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Funding the Folia | Public, Private and Privateering

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BRAZIL — Samba geniuses Martinho da Vila and Leci Brandão debate the subject of corporate and state sponsorship of competitive Carnaval societies in today’s Folha de S. Paulo.

Is corporate sponsorship a threat to the spirit of Carnaval?

Leci believes it is, Martinho believes, with certain caveats and precautions, that it is not.

Neither analysis takes into account the effects of two converging tendencies:

  1. Globo’s indefensable monopoly on worldwide AV rights to celebration, and
  2. Globo’s relationship with what recent evidence suggests may be what a gringo would call a RICO — a racketeering-influenced and corrupt organization, LIESA.

Globo’s Época magazine has recently been covering (1)  the ties between LIESA and the numbers racketeers of Rio and (2) LIESA’s ties with the organization of Charlie Waterfall, based in Goiás.

These deserve a translated note of their own, not least because they appear to show Globo in a bad light.

The New School: Corporate Beneficiaries as a Remedy for RICO

In the meantime,

A samba school on parade is an exhilarating experience, but it takes a lot of work to put together and its costs are ever more prohibitive.  Not even in the bygone days could a samba society produce an excellent parade without outside donations.  These days, the amount of cash donations required in staggering.

In the old days, the escolas de samba of Rio de Janeiro were funded by local merchants of the neighborhoods they represented. These donations were recorded in «the golden book».

When the city governments took it upon themselves to organizar and subsidize the Carnaval parades, local merchants felt that their contribution was no longer needed, as a result of which the Carnaval societies found themselves in great difficulties. The public subsidies were insufficient and were paid out only shortly before the competitive parades — or in some cases, only afterwards.

A samba school on parade is an exhilarating experience, but it takes a lot of work to put together and its costs are ever more prohibitive.  Not even in the bygone days could a samba society produce a spectacular parade without outside donations.  These days, the amount of cash donations required in staggering.

In the old days, the escolas de samba of Rio de Janeiro were funded by local merchants of the neighborhoods they represented. These donations were recorded in «the golden book».

When the city governments took it upon themselves to organizar and subsidize the Carnaval parades, however, local merchants felt that their contribution was no longer needed, as a result of which the Carnaval societies found themselves in great difficulties. The public subsidies were insufficient and were paid out only shortly before the competitive parades — or in some cases, only afterwards.

At that point, parade organizers began to resort to the numbers racketeers — the bicheiros, purveyors of an animal-themed black market lottery.

The bicheiros supported the samba schools financially, establishing their own reputation as patrons of the arts.  Many of these racketeers assumed leadership roles, both regular and irregular, in the samba schools, and created the Independent League of Samba Schools, LIESA.

Today, drawing on the runds raised and disbursed by LIESA, any samba school with an attractive theme, basic technical requirements, talented composers, and a brilliant porta-bandeira and mestre-sala, has no need of sponsorship.

Or rather, has sufficient slush fund cash to carry on.

All that was needed was a competent drum corps and an attractive theme song

Over the years, however, the parades have become the most spectacular show on earth and their directors can no longer do without sponsorships.  The subsidies meted out by LIESA barely cover the cost of the lead float and the costumes for the comissão de frente, from whom a special performance is expected.

Maintaining certain precautions, sponsorships do no harm so long as the beneficiary is not presented as a vehicle for advertising.

Imagine a bloc of White Rabbits in which the ace of hearts gives way to the Coca-Cola logo.

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Some Internet comedians make light of the tendency to sell advertising on every single square centimeter of a footballers  jersey and shorts. Up to and including the players buttocks …

The Old School: Survival Without Sponsors

When sponsors dictate the theme and the dynamic of a televised samba parade, then yes, sponsorship does tend to undermine the legitimacy of the competitive Carnaval parade. Fortunately, this situation remains the exception rather than the rule, but everyone knows that some groups have revised their themes to conform with the wishes of their sponsors.

Consider, for example, the legendary Estação Primeira de Mangueira, which has been severely criticized for withdrawing its homage to the great sambista Jamelão this year. Its sponsors preferred a presentation praising the state of Mato Grosso.

Our own memorable 2012 parade, however — an homage to the Cacique de Ramos carnival society — was not even selected for the championship round

A superficial analysis of the two cases might lead us to believe that only those samba societies with commercial endorsements can survive. While I believe we no longer face this situation, the legitimacy of sponsored themes has not lived up to the expectations of the jurors.

Yes, commercial sponsorships, in partnership with public subsidies, are increasingly important to the organization of the grand spectacle to which we are accustomed.

We should not forget, however, that Carnaval societies have a life outside the sambadrome bleachers. Most of these associations are supported financially by a community whose support legitimates them and whose realization represents hard, year-round labor..

It should never be forgetten that the samba schools were created by black and impoverished communities. Their parades represented the re-signification of an everyday world in which racism, prejudice and exclusion ruled the day to day existence of the proletarian classes.

For a long time, the Carnaval celebration of these persons were confined to the margns of society. Like all legitimate cultural expressions, however, the samba societies grew and matured regardless. News media began to provide coverage of the parades, which then aroused the interest of potential sponsors and advertisers.

The creative, authentic and grandious spectacle of Carnaval makes samba societies excellent showcases for the products and brands of sponsors. This is a reality that the escolas cannot lose sight of if such sponsorship deals are to be negotiated between equals and result in a win-win situation.

Sponsorship is always an excellent solution for corporate donors, but it does not automatically benefit the samba schools …In order for this to happen, the communities must be expropriated and the results of their labors confiscated. This is the moment in which it becomes necessary to debate public policy for the communities that field Carnaval contingents

Carnaval is, after all, the most popular symbol of Brazil and its immaterial cultural assets. It stimulates the economy, generating jobs and revenue.

Nothing could be more just for the public sector to keep an attentive eye on the persons who have dedicated their lives to mounting this spectacle.

Yes, sponsorship poses a threat to the Carnaval tradition, but only if the State fails in its duty while business leaders are incapable of understanding that what makes the Carnaval parades such a fantastic spectacle is the traditional creative freedom of the samba schools and their artists and craftsmen.