. We could do more, and we know it by the countless projects that are held off because there are no sponsors. In any case, it is much more than most contemporary art spaces do. A gallery holds about 7 exhibitions a year (these figures are mentioned in the article published in the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper, as said earlier). We do more, in a more diversified manner and reaching artists who are not represented by the galleries. Our relationship with our audience and collaborators are closer, more open, and significant. Many people who have worked at 397 are now acting in the art market. Many of the artists who have shown their works at 397 (for example, the artists who participated in the múltiplos project and whose works we have sold) are currently represented by galleries. On their own merits, of course: we have just helped as we could, with talks, visits to studios, welcoming them and trying to make their works known to the public with dignity (with a nice text, good advertising, an enthusiastic reception by the audience, and a debate that expands on the issues raised by them). The role of independent spaces is critical to the local art scene and also to the growth of the art market. A quick look outside Brazil shows us the importance of art spaces like Apexart and Art in general, both based in New York. Constantly struggling to make ends meet at the end of the month and relying on external financial aid that doesn’t always come, many spaces in Brazil are still miraculously working. I believe that in order for the market to grow – coupled with an improvement in the quality of art production – there should be more independent spaces: they provide access for artists starting their careers, create opportunities to discuss subjects that are relevant to contemporary production, and make way for the exchange of ideas among artists from different generations (as in the case of our Colônia de Férias program). But back to the figures, I still think there is a problem of scale there. What does it mean to say that a space like Ateliê 397 needs 2% of SP-Arte’s total budget to operate for a year? Does that comparison make any sense? Can we draw any conclusions from it? I’m not an accounting expert, but the current scene does not hold some great mystery. I’m happy that the market is booming; I’m happy that the number of galleries has been increasing (artists really need someone to market their works), and I’m glad to see the increased funds made available by the São Paulo State Government for participation in the Proac [Cultural Action Program] (although we do have some projects approved for participation in the Program, we never got a company willing to finance them, but this is another story which I won’t go into here). In my opinion, which is certainly the opinion of many others, these funds available for the arts have to flow elsewhere. These organizations and initiatives, which have been slowly making headway and coming to light, require immediate support so that they can feed the art market – which, as they say, can grow much more.


*English version: Daniela Faria
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