Houses of culture and cultural occupations

“Ocupação Cultural Courage”, photo by Márcia Minillo


The invention of common life

“Peripheral subject. (…)\ Between sheets and pens,\ draws plans and projects,
poems and songs” (Tita Reis, peripheral subject).

The first European houses of culture emerged at the end of the 2021th century, in Belgium (ROGER, 1959). They had the objective of bringing together, in the same place, different forms of artistic representation: literature, theater, dance, music and visual arts. In addition, they aimed to make culture accessible to the greatest number of people. This same conception of the house of culture was incorporated in France in different cultural policies. In André Malraux's Ministry of Culture (1969-2001), the cultural houses played a fundamental role in the project of decentralization and democratization of culture (BOUZADA FERNÁNDEZ, XNUMX). Inspired by the principles of secular humanism, André Malraux intended to spread houses of culture throughout France, a counterpoint to the social and political role played by churches and religious temples.

Created in 1983 by the Belgian artist Philippe Grombeer, the Trans Europe Halles (TEH) brings together independent cultural centers from several European countries (MORTAIGNER, 1995). Many cultural centers occupy spaces and buildings that were abandoned, for example: in Ghent, Belgium, Vooruit installed itself in an old socialist cooperative; in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Retina took over an army area; in Bergen, Norway, the Kulturhuset (House of Culture) took shelter in a disused canning factory; in Berlin, UFA-Fabrik formed an artistic community that lives and operates where, until the 1950s, there was a film studio.

The independent cultural centers have local, national and foreign artists. The maintenance of these spaces depends on public funds and the management of cafes, restaurants and other commercial activities. The diversity of topics addressed reflects the guidelines of the collectives that make up each cultural center. Issues related to everyday life in cities mark the artistic interventions. For Fabrice Raffin (2004), based on the sharing of the sensitive and the invention of common life, these cultural centers create new forms of sociability. On the other hand, by stimulating a participatory-critical perspective in the realization and reception of the work of art, these spaces articulate cultural engagement with political engagement.

In 1985, during the period in which Teixeira Coelho (1986) collaborated with the Information and Coexistence Centers project of the São Paulo State Department of Culture, he obtained funding from Fapesp to learn about the proposals of cultural houses in four countries: England, France, Mexico and Cuba. The Cuban experience with popular culture is one of the most intense in Latin America. Since 1978, the country has had a National System of Houses of Culture. This body of the Ministry of Culture was in charge of building at least one house of culture in each province of the island. Many of these houses of culture occupy the mansions that, before the Revolution of 1959, belonged to the aristocracy.

Education and culture are rights guaranteed by the Cuban constitution. More than consuming cultural goods produced by others, people are encouraged to produce their own culture. Cuban houses of culture are state institutions. Directors, teachers and art instructors are appointed by the government, while socio-cultural promoters emerge from the community itself. The main activities carried out are art and craft workshops, but the houses of culture also promote festivals, exhibitions and meetings (PUEBLA, 2021). The Ministry of Culture annually publishes the magazine To the Roots, responsible for disseminating and analyzing the actions coordinated by the Consejo Nacional das Casas de Cultura (CNCC).

In São Paulo, the first house of culture appears in Jardim Ângela, a poor and peripheral neighborhood in the south of the city (HERCULANO, 2014). In 1984, entities and social movements linked to the Base Ecclesiastical Communities (CEBs) carried out a collective effort to build the Popular House of Culture in the region of M'Boi Mirim and Guarapiranga. For Jaime Crowe, a priest who worked for years in Jardim Ângela, since the movement against high prices in the mid-1970s, artistic expressions accompany political mobilizations: “Practically every assembly started with a dramatization. This has always been present in the neighborhood's struggle history” (LIMA, 2015, p. 57).

In the testimony of Luiz Herculano, a black movement activist, trade unionist and former director of Casa de Cultura M'Boi Mirim, until the 90s, Jardim Ângela was an extremely violent neighborhood with no infrastructure: it lacked basic sanitation, lighting, public transport , schools and cultural facilities (SARDENBERG, 2015). As soon as it was inaugurated, the Casa de Cultura M'Boi Mirim became an important space for carrying out various cultural activities: “fine arts workshops, theater plays, musical shows, capoeira circles and meetings of popular movements” (HERCULANO , 2014, p. 30).

In Luiza Erundina's city hall (1989-1992), elected by the Workers' Party (PT), the Casa de Cultura M'Boi Mirim was incorporated into the newly created Casas de Cultura Project in the city of São Paulo (HERCULANO, 2014). The popular conquest of the culture house in Jardim Ângela influenced the project implemented by the philosopher and municipal secretary of culture Marilena Chaui.

In just over two years, thirteen new culture houses were idealized, the vast majority in poor and peripheral neighborhoods: Interlagos, Butantã, Freguesia do Ó, Pirituba, Ipiranga, Itaim Paulista, Itaquera (two units), Penha, Santo Amaro (two units), São Miguel Paulista and Vila Curuça (BARRETO, 1997). Some houses of culture emerged from the occupation and revitalization of idle public buildings, others were built in joint efforts. During a housing effort in the east zone, the community sought the Municipal Secretariat of Culture (SMC) to help it create a house of culture. SMC's action was questioned by the City Hall's legal department. According to the philosopher and Dominican friar Paulo Botas, who participated in the execution of the Casas de Cultura Project, the legal attorney understood that the housing mutirões were an exclusive matter of the Municipal Housing Secretariat (PEREIRA, 2006).

According to Mirna Pereira (2006), the Casas de Cultura Project helped put into practice the idea of ​​cultural citizenship defended by Marilena Chaui since her inauguration speech at the Municipal Secretariat of Culture, in 1989. Facing the neoliberal position that minimizes the role of the State in the horizon of culture, Marilena Chaui (2006) supports the need for the City of São Paulo to guarantee a series of citizens' rights, among them: the right to public and free cultural and artistic training in schools and culture workshops in the municipality ; the right to enjoy cultural goods; the right to participate in decisions regarding cultural activities; the right to produce culture.

In his research, Luiz Herculano (2014) outlines an overview of the cultural policies of municipal governments that succeeded Luiza Erundina's administration. The city of São Paulo oscillated between popular governments and neoliberal governments, this was reflected in policies related to cultural houses. In addition to not making new cultural equipment, the neoliberal administrations reduce funds and scrap the existing houses of culture. Following a neoliberal agenda, the current city hall announced its intention to outsource the cultural houses (PALMA, 2022).

Opposed to the neoliberal management of culture, in 1999, intellectuals and theater groups organized in São Paulo the movement Art Against Barbarism (TOMAZ, 2021). In one of its manifestos, the movement argues: “Culture is a State priority, as it supports the critical exercise of citizenship in the construction of a democratic society” (MOVIMENTO ART CONTRA A BARBÁRIE, 2000).

According to the analyzes of Gustavo Tomaz (2021), the movement Art Against Barbarism instigated the creation of the cultural occupation Sacolão das Artes, in 2007, in the Santo Antônio neighborhood, in the extreme south of the city of São Paulo. At first, the occupation was managed by leaders of the region and by the collectives: Núcleo de Comunicação Alternativa (cinema), Brava Companhia (theatre) and Casa de Arte e Paladar (handicrafts). Several other cultural occupations emerged in the city in the 2000s, most coordinated by collectives from peripheral neighborhoods (MARINO; SILVA, 2019).

Investigating this social and political process, Aluízio Marino and Gerardo Silva (2019) insert cultural occupations within the tradition of community struggles for the right to housing and the city. This tradition goes back to the creation of the first urban quilombos and favelas, still in the 1996th century. For researchers, cultural occupations can be understood from the concept of “insurgent citizenship”, by James Holston (2019): “It would be, fundamentally, a citizenship that is conquered from concrete experiences in the struggle for rights. rights, and which assumes, within the scope of the city (or the metropolis), a specific dimension: the right to be part of it equally and without distinction” (MARINO; SILVA, 358, p. XNUMX).

In the São Paulo movement of cultural occupations, theoretical reflections are sewn together with the practice of militancy. This position appears in the title of a text by the late Master José Soró (2021): our theory is practice! In a statement, Mestre Soró talks about the origin of Ocupação Artística Canhoba, in Perus: “the subprefecture’s cultural coordination never had a budget (…), and it also lacked creativity, political will (…) so we decided to walk by our own legs ” (MOREIRA; QUILOMBAQUE; SORO, VITORINO, 2020). The militant Jéssica Moreira adds: “Today this occupation of Canhoba is also a response to the public power of what we do not have” (Idem, 2020).

Also about this occupation, Almirante Quilombaque makes the following analysis: “Perus, as a peripheral neighborhood, with the most negative indices, but also with many riches, like this one, this expression of popular struggle” (Idem, 2020). When commenting on the origin of the Clube Comunitário Vento Leste, occupied in 2000, in the neighborhood of Cidade Patriarca, the militant Luciano Carvalho analyzes the social and political role of cultural occupations: “It is important that we can promote community spaces, that is, decentralized spaces, where creation, production, thought, language are fostered, as if they were laboratories, nurseries of public actions capable of transforming the daily life of the city” (CARVALHO, 2013).

The Coragem Cultural Okupação, created in 2016, in the Fernando Haddad city hall, pointed to another possibility of partnership between the public power and the community (PAGENOTTO, 2016). The subprefecture of Itaquera renovated Praça Brasil, on Cohab 2: it removed all the rubble, cleaned up the space and built a skate park. That was the cue for community artists to think about occupying an empty shed that was on the same lot. According to activist Michele Cavaliere, the cultural occupation was very well received by sub-mayor Maurício Martins: “He helped us, he was there for what we needed, he sent a truck to remove the rubble, he gave the greatest support” (CAVALIERE; NASCIMENTO, 2020 ).

A fundamental point for this São Paulo movement, as the activist Queila Rodrigues recalls, is the debate on peripheral subjectivation (RODRIGUES, 2021). According to Pablo Tiaraju D'Andrea (2013), cultural production in popular neighborhoods is an important element for the construction of a peripheral subject who becomes proud to live in these places and to fight for his community.

Like cultural houses around the world, cultural occupations create new possibilities for common life. According to activist Cléia Varges, from the Espaço Cultural CITA occupation, in Campo Limpo, “in addition to cultural production work, CITA builds relationships” (MATOS; VARGES, 2020). In the testimony of Felipe Bit, a militant from Ocupação Cultural Mateus Santos, in Ermelino Matarazzo: “The exchange that takes place in here is important for many people who frequent the space. (…) The physical space is just a pretext for everyone to get together and have this exchange of experiences” (BIT; CARVALHO; SOARES, 2018).

* Paulo Fernandes Silveira He is a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and a researcher at the Human Rights Group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at USP.



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BOUZADA FERNANDEZ, Xan (2001). Spaces for collective cultural consumption. Kings. Spanish Journal of Sociological Investigations, no. 96, p. 51-70. Available in:

CHAUI, Marilena (2006). cultural citizenship: the right to culture. São Paulo: Perseu Abramo. Available in:

D'ANDREA, Pablo Tiaraju (2013). The formation of peripheral subjects: culture and politics in the periphery of São Paulo. São Paulo: Graduate Program in Sociology, Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences, University of São Paulo. Available in:

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HOLSTON, James (1996). Spaces of insurgent citizenship. National Historical and Artistic Heritage Magazine - IPHAN, n. 24, p. 243-253. Available in:

LIMA, Eduardo (2015). Bolsa das Artes, regularization on the scene. In: ALMEIDA, Ademir; RESENDE, Fábio; RAIMUNDO, Max (orgs). Brava company – error notebooks III. São Paulo: LiberArs, p. 54-57. Available in:

MARINO, Aluízio; SILVA, Gerardo (2019). Cultural occupations in the city of São Paulo and the struggles against the neoliberal city. Indisciplinary Magazine, v. 5, no. 1, p. 342-361. Available in:

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TOMAZ, Gustavo (2021). Sacolão das Artes: a popular initiative of sociocultural action. São Paulo: School of Communications and Arts, University of São Paulo. Available in:


words of militancy

BIT, Felipe; CARVALHO, Mara; SOARES, Gustavo (2018). The importance of cultural equipment in the periphery (Cultural Occupation Mateus Santos), Unroll and don't roll me. Available in:

CARVALHO, Luciano (2013). CDC East Wind, Dolores Mouth Open. Available in:

CAVALIERE, Michele; NASCIMENTO, Marcello (2020). Coragem Cultural Okupação – [Re]memorar: trajectories in the east zone, SESC Itaquera; CPDOC Guaianas. Available in:

MATOS, Junin; VARGES, Cléia (2020). CITA Cultural Space, EVOÉ Campaign. Available in:

MOREIRA, Jessica; QUILOMBAQUE, Admiral; SORO, José; VITORINO, Lucas (2020). Canhoba Artistic Occupation, Free Journalists. Available in:

RODRIGUES, Queila (2021). East Zone Culture Forum – [Re]memorar: trajectories in the east zone, SESC Itaquera; CPDOC Guaianas. Available in:


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