With One Voice Brazil exchange - November 2015

Streetwise Opera CEO Matt Peacock shares his reflections from our recent With One Voice Brazil exchange:

  • The second of three arts and homelessness exchanges between UK and Brazil leading to Rio 2016
  • A delegation of 10 from London and Manchester travel to Rio and São Paulo
  • Highlights of the exchange included the delivery of a pilot of Café Art’s calendar in São Paulo (see a film of the pilot here); Choir with No Name training other choirs including Rio’s ASAB choir; Cardboard Citizens and Crisis Skylight working with counterparts in Brazil and a delegation from Manchester researching the Homeless People’s Movement in order to implement it in Manchester

In mid-November, a group of 10 people from the UK travelled from Manchester and London to Brazil on the latest Streetwise Opera ‘With One Voice’ arts and homelessness exchange. Funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK and British Council Brazil and in partnership with brilliant folk of People's Palace Projects. This was the middle of three exchanges between Brazil and UK over 3 years to share practice and help increase the capacity of arts and homelessness in both countries. 

The ten in the UK delegation were Dave Kelly, a volunteer and former service user of Manchester’s wonderful Booth Centre; Amanda Croome, the centre’s founder and director; Paul Conway, Homeless Link’s North West co-ordinator; Cllr Beth Knowles, a Manchester Labour councillor; Terry O’Leary, Associate Artist for Cardboard Citizens; Paul Ryan, Director of Café Art; Pete Churchill, Birmingham Choir Director of Choir with No Name; Paula Lonegan, Arts Manager of Crisis Skylight; Renata Peppl, Project Manager at People’s Palace Projects, the partner company who were helping to produce the exchange and me, Matt Peacock CEO of Streetwise Opera and co-ordinator of the charity’s international programme, With One Voice.

This exchange followed the first in April when we welcomed 14 Brazilians to London and Manchester. UK projects and politicians had been gob-smacked by the Homeless People's Movement (represented by two members, Sebastião Nicomedes from São Paulo and Maralice dos Santos from Rio). The Movement had been established to create a mechanism to give homeless people a direct way of communicating with officials about legislation and their rights. This kind of structure of giving a voice to homeless people and a direct link to city councils simply doesn't exist in the UK and hearing about it directly from Sebastião and Maralice has been one of the highlights of the whole project so far.

In turn, the Brazilians loved seeing the wealth of arts and homelessness projects such as Choir with No Name, Cardboard Citizens, Open Cinema, Café Art which are much greater in number and more established than in Brazil; and visiting centres with integrated arts programmes such as Booth Centre, Dellow Centre and Crisis Skylight. 

We travelled to Brazil with some clear aims in mind and also preparing ourselves to soak up as many new experiences as possible. We arrived first in São Paulo and set about piloting the truly wonderful Café Art calendar (a project which the City Council in São Paulo were very keen to implement having seen it in London). The calendar is an annual project where homeless people are given disposable cameras and photography skills in order to take pictures around their city – the best 13 of which are used to make a calendar. The São Paulo pilot was done in double-quick time (made possible largely by the phenomenal PPP team) and went really well with a record 92 of the 100 Fuji-donated cameras returned. As I write this, the calendars have just returned from the printers in Brazil and they are something to behold! See the shortlisted photos here.

We visited some incredible homelessness projects in São Paulo and Rio working in the most challenging areas. Highlights included OAF’s Viaduto Do Glicério in São Paulo – a semi-open-air day centre under a flyover offering a wide variety of activities for the street population visual arts and music; Casa Rodante, an arts project on a cart run by the Human Rights department of the City Council – an information hub and point of culture in the heart of the crack-users neighbourhood. As we have seen on many occasions in Brazil, it is often the officials we have worked with (Rafael da Silva and Fernanda Almeida in the São Paulo from the Human Rights Department and Rodrigo Abel and team from the Social Development department in Rio) who are organising and championing arts projects themselves – both activists and policy-makers at the same time. I have mentioned this in previous blogs, but it cannot be said enough that the attitude to the arts is very different in Brazil than the UK – it is seen to be a human right and an intrinsic part of social welfare. For the UK delegates, it was amazing to see politicians stand up and talk about the importance of the arts. I would dearly love to take UK's politicians to Brazil to witness this for themselves! 

Those who have read those previous blogs will also know that there are big differences in homelessness provision in Brazil from the UK. There are many more people on the streets in Brazil and the climate and the benefits system both play a part. It is significant that it is warm in Rio (and for the most part in São Paulo) all year round and there is therefore less urgency to get people into building-based support. That, together with the lack of benefits system means that informal economy on the streets is very much encouraged; without the safety net of the benefits system, people have to make money somehow, and the only option for many is to live on the streets and sell what they can. This is why a lot of the work of the City Councils is to support people and tell them what their rights are while they are on the streets – which is what projects like Casa Rodante aim to do. There are fewer homeless centres in total and it was particularly noticeable in this exchange that the state-run centres are going through a process that is similar to the Places for Change programme that happened in the UK a few years ago: centres are becoming more welcoming places to be with fewer people to each room, more activities and facilities. In Rio places like Plinio Marcus and Rio Acolhedor were good examples of shifts in provision in the state-run sector.

Of the independent-run centres of which there are many, ASAB in Betania had the most impact on the group. We’ve known this centre on the outskirts of Rio from the very start of the project when we did our research back in 2012. It is essentially a recovery homeless centre with accommodation, incredible facilities (including a professional-standard dental unit) and a social enterprise art programme and a choir. Choir director Ricardo Vasconcelos came to the UK in the April exchange and since then has been training other choral leaders in Rio.

Pete Churchill from Choir with No Name spend a few days with him on this exchange and his other fellow choir directors and the excitement about the expansion of homeless choirs in Rio is palpable! They can't wait to take part in the celebrations around Rio 2016 and we're keeping our fingers crossed that the Cultural Olympiad will confirm a With One Voice event for homeless people as London did in 2012. 

The week went by so quickly and was packed with so many experiences too numerous to mention in a blog - other highlights included the workshops delivered by Terry O'Leary from Cardboard Citizen to a large number of organisations and projects; Paula Lonegan from Crisis Skylight helping homeless centres with their arts programmes and strategies and both city councils in Rio and São Paulo organising arts and homelessness seminars (the first in either city) which demonstrated their commitment for this sector to grow. 

Also, the meetings we had with the Homeless People’s Movement (pictured here with the whole delegation) were incredibly powerful and the Manchester delegation left buzzing about the possibilities of introducing a similar project in Manchester. We came away with more ideas, knowledge about the methodology of the Movement and the process of how the relationship works with the officials (which, according to all parties, has improved in Rio as a direct result of With One Voice). It is exciting to think that the Manchester delegation may be able to implement a version of the Movement in the UK (they are already making headway with the Homeless Charter in Manchester). This may have huge implications for homelessness policy in the UK, giving homeless people a more powerful voice. For it to come out of an arts project is a wonderful demonstration of the power and potential of the arts to make real change in the world. 

During the exchange and for many weeks before hand and afterwards, our partners at People’s Palace Projects in Rio and London moved mountains to make the project as successful as possible. A special shout-out for Renata Peppl and Jan Onozsko who kept pulling the proverbial rabbits out of hats! Any success the With One Voice project delivers will be thanks in part to them.

And finally… all the way through the trip and at every stop, Dave Kelly gave artistic gifts to centre managers and homeless people. He had brought a number of pieces of artwork created by the art group at the Booth Centre – origami mobiles, a banner and a huge tapestry – and these were given as gifts wherever we went. It was a poignant and beautiful reminder that ultimately it is art that is bringing us all together from thousands of miles apart – our collective belief that art is what makes us human; that art can restore dignity, remind people that they have an identity that isn’t just about their problems and challenges and that art can help build bridges of understanding throughout the world.

For more information about our With One Voice international programme, visit the With One Voice website.

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