2012 Fellows Conference: Meet host Jorge Barreto Xavier

By on June 22, 2012

From July 4-6 the Center will be joining forces with colleagues from Portugal to convene the 21st Johns Hopkins International Fellows in Philanthropy Conference. The topic is “Arts & Economic Crisis: Opportunities for the Third Sector?” Our local partner, and the force behind bringing this event to Lisbon, is Mr. Jorge Barreto Xavier, a former Director-General of the Arts in the Ministry of Culture who currently serves as Assistant Professor of Public Policies on Culture and Arts and Creative Industries Management at ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon. In order to understand the crisis that the sector is facing in Portugal today, and to better understand his motivation for bringing the conference to his country, we asked Mr. Barreto a few questions.

Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS): Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Jorge Barreto: Xavier (JBX): I was born in Goa, India. In 1970, I moved with my parents and siblings to the city of Guarda, in Northern Portugal, where I stayed until 1984. After completing my secondary education, I came to Lisbon in 1984 to study law.
In 1986, when I was 20 years old, I founded the Portuguese Club of Arts and Ideas, which became the largest Portuguese nonprofit organization supporting young artists. In 1987, I coordinated the First Portuguese Arts and Ideas Show. The show gave rise to a series of annual competitions that included: New Values of Culture (1988), Culture and Development (1989 and 1990), and Young Artists (1990-2012). In 1992, I created the Paideia program–art in secondary schools–which ran in 180 schools throughout the country until 1997. In 1998 I created the Common Place, Center for Art Experimentation (the most important at that time in Portugal and one of the largest in Europe), at the Gun Powder Factory of Barcarena, in Oeiras, which ran for about four years, until January 2003.
In 2003 I became deputy mayor of the City Council of Oeiras, with responsibility for Culture, Youth, and Consumer Protection. During this period, I also coordinated the inter-ministerial working group for Education and Culture for the Portuguese Government. From 2006 to 2008, I coordinated the Rehabilitation through Art Project for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. In April 2008 I was appointed director-general of the arts at the Ministry of Culture, a role which I occupied until July 2010. In November 2010 I became a member of the Council of the Department of Communication and Arts at the University of Aveiro, and in April 2011 I started collaborating with the Choices Program of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue (ACIDI).
In September 2011 I became a guest lecturer at ISCTE-Lisbon University Institute, where I teach Public Policy of Culture and Management of Creative Industries. Today, I am working to complete my PhD with Catherine Moury (ISCTE-Lisbon University Institute) as my advisor. Center Director Lester Salamon is also serving as my co-advisor on my PhD work.

CCSS: As recently discussed in Spiegel Online, the Portuguese arts sector, like many across Europe and beyond, has been struggling to make ends meet within the context of the economic crisis and the resulting austerity measures undertaken by governments. As someone with a unique perspective into the arts sector in Portugal, what would you say are some of the most striking challenges facing artists and arts organizations in the country today? What changes have you seen happening as a result of these challenges?
JBX: The economic crisis is shaking the arts in different countries, not always with good results. Despite being one of the oldest countries in Europe (almost 900 years old), Portugal is a young democracy, having emerged from the Carnation Revolution, in 1974. Working with an economy that was largely based in traditional agriculture and fishery, lacking significant industry and with an under-developed services sector and industry, Portugal has done a wonderful job during the last 38 years: literacy has increased greatly, health care services are one of the most successful domains in public services (for instance, in 2010 Portuguese infant mortality rate was lower than in the US), and industry and services are continuing to develop.
But it is not enough, because our partners in the European Union have moved even faster. And even though we enjoy a good quality of life (e.g., The 2005 Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index ranked Portugal 19th out of the 111 countries and territories included; by comparison, the US was ranked 13th), we are an economy which is quite dependent on external variables and which does not have many autonomous production areas. If you cross this situation with large public and private debt facing external creditors, the biggest economic crisis since 1929, a lack of liquidity in the economy and absence of a strong philanthropic tradition, you can imagine that the arts world is facing a serious problem. The government, as in other European countries, is cutting expenses in general and currently the private sector has no funds to invest in arts. Visual artists are not able to sell their work; performing arts are surviving on mega pop concerts (this year, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Brian Adams, Stevie Wonder, among many others who are passing by) but classical music, theater, and dance have seen a serious decline in audiences and a many professionals in all the arts fields are leaving their jobs. Architects and designers are trying to find jobs abroad and filmmakers have no budgets to work with. The only market that has not yet been severely impacted is book market. As you can see, we face a scenario which is not very encouraging!
The most striking challenges facing artists are: finding ways to work the same or more with less money or to survive by taking on additional jobs; working in arts as secondary occupation; creating new models in relation to public services, sponsors, and audiences; creating accountability with stakeholders and building bridges with other sectors of society. The solution to these problems is not just striking back with an emergency response from the situation room. We need to move ahead in the search of new behaviors, social and economic models, ways of life – the answer is not easy nor clear – we must all work on it, not only for the arts but for society in general.

CCSS: Why did you want to bring the Johns Hopkins International Philanthropy Fellows conference to Lisbon?
JBX: The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies is a worldwide reference on Third Sector issues and on Philanthropy. These topics are quite central, in my perspective, not only in reframing the arts sector but also in establishing a global perspective about the paths for Western countries.

CCSS: What do you hope to see come out of this conference? What outcomes are you expecting to see?
JBX: Bringing together both international and national experts for a two-day meeting with the arts world and the Third Sector is for me a quite special opportunity. The arts sector in Portugal has not generally been associated with the Third Sector as a whole. This conference will be a good test of the capacity of resilience and an opportunity for us to learn about new perspectives and approaches that the Portuguese arts sector might be able to utilize in coping with these difficult time.
At the same time, the conference is about people. I hope that valuable networking will result from this conference, and that the personal and professional contacts made will produce new work and opportunities. I am quite optimistic about the forthcoming results!
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