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Itaù Cultural


We spoke with Paulo Vicelli, the Coordinator of Institutional Relations of Itaù Cultural


The Itaù Cultural was founded in 1987 by the president of the bank group Itaù, Mr. Olavo Egydio Setubal. The bank decided to found a cultural centre in the middle of the 80’s, just after the end of the dictatorship and the foundation of the Ministry of Culture (1985), when the Brazilian government promoted a law about tax reduction fees for cultural activities. Founding a cultural centre, Itaù Bank participated in the creation of an environment in which private companies decided to donate money to cultural institutions instead of paying taxes.

The Itaù Cultural has the main mission of democratizing cultural access, promoting cultural exchanges within institutions and people (by having many partners, as for example, the cultural group AfroReggae), sustaining the production of Brazilian art and culture and discovering new targets groups.

In 1989 the cultural centre inaugurated the new building in Avenida Paulista and opened to the public its artistic archive (800 artists and more than 1375 art’s pieces) about Brazilian art, becoming the first private archive open to the public in all of South America.

Following the strategy of the Itaù group, which invested in new technologies (it was the first bank to install ATM machines in Brazil), also Itaù Cultural’s policies always tried to mix and integrate arts and new technologies. In 1988 it was the first institution in Sao Paulo to digitalize images. Developing an online database during the 90’s, Itaù started an artistic encyclopaedia on the web and opened on line projects with visual artists.

Education is a pivotal activity for the institution in order to bring the public closer to contemporary art and new media culture. Thanks to free guides (actively involving the public), free entrance, and long opening hours, the institution is easily accessible to visitors and allows for a wider range of visitors, including children (also many schools) and older people. Itaù Cultural usually has 2000 visitors per day.


The visit to Itaù Cultural begun with a meeting in the theatre of the Institution, at the fifth floor of the building in Avenida Paulista, the financial district of Sao Paulo.

After a brief historic introduction, Paulo Vicelli, Coordinator of Institutional Relations area, presented the policies of Itaù Cultural, the relationship with Itaù Bank and the main projects they are developing in order to sustain and promote Brazilian culture.

Itaù Cultural was founded and is financed by Itaù Bank. The cultural centre has a budget that every year is presented to the bank for approval. Usually the budget is around €15 million (R$40 million) and there are around 130 employees.

The Itaù Cultural is completely independent from the bank, apart from the financial aspect. There are different directors, the agendas are not shared, and the bank has no rights in defining the Itaù Cultural’s policies and activities. The bank just approves the budget, but cannot make changes in the projects. The bank only asks for a certain equilibrium in the budget. The cultural centre is also independent from political pressures and it has even promoted art that was politically incorrect. Moreover, the State government doesn’t take part in developing programs. The relationship with political bodies is restricted to the controlling issues and to adjustments of the budget for tax purposes.

The internal policy of changing the artistic committee (curatorial commission in charge of the artists’ selection made by external experts) every two years, guarantees the independence of the artistic direction from financial, political and economical issues. The Itaù Cultural wants to transmit a clear message to the public and to the artistic community: high quality of the production and transparency in the artistic selection.

Itaù Cultural has the main mission of discovering and promoting Brazilian culture and is acting differently from all the other cultural institutions in the country for two main reasons:

1) Itaù is not just interested in a specific event, such as setting up exhibitions, but they have long term programs and they carry out many educational programs. They want to give the possibility to artists to study, publish and exhibit. They also want for the public to visit the institution’s programs and learn about Brazilian art.

2) The aim is to promote and foster the new Brazilian art scene; young Brazilian artists that are not yet international, but are really present throughout Brazil. Itaù is looking for new Brazilians all over the country and they try to promote their projects in different fields (literature, visual art, music, performing art, etc.). The scouting process is focused on Brazil; Itaù is not searching for international artists.

The most important and successful project that Itaù is developing is called “Rumos”. The main goal of this program is to discover new talents in different arts fields such as visual arts, cinema, theatre etc. and diffuse art forms not yet very developed in Brazil, such as documentaries. The main characteristic of Rumos is that its research is spread out all over the Brazilian territory, instead of just being concentrated in the country’s largest cities. The uniqueness of the project comes from its diffusion in areas usually considered less developed from a cultural point of view. Many cultural institutions, indeed, concentrate their activities in important city centre (Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and maybe Belo Horizonte) without looking in the hinterlands. The different Rumos editions (one for each art field) take place every 2-3 years. The scouting process starts with a public announcement published on the main artistic reviews, web sites etc. and then artists can start sending their portfolios. In a second phase, the curatorial commission select the artists (usually 45 out of 1000 applications). The commission is composed by a coordinator that works in Sao Paulo and then many local curators that live and work in different regions around Brazil. In this way it is easier to monitor the whole territory.

The communication process is quite complicated, but really useful in order to diffuse culture and pedagogic activities also in less developed areas. The curators have to travel a lot around the country giving lectures about social and cultural topics. Since Itaù Cultural, for internal policy and mission, doesn’t have branches in Brazil (as for example the Centro Cultural do Brazil) the lectures are given in minor partner institutions. They think that local institutions are more aware of local issues, more related with the local environment and so can act in a more effective way.

The timeline of Rumos is as follows:

1) Public announcement – Six months for the artist to send its portfolio

2) Selection process – Usually takes three months

3) Announcement of the winners

After the selection, the artists are invited to stay for a couple of months in Sao Paulo in order to study (Itaù organizes two weeks of workshops and conferences), to discuss and to get to know each other. After this period, the exhibition is set up within the Itaù Cultural building. The same exhibition then travels around the country hosted in other cultural institutions. Once the exhibition comes to an end, the artworks are given back to the artists. Itaù does not collect or buy anything, but just publishes a catalogue.

The Rumos project is a platform in order to launch new artists in the Brazilian cultural scene and it is useful in order for artists to enter the institutionalized art system.

As argued by Paulo Viselli, the Rumos is an important project that gives visibility to the artists and shows the public the emergent art scene. Many galleries tend to visit the exhibitions, looking for new talents, so artists have the possibility to build good networks. Itaù, however, does not want to be part of the market activities of the artists and so there are no formal collaborations between Itaù and the galleries. Other cultural institutions also use the Rumos in order to pick up new talents. For example, Paulo Vicelli told us that the exhibition “Nova arte Nova”, in April exhibited at the Centro Cultural Banco Central do Brazil, showed artists for the most part discovered by the Rumos projects.

The two year process of Rumos, brings artists from their local community to the exhibition in the cultural centre. This process is the philosophy of the event communicated to the public. One of the challenges is to approach people that usually are not interested in cultural topics and let them know about Rumos exhibitions, often through emails, advertising in newspapers, guides, youtube etc.

Thanks to the Rumos, Itaù Cultural is able both to help develop cultural matters and to monitor the evolution of the Brazilian cultural scene. Paulo Vicelli, for example, took the example of documentaries. Ten year ago, when Itaù launched the first Rumos dedicated to documentaries, this important form of cultural production was not at all diffused in Brazil. Nowadays, instead, documentaries are developed throughout the country. Paulo Vicelli thinks that the Rumos, in parallel with the rapid development of new digital technologies, contributed to the documentary diffusion. Indeed, Itaù no longer organizes the Rumos dedicated to documentaries, since today the sector is well developed, but it is trying to develop programs for cinema on mobile devices[1].

Regarding contemporary art, Vicelli tried to describe the Brazilian panorama. He explained that the background of the artists is really heterogeneous: in the south of Brazil, artists used to study in art universities, while in the north of the country they do not have a specific education. He noticed also differences and changes regarding the topics the artists decide to deal with: the last Rumos edition found topics related to social and environmental issues using different materials and support, while three years ago political issues were the most diffused, also because of the presidential election.

Concerning international partnerships, Itaù does not foster global policies, since its mission prioritizes the Brazilian local environment. Nevertheless, Itaù Cultural is now thinking of opening branches in other countries in South America (Chile, Uruguay, Argentina). In 2009, Itaù Bank merged with Unibanco do Brazil and became the largest bank conglomerate in the Southern Hemisphere. The merger is an opportunity to bring Itaù Cultural’s projects in other countries and open new branches, while continuing to foster the awareness and diffusion of cultural matters.

The meeting ended with a visit of the exhibition “Rumos Artes Visuais – Trilhas Do Desejo”, curated by the commission coordinated by Paulo Sergio Duarte. Some of the 45 artists exposed, selected through the program Rumos Artes Visuais 2008-2009, were: Marina de Botas, Nino Cais, Alice Shintani, Ana Holck, Marcelo Moschera, Tiago Romagnani, Laila Terra, Diceo Maues.

by Neri Bastiancich

[1] In April 2009 Itaù Cultural opened the applications for Rumos projects in four areas of expression: Arte Cibernetica, Cinema e Vidéo, Dança e Jornalismo Cultural. For more information look at

Itau Cultural website

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