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Occupying the restored building of the old Customs, in front of Porto Grande Bay, Centro Cultural do Mindelo (CCM) is one of the most important cultural structures in the city of Mindelo, capital of São Vicente Island, and cultural capital of Cape Verde. With a varied program structured around the performing arts, CCM serves as an agglutinating space for the city’s artistic, cultural and educational scene, organizing a series of events in partnership with a wide network of institutions and hosting various initiatives, among them one of the most important theater festivals in Africa, Mindelact.
Situated at a building listed as a historic site, CCM is directly governed by the Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries of Cape Verde and is part of a new cultural policy in the country, in an effort to promote and connect the Island of São Vicente and the other islands in the archipelago with the international arts circuit. Articulated with an expanding network of international partners, CCM combines its promotional efforts with very precise local cultural action, in what its artistic direction understands as positive contamination, boosting transnational dialogues to foster educational mediation, thus acting as a real exchange platform.
Undertaking reforms in school’s curriculum, defining structuring policies for the cultural sector and carrying out an extensive program of rehabilitation of listed sites, Cape Verde has been giving great importance to the potency of its cultural production. Morna, a musical genre born in the country in the 18th century and that won over the world through the voice of Cesária Évora, has been recently listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. This testifies to a deep commitment to cultural heritage and political will to set projects in motion.
With three of Cape Verde’s nine islands—Boa Vista, Santiago and São Vicente—affected by the first cases of COVID-19, things were developing gradually. On March 19, the government decided to declare state of calamity, closely followed by the state of emergency. Immediate closure of public spaces was ordered and a methodology was devised to ensure that the pandemic would not spread.
However, there was a spike in the number of cases in Boa Vista and Santiago, especially in the latter, which is the capital island—and the most complex among them. Praia is a very particular city which, for historical reasons, such as drought, developed in a very complex way, with very dense neighborhoods, which contributed to the quick spread of the virus. It is also the city that brings together the population of all the islands.
In addition to its internal issues, Cape Verde also depends in some way on external issues, linked to diasporas and tourism, which contribute expressively to the country’s entire economic balance. These two sectors are strongly affected by the disruption in outside communication, which means that we now have to work only with our local community. We are observing what happens in other parts of the world, because the impact of this crisis in Italy, for example, has a direct consequence with Ilha do Sal. Just as in the United States, the Netherlands and France. At this moment, we navigate expecting better conditions, and no one can foresee conditions normalizing fast.
The Centro Cultural do Mindelo is mainly dedicated to the performing arts—Music, Dance and Theater—, which are the strongest expressions. It is a space, perhaps unique, that hosts all of the city’s major activities.
Mindelo is a cultural city, with approximately 90,000 inhabitants, where various activities take place throughout the year, such as Mindelact, which is a major theater festival already in its 26th edition.
We also host other performative activities, film festivals, as well as debates and projects related to the city’s cultural associations. Universities and university institutes also carry out some of their events here. Our annual program is structured around four three-month seasons; each season has an objective and a theme. The first one is called Words, Shapes and Sounds; the second, Body and Thought; the third, Atlantic Memories, and the last one is called Contemporary Art.
Created in 1995, the Mindelact Festival is the main theatrical event in Cape Verde, and the most important in all of the Lusophone and Western Africa. With a total of 22 editions held in the city of Mindelo, the festival promotes exchanges among its participants, as well as educational activities, music concerts, and visual arts and design exhibitions.
We opened our season poetically on March 21st, which is the World Poetry Day. We always open in this day, which has a very suggestive name: Micadinaia Fest—name created by a Cape Verdean writer and poet, João Vário, one of the country’s most interesting contemporary men. At each edition, the goal is to open our three front doors and have continuous activities during the day, from morning through midnight. As Cape Verde is a country of poetics and poetry, the search for sound, where the maxim is sound and not just music, Centro Cultural do Mindelo serves as a structural matrix.
We are actually a very small team, comprising seven people. I’m in charge of the artistic direction, and there is a manager and a designer. Then, there are two security guards, and a multifunction technician, who works mainly with sound and lighting. There is also a cleaning professional. We are directly linked to the Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries and work on a renewable contract.
This year would bring the fourth edition of Micadinaia Fest, which would be a season that would consolidate the program. We would bet precisely on what we call sonoro (sound). We had planned performances, installations, exhibitions, concerts, many things . . . We had devised a great exhibition by an Italian painter and sculptor, who would also be present at the opening.
We would also hold a piano recital, with the reading of texts by a Cape Verdean-Portuguese actress, Flávia Gusmão, accompanied on the piano by Pedro Gregório, architect and musician. In the large auditorium we would have a band formed exclusively for this opening day, directed by Vamar Martins, a musician and composer.
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to cancel everything. Ours is an indoors space, for people to meet and hang out, and at the opening of the season, we have almost a thousand people entering the house throughout the day. We live with the public. We don’t offer services. So it changed our entire geography.
The closures due to the pandemic’s progress completely affected many of our workers and indirect suppliers. We are a kind of link and drive that moves the city and all its artistic diversity, enabling and instigating various meetings. This mainly affected the artistic class, who were the first to lose work, and who will also be the last, I believe, to be able to work again. These are many professionals who work under the demand of the city’s cultural sector schedule, which was already earmarked, in large part, with many contracted services.
The Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries launched a kind of manifesto for the benefit of artists and created an open call with an online program, EnPalco100Artistas, to provide some encouragement in this moment of suspension. In fact, the crisis is much deeper than we think, because the entire technical sector, which installs and operates the infrastructure that allows the cultural sector to function, such as sound, lighting, electricians and other technicians, is dependent on these activities in order to carry out their jobs.
This unpredictability of not knowing what is happening or will happen, just causes greater concern each day. So far, at Centro Cultural do Mindelo, regarding our team, we don’t feel that we will have to get to the point of laying off staff, and we don’t see this possibility on the horizon. What we have been confronted with is the need to rethink the way we operate, including thinking about hiring more technicians to respond to the needs of the moment.
On our part, we had no major financial losses, since we work with a pre-designed annual budget and we already had a schedule defined for 2020 and 2021. At the moment, we are all studying how to reuse this same budget and how to allocate resources for programs that come to support the cultural and artistic sector, in order to leave an unused portion for our canceled program, in support of the sector.
This year would be one of positive contamination for us, in which we would welcome and take professionals from these islands abroad and also bring people from other countries. This being an island in an archipelago, our greatest challenge focuses precisely on this aspect of communication with other cultural centers and spaces, with other thinkers and creators, in order to give our sector another dynamic. We were precisely preparing for the internationalization of our activities. This is a strategy that the pandemic ended up affecting and jeopardizing drastically. For us, the impossibility of international dialogues will also strongly affect our educational activities and mediation, one of our crucial bases. We are, therefore, in a moment of reflection, thinking about how this will evolve and affect our logic of dissemination and exchange, and the doors we wanted to open.
Now we have to figure out how to take advantage of this new dynamic, set up a new strategy, but we are in standby mode, taking into account that our substance is the public. I have been reflecting on what our future might look like. I have been in charge of CCM for four years now and I realize that we put out a lot of programming and content. The issue of memory is central to us, so we always leave our footsteps. We work with many creators and have great creative value at hand. We can think of transforming some of our spaces into recording and editing studios, collaborating with thinkers, writers, philosophers and artists, without losing focus on the three performative areas in which we operate.
In that first season, in addition to Micadinaia Fest, we also expected to hold one of the great moments of our programming, which is Il y a Dance, a dance festival. Il y a, in addition to the meaning of “to have” in French, also means “to join” in Creole. The festival would take place in May and would look at dance through the perspective of socialization, and the guest company would be Teatro Vitoria, from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. From then on, we would hold the same festival every year, which would start creating a base for international circulation, focusing not only on creation, but also on training, operating within the Macaronesian space, together with the Canary Islands, Senegal, Morocco and, who knows, Azores and Madeira. The following year, the focus will be on co-creation. We were interested in turning the festival into a formative event, and the next invited country would be Mozambique, bringing a different perspective and giving us access to another network, that of the Portuguese-speaking African countries, the PALOP (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe).
Ever since I see myself as a creator I have dealt with this space, which is a politically created community, but that is just that. We have very encyclopedic notions of what the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries) space is, what Brazil is, and Angola, for example, which are very rich, huge and diverse countries. Today, more than ever, after several years, this community does not yet have concrete marks in our lives. What is crucial, which would make what today is only political become practical, is undoubtedly the cultural sector. Ultimately, the cultural and affective perspectives should be thought from the beginning, because circulation is vital and allows us to know spaces, smells and colors. With a cultural network we could offer different solutions. We are myopic towards our own neighbors, so conditioned to always look to one side, lacking a 360-degree view. This leads to logical ignorance, not being able to see.
All of these plans unfortunately now have to be rethought, and we are waiting to see what we can do. At this very moment, I am working on the new perspectives of the CCM during this condition and in the post-pandemic. We cannot sit and wait, as this sharpens our creativity. CCM, as the city’s sole space for artistic activities and appreciation of art, causes a huge impact if it remains closed. The city at the moment depends enormously on that space, precisely for what we do. This year alone, we had about 17 exhibitions scheduled. We have a weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, half-yearly schedule . . . This depends on how things will evolve. The public is our number one priority. We have a large room with 220 seats, an indoor patio with approximately 200 seats, as well as a large multipurpose room that is used for exhibitions and also as a small auditorium, with 150 seats.
We considered, for instance, controlled access to exhibitions, but I don’t know if we will be able to hold concerts for 10 or 15 people at a time. I have been thinking about creating exterior panels, using the facade and the street to present exhibitions. This can be a way for us to develop new ways that can be interesting. We cannot be at the mercy of when and how things will turn out.
The current administration, in my view, acted very intelligently in the face of the pandemic. By establishing the state of calamity at first, followed by the state of emergency, it made the country equip itself with technical capacities, namely conditions in hospitals, and carried out screenings on each island. This was diligent work and which paid off. Today we have the island of São Vicente in a state of calamity, but with no cases, and its population has the necessary care.
We, as a cultural space that works directly with various sectors in culture, are drawing up, together with the Ministry of Culture and Creative Economies, a logic for our sector. This crisis took hold of all the countries in the world, and there wasn’t a single one of them that was not taken aback. Since March, we’ve been listening to artists and other professionals. One of the fundamental aspects of the city of Mindelo, a city that is cosmopolitan by nature, is its responsiveness. The city easily responds. When asked to participate, it promptly does so. And these are measures that will have to be taken by listening to everyone involved. We must understand, however, that our acting has to be now, because every day that passes it becomes a problem in the lives of professionals of the sector and also of the public in general.
It was our responsiveness which fortunately allowed us to act quickly. The city quarantined when it was prompted to quarantine. People started to produce and distribute masks to the public and to institutions that were in need. Many technicians started to prototype and produce protective equipment, and the population seems to be respecting the measures and taking all precautions.
The city’s major music festival, Festival Baía das Gatas, made its budget money available for social initiatives to combat the pandemic. People are used to solidarity in this archipelago and like to support each other, in what we call junta mon, the act of joining hands. In an archipelago, we always act in bundles, in a fractal manner, in which one bundle positively contaminates the other. I hope that this kind of thinking and acting endures, devoting attention and demonstrating solidarity, and the institutions keep thinking of ways to help the professionals in the sector who need the most. This is a moment of creation—everything starts here. One sector that likes challenges is the cultural and artistic sector, and the world that we are inheriting won’t be the same. Undoubtedly, technology is what lies ahead. We, as creators, artists, consumers of ideas and cultural agitators, will have to use more of it.
Until know, technology was a kind of tool to be used. Some did, others didn’t. There are still those who used it to the extent necessary and possible. This condition has made us jump into it. This transnationality enabled by the media and the technology will become something more concrete. We can use Zoom to hold a meeting, just as we can play an orchestral score in different parts of the world.
I really like a phrase by Nietzsche that says that politicians, scientists and religious leaders promise, but artists have to do it. It is the last cry saying that we need to act. There is no time to complain, we must create conditions and the disposition for a deep reflection aimed at building other forms of action. We will really have to think the world globally, we cannot afford to remain closed in regionalisms and exclusive problems, we will have to think together.
Technological revolutions have left us in the limbo of individuality. What we are currently giving ourselves a chance to realize is the revolution of our human and global condition. One man is capable of transforming his home, his village, his island, and even his country. We are many countries and many people, but we share a common home. Unfortunately, we only realize this at times like this pandemic. A butterfly dancing in China made noise across the world.
This moment makes it clear that knowledge is not only present in developed countries. It is mainly in countries that hold other types of knowledge. The fact that countries that don’t have visibility have little knowledge is already outdated, has fallen into disuse. We have to create a network of possibilities for positive contamination, which will create another form of action, and not just from a digital perspective. We have to find other ways to resonate within people. This idea of life and death, which art and culture foster, is only possible when our bodies are present.
I brought to the CCM the dimension of relating with the other as a premise for our performance. A black rhino that is nearsighted and cannot see becomes aggressive, is considered a wild animal. At the same time, it is very generous and gives water to any other animal. But just because it can’t see, it’ll just run towards anything. This means that when we lack what makes us project our vision and other interests in a spiritual and cultural way, we are not going anywhere. The world needed this breakdown to recognize that we really can’t walk around, short-sighted, bumping into things, but we must go to them to start seeing the truth.