Cities Regulated by Cultural Events: Tracking Music Festivals in Lisbon and São Paulo

  • Paulo NunesEmail author
Original Paper


What is the role of festivals in contemporary cities? What are the networks of meaning established between cultural festivals and the city based on the experiences of the Virada Cultural in São Paulo and the Mexefest in Lisbon? How can these events be linked with tourism, city branding, urban renewal projects and social control? What are the different roles played by festivals in contemporary society? This paper engages with these questions through reflections generated from fieldwork conducted at the Mexefest Festival which has been organized in Lisbon by Música no Coração Productions since 2011; and the Virada Cultural which has been organized in São Paulo by the City Hall since 2005. Using Actor Network Theory and based on direct observations, documentary analysis and literature review, it will investigate the ways in which cultural festivals can function as mediators of certain aspects of the social-urban dynamic. Thus, it will attempt to contribute to the discussion of such themes as the relation between culture and economic development, social control by urban musical festivals, city renewal processes, tourism and city branding.


Culture City Festivals Music festivals Cultural activities 

1 Introduction

Unfinished, porous, dynamic, multiple, controversial, conflicting. These are some adjectives that may describe a relevant city image to introduce this paper. Socially lived, shaped and reshaped day after day in each of the circumstances that compose it and which, together, translate into numerous entanglements and possible city models, the urban space is continuously being created and recreated. Shifting such adjectives to social actors, cultural practices, leisure, and urban ways of life present in the city is not only possible, but also reveals that they can all be mirrored directly.

Moving the city to more complex networks of meaning and seeking to better understand mediation processes (Deleuze 2000) deployed in its events, a series of efforts have been made in sociology, anthropology and cultural studies in order to better understand the relation between cities and urban festivals. This has been done from a political economy that defines the organization of urban space (Ferreira 2010; Besançon 2000) in relation to new forms of listening (Quiñones 2007), the mediation of new technologies and the homogenizing character assumed today by cultural practices which position festivals within a complex of meanings.

All these topics have transformed festivals into central mediators in the development of contemporary cities. In a general and synthetic way, it is possible to say that the concept of mediation appears here in reference to forms of control and regulation associated with spaces of freedom (Simondon 1958 2005; Foucault 1975 1987; Deleuze 1991). In this system, the city produces the event, and similarly, it is also produced by the event, in a dynamic feedback loop, continually producing and being produced by different discourses and practices that intertwine with each other, continuities and discontinuities, new cultural intermediaries, power alliances and new definitions of urban experiences, identities and subjectivities (Wilks & Quinn 2016). The crossing of these different scenarios requires that the theme be analyzed using Bruno Latour’s concept of the actor–network. Additionally, this subject cannot be comprehended without thinking of the demands of the political economic order generated by network-actions (Ferreira 2017) in the cultural field in the last decades.

In terms of economic development, in the late 1980s and during the 1990s a more commercial orientation was consolidated in the cultural agenda (Autissier 2008), characterized by a greater involvement of the private sector in the process of structuring a number of cities around the world (Newbold et al. 2015: xix). During this phase, festivals became important instruments for the promotion of tourism and new marketing strategies, attracting companies and qualified workers to consolidate their role as a central element for urban development. This whole discourse was also linked to another argument, according to which the festival would act as a crucial element within revitalization projects targeting historical centers and projects of urban renewal in cities occupying prominence in the global market (Getz 1997).

The growing interest in festivity in general in the 1990s was also linked to its use as a social strategy to combat alienation and insecurity experienced in the public space (Zukin 1995; Miles 2007 e Lindón, and Hiernaux, D. (orgs.). 2012). Throughout different phases of city development, it is possible to interpret festivals as important mechanisms for the creation of ambiance and new urban environments (Klingmann 2007; Birdsall 2013), through which different societies create a sense of community and at the same time express their identities and celebrate their rites (Guerra 2010). These aspects are directly related to the sense of security in the city and, driven by economic and urban development issues, have contributed to the contemporary phenomenon of the city festivalization (Bennett et al. 2014).

In combination with the emergence of urban festival marketplaces (Karpinska 2009), this process is linked to the idea of adaptation to the new urban everyday life. It reflects contemporary mechanisms for organizing and shaping urban social life with a specific type of entertainment for urban residents and tourists (Ibidem), establishing a strong link between the local and the global (Bennett et al. 2014). This phenomenon has been shaping our behaviors in relation to the shuffle listening effect (Quiñones 2007), tuning us into different models of appropriation of urban spaces. In particular, the renewal process of historical centers by events with the characteristics of contemporary urban festivals (Nunes Junior, xxx) has been an increasingly popular theme that this article sets out to explore in more detail placing the Mexefest in Lisbon and the Virada Cultural in São Paulo at the center of the discussion.

Acting as multiple cases around the globe, festivals have been playing different roles in society based on a variety of themes such as urbanized spaces, leisure and music consumption, city image and urban marketing (Doğan 2011; Dinardi 2017). However, independently of these meanings, they can be seen as a contemporary phenomenon which has been growing in both cultural fields and spheres that calls the attention of the economic sector, policy designers and the communication sector. As social constructs that are constantly changing, festivals carry with them different burdens of meanings, independent of the different realities to which they are linked. At the same time, distinct contexts may produce specific roles for festivals. The exercise of studying two case studies in two different countries and social contexts may help us highlight interesting clues for understanding the importance of these celebratory practices and the nuances present in the variegated relationships between festivals and cities.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ways in which cultural festivals can mediate (Deleuze 2000) some aspects of the social dynamic of cities by tracking case studies in São Paulo and Lisbon. Thus, it will attempt to contribute to the discussion of such themes as the relation between culture and economic development (Getz 1997; Fix 2000; Kara 2007, Newbold et al. 2015) in relation with tourism and city branding (Wynn & Yetis-Bayraktar 2016; Brito & Richard 2017; Shin 2004); the economic anchoring function of cultural events (Kara José 2007; Sassatelli and Delanty 2011); the creation of new cultural urban markets (Ferreira 2010; Dinardi 2017); and the development of new types of culture produced by the mediation of technological devices (Quiñones 2007), in order to discuss the static and ephemeral cities that are created by festivals.

The themes presented throughout this introduction illustrate some of the ways in which cultural festivals build the city and finally lead us to the central questions that motivate this paper: What is the role of festivals in contemporary cities? What are the networks of meaning established between the cultural festival and the city based on the case of Virada Cultural in São Paulo and Mexefest in Lisbon? How can these events be linked with tourism, city branding, urban renewal projects and social control?

Before suggesting answers to these questions, essential information for understanding the two case studies will be presented, as well as the methodological path used to access the research data. The findings will be discussed in conjunction with some key elements of the theoretical background and will be placed in dialog with other cultural festivals and actions in the cities of São Paulo and Lisbon.

2 Case Studies

The Virada cultural and the Mexefest illustrate examples of two interesting urban festival design and production models that have been enshrined and replicated worldwide in recent decades. They were chosen based on their capacity to establish dialogs with themes such as tourism, urban renewal processes, city branding and social control. In order to better understand them, it is first necessary to briefly describe and introduce both events.

“Created to reflect the typical spirit of São Paulo as a city that never stops” (Prefeitura Municipal de São Paulo 2016), the Virada Cultural integrates art and culture in an intense and simultaneous program of 24 h of music, theater, dance, circus, visual arts and popular culture. The initiative offers diverse programming distributed through hundreds of points across the city, although there is a greater concentration of activities in the historical center of São Paulo. The Virada Cultural seeks to promote “coexistence in space, through the inversion of expectations, such as museums opening at night or performances taking place inside trains, churches and other spaces of non-specific cultural use, inviting the population to appropriate these places through art and culture” (Ibidem: 1). Since its first edition, the initiative has attracted thousands of spectators to the most central regions of São Paulo and, due to the high public demand and visibility reached by the event, the Virada Cultural is today one of the country’s main cultural assets. For this reason, it has been replicated in at least 26 other Brazilian cities.

Having premiered in 2008, the Mexefest is conceived as one of the most important urban festivals in Europe in terms of musical variety (Vodafone Mexefest 2016). Positioning the city as an important site on the annual European festival route, this initiative is today emblematic in Portugal because it undertakes a series of consecutive and concurrent events to promote emerging music trends. On average, its program includes fifty concerts that make use of twenty-five eclectic spaces around the historical center of Lisbon called Baixa Lisboeta. The central idea behind this event is to provide a cultural circuit through which the public can move from one place to another through the heart of the Portuguese capital. In this way, the festival organizers aim to facilitate personal choices based on a simultaneous, eclectic and juxtaposed program spread out across Liberdade’s Avenue, the main emblematic street of Lisbon. According to the institutional discourse for the 8th edition of the event, “from stage to stage music moves the city. Discover the best new music on a trip full of surprises around Lisbon” (Vodafone Mexefest 2016: 1).

More circumscribed to the music sector, Vodafone Mexefest is characterized for providing different styles of concerts, generating different sociabilities and encounters in spaces that are rarely used for musical performances and cultural activities in general. As in Virada Cultural, the versatility and functional variety of venues used for this festival is quite significant.

What do these two events have in common? Both are based on the concepts of unpredictability and surprise, order and disorder and new uses of esthetic power (Zukin 1995). Similarly both act directly and indirectly as important tools of economic development, tourism promotion and social control for their host cities. Through music concerts, they both share a program that contemplates music in an extensive and varied way, with nuances of styles, stages and concert formats. Taking place in cosmopolitan contexts, these events also work with marginal groups and use music as one of their main artistic languages.

Why marginal groups? According to O’Connor and Wynne (2017), activities previously considered peripheral have come to occupy a central place in the new dynamics of culture, consumption and image of cities. The reversal of movement from the city center to the marginal borders by the affluent classes has resulted in the recentralization of previously marginalized areas, leaving more evident new centralities and processes of gentrification (Kara José 2007; Lindón, and Hiernaux, D. (orgs.). 2012). In this process, groups initially classified as marginal have become central to this debate through their presence and representation at music festivals.

And, why music? This is not so strange when we consider that it constitutes a fundamental ingredient for the formation of identity, the creation of a sense of community and a political tool for the integration of diverse peoples. According to Lindón, and Hiernaux, D. (orgs.). (2012), music is capable of creating temporary and tolerant territories. In this sense, festivals can be significant examples of the approximation of distinct identity profiles through shared esthetic references. Even though they constitute discrete spaces of ephemeral occurrence, different groups use these kinds of events for social interaction, and these events, in a reciprocal way, contribute to their greater cohesion and well-being in the city. On the other hand, musical events attract more audiences, and therefore, they are more susceptible to the occurrence of conflicts in the urban space. In this way, the link between music and celebration demands that we also consider the cathartic element contained in these types of experiences, since such festivities can offer a way of approaching deep emotions or tragedies, releasing feelings of tension, and seeking to annihilate ordinary everyday life (Considère-Charon et al. 2009).

3 Methodology

This research is based on qualitative approaches in dialog with Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2012). Data was gathered in both festivals: the Mexefest in Lisbon held on November 25th and 26th, 2016; and the Virada Cultural in São Paulo held on May 20th and 21st, 2017. We applied Latour’s theory because it allows us to represent the views of diverse research subjects in a rich and multi-vocal way. From this perspective, the investigation process becomes more collaborative than other forms of qualitative work. Importantly, it allows us to capture the complexity of the research site through strategies such as multi-vocal writing, use of images and primary resources. Additionally, documentary analysis and direct observation were systematized according to the following scheme: (a) formal practices of production announced in both festivals; (b) pre-production meetings (media conference, activating brand marketing and all sorts of propaganda); and (c) non-official practices and parallel interviews which took place freely during the fieldwork investigation. Direct observation was developed during the execution of both festivals and in diverse activities of production directly associated with them in order to describe the social actors involved, to observe the role of music as a connective factor among the case studies, to illustrate controversies and the complex relations between festivals and cities among other important aspects.

The process of documentary analysis incorporated access to the main channels of stakeholders’ communication that support the events and news distribution networks in both countries. Different printed materials were also collected and analyzed: programs from previous editions of the events, flyers, technical reports, administrative documents, and other similar materials. In the specific case of Virada Cultural, this process led to the collection of important documents that were used as secondary sources of this research. The entire collection of special guides prepared by three important media companies in São Paulo (Folha, Estadão and Jornal da Tarde) is included among them. Interviews and public speeches given by cultural intermediaries to different press channels were also incorporated as research data and will be analyzed together with on sight observations and documentary data following the methods proposed by Actor Network Theory (Latour 2012).

Immersion into the research field began following initial contacts with the planning representatives of both festivals who allowed us to register data 3 months prior to each event. In both case studies an on-site investigation was carried out for a period of 3 months in order to follow the diverse actors and scenarios involved in the production (Latour 2012). A thematic analysis (Greenner 2011) was used to organize and discuss the findings that were divided into three different subsections to discuss issues relating to the following aspects: (a) tourism and the use of image as a sort of brand; (b) urban renewal projects; and (c) social control.

The cities of São Paulo and Lisbon are placed at the center of new global cultural dynamics based on their emphasis on new cultural experiences offered to the public, by their activation of new spaces and cultural routes as well as the re-appropriation of historical centers, squares and public places. The different roles played by these festivals draw attention to the important changes that these types of events are engendering in contemporary societies, constantly creating new stories and experiences to be lived and told.

4 Tourism and the Use of Image as a Brand

In the book Strategies for Culture in Lisbon City, the sociologist Pedro Costa shows that urban tourism has become one of the most expansionary phenomena in recent years, combining a number of very powerful factors:

Low-cost travel proliferation, direct online marketing, city marketing success and taste for urban experiences. Lisbon is in a central position in the face of these changes. The city has a very high tourist value, both for city breaks, for city users, as well as for business tourism and conventions. It has characteristics marked for the called emotional consumption tourism: human scales, neighborhoods, sympathy and autochthonous tolerance, Mediterranean culture, bohemian, sun and beaches, gastronomy (Costa 2017: 65).

Data on the role played by tourism in the Portuguese economy points in the same direction, since it is already responsible for about 10% of national GDP, 15% of goods exports and half of services exports (Ibidem). Urban revitalization processes built on new cultural trends and artistic experiments provoked by the advent of global mega-events, such as the Expo 98 in Lisbon (Ferreira 1998) and the re-enchantment experience (Birdsall 2013) generated by the Nuit Blanche model in Paris and replicated in so many other cities around the world, are certainly implicated in this equation. The existence of a number of hotels along Avenida da Liberdade proves this tendency. During the field observations, it was also possible to observe the formation of network-actions (Ferreira 2017) between private actors and the urban space. In the city of Lisbon Restauradores’s Square received a giant graphonola from Vodafone with promotional videos of the event; the Tivoli Theater, one of the stages of the festival, had its name associated with the Hotel Tivoli; the Casa do Alentejo had a Toyota stand installed in front of its facade (the company was promoting the launch of a new car model that year) that offered free rides between the different venues of the Mexefest. All these actions contributed to the creation of a particular kind of cultural and esthetic image for visitors to the city of Lisbon.

Evidences connecting the festival, tourism and city branding were also found in the discourse of cultural intermediaries. The interview given by the brand director of the main sponsor of Mexefest 2016 to the SIC Channel, for instance, suggests how Mexefest hopes to boost tourism in the city:

Our objective is to flood Avenida da Liberdade, this iconic place of Lisbon, which is a city that is completely in fashion. We believe that Vodafone Mexefest contributes to the artistic and cultural panorama of the city to make the city even more attractive to those who visit us. Therefore, for the Portuguese public and international audience we will have music on the street (Curto Circuito Web 2005).

Years earlier, Mexefest was one of the finalists chosen by the British digital platform Gigwise to join a list of the 14 most beautiful festivals in the world. The election included festivals in countries like Thailand, Norway, United Kingdom, Malawi and the United States. The publicity of the results by the Portuguese communication channel specializing in the theme put emphasis on the festival held on Avenida da Liberdade: “There is something about the great mobile networks that make them govern the world of music with an iron pulse.” (Blitz 2015: 1). Through evidences like these, the city becomes a referential destination often because it is part of a particular experience that a person had while participating in a given festival. Therefore, Lisbon can share the same adjectives as other cities that host urban festivals. It is recognized as a cultural city: ‘cool’, alive and full of new trends.

Besides constructing a direct association between tourism, urban festivals and the city, according to Shin (2004) cultural festivals play three significant roles within the contexts in which they act. First, they encourage residents to continue to live in the city by promoting local patriotism through place attachment (Wynn & Yetis-Bayraktar 2016). Second, they are by themselves an advantageous business owing to the economic and financial movement that they are able to create. Finally, they bring with them the capacity to reshape and transform the image of the places where they are performed (Shin 2004). For this reason, after the post-industrial development stage many cities, as was the case of Lisbon, increasingly turned to the creation of cultural events to catalyze their economic development through the promotion of a new city brand.

In São Paulo’s case, the cultural city brand was helped by the presence of thousands of people on the street and the sense of security generated by the cultural event. During the fielwork we registered a significant movement of people at night in the city center at the time of the Virada Cultural. It was caused, among other reasons, by the emphasis given to the night time by the media partners connected to the event. Since its first edition in 2015, Virada Cultural’s publicity campaign appealed to the day and nighttime distinctions in the capital of São Paulo and maintained that the event contained the possibility of merging this dichotomous pair: “Here in São Paulo, culture turns the night” (Flyer 2015). A look at graphic materials between 2008 and 2012 (the golden years of the event when the flow of people to the center of São Paulo reached record numbers) ratifies this emphasis in the press and advertising campaigns.

With 800 attractions in 24 hours, be prepared not to sleep.

(Guia Divirta-se, Jornal da Tarde 2008).

Main stage. The best attractions of the city's biggest cultural event.

(Guia da Virada - O Estado de São Paulo 2009).

Insone City - a selection of attractions for you to turn the night

(Guia Divirta-se, Jornal da tarde 2009).

The junction between the culture and economy of the night reinforced the image of São Paulo as the city that never stops. At the same time, it activated a series of markets directly or indirectly linked to the event, and therefore, to the touristic intentions behind the promotion of São Paulo as a cultural highlight. Public surveys commissioned by the Tourism Observatory of São Paulo in 2012 addressed this topic very clearly with questions regarding, for instance, average expenses during the event and means of lodging of the public that attended. A series of additional tools aimed to highlight the tourist potential of the event were also publicized. For example, in 2006, the cover of the Diario Oficial de São Paulo (2006) reported: “Virada Cultural. A Strategy for Developing the Tourism Industry”.

Through these different manifestations, the nexus between city development and tourism gains strength alongside the rhetoric of regeneration and urban changes. Thus, the festival functions as the starting point for a series of discourses focused on the consecration of the city through the creation of an image or brand. Based on this process, culture became an important artifact of the tourism sector associated with terms such as ‘competitive marketplace’ or ‘free market’ (Ferreira 2010). In this way, Besançon (2000) notes that the symbolic role of festivals was built within the political field in order to perform particular city imaginaries. In this sense, festivals as cultural popular practices have been growing substantially in various Portuguese cities, as is the example of Idanha-a-Nova, which hosted the Boom Festival, and also Óbidos which is selected to organize the Folio International Literary Festival.

In general, cultural events have become an important reference for the city selling process. According to Getz (1997), festivals contribute significantly to the cultural and economic development of the cities where they operate. Such initiatives have increasing tourism potential, attracting not only visitors but also funding and external sponsorships. As such, they are directly or indirectly responsible for economic growth and social impact in the event’s localities. As destinations to be visited, these cities are searched according to their capacity to offer appealing products such as natural landscapes, historical and architectural heritage, touristic services, and cultural events, to name just a few.

Music festivals currently play an important role in this process due to their ability to create atmosphere and ambiance and new place-making experiences in the city as well as sound souvenirs (Bijsterveld and Van Dijck 2009). Thus, the Virada Cultural and the Mexefest have transformed Lisbon and São Paulo into cultural tourism destinations. A certain kind of imaginary is formulated regarding the destinations that will circulate in the urban tourism economy and that will activate new culture markets. Thus, city festivalization is also embedded in the tensions that surround the perception of culture as grounded in place, or culture as a pattern of non-place globalized events and experiences (Quinn 2005).

At this point it is possible to discuss the association that sound (in this case music) can establish with other synesthetic elements, especially with vision and elements related to the visible image. This was the case of the gigantic graphonola cited above, and a series of totems and lighting facilities observed in both cities during the setting of their events. Thus, urban festivals can create, step by step, an economy of experience that Klingmann (2007), frames in terms of experience design or sensory design (Ibid). It is also possible to reflect on the effects of city festivalization driven by music as a soundtrack for the opening of the city to tourism and the creation of recent urban marketing policies.

5 Urban Renewal Projects and Social Control

Taking festivals as central agents in the definition of new urban topographies (Sassatelli and Delanty 2011), and describing them in relation to renewal processes and the revitalization of urban areas coupled with city branding, has become a recurring theme in cultural studies (Doğan 2011; Dinardi 2017). This debate is gaining importance because of the ways in which festivals are linked to social and spatial organization, and thus, to the cultural politics of the places that host them. Today, festivals and more specifically urban festivals, act as central modulators for the investigation of relations not just between city and cultural practices, but also between city and social identities, between city and conflicts and between city and public/private spheres.

Rena et al. (2014) argue that this subject is directly linked to processes of social segregation produced by culture, particularly in urban areas. This link becomes more obvious when we consider how upper classes often develop deteriorated spaces into creative circuits, irrespective of the interests of underprivileged groups. Facilities such as museums, libraries, galleries and theaters installed in urban centers like São Paulo and Lisbon, for instance, send a symbolic signal as part of an urban planning project developed from the perspective of established sectors.

As Kara José (2007) and Fix (2000) have shown, since the 90s Brazil has focused on the development of a policy agenda based on public-private partnerships. Implemented in urban contexts, this strategy has become the magic potion for governmental policy in that city and has enabled urban renewal processes in times of state fiscal crisis (Fix 2000). This mode of operation took hold of a variety of emblematic cultural sites in the city such as the Bairro da Luz and the historical center of São Paulo where Virada Cultural is carried out. Urban renewal processes played an important role during the festival. The initiative which has taken place in São Paulo since 2005 was instrumental for the construction of a new cultural image for the city. From stigmatized neighborhoods viewed as modest, insecure and marginal, the spaces where the festival takes place have been transformed into creative sites through re-appropriation processes such those discussed in the previous section. Meeting the government’s expectations for creating fancy, safe and lively city areas, public-private partnerships represent useful ways for exploring useless spaces through the discourse of urban planning and renewal projects.

In Lisbon, festivals and cultural events in general are increasingly being developed in line with urban tourism demands. Following the Expo 98 World Fair, central and northeastern areas of the city were reoriented or redeveloped (Ferreira 2010). As an indirect consequence of urban renewal processes generated by city rebranding campaigns, Mexefest festival functions today as a kind of public celebration that aims to reinforce the image of Lisbon as a cosmopolitan and tolerant city. Built according to the image market’s demands, Lisbon is itself an example of this discourse initiated by the government in the 1990s for both the Portuguese audience and the international public. The rhetoric of the organizers throughout the Mexefest process emphasized this argument, as this media story published on November 8th, 2016 by Diário de Notícias in Portugal shows:

This festival is made up of many worlds”, explained the programmer Vanessa Careta at the press conference at which the full line up of the “most beautiful festival in Lisbon” was announced, referring to the fact that the festival includes very different genres such as hip hop, fado, spoken word or indie music (Caetano 2016).

Diversity of musical tastes and tolerance is linked to the harmonious conviviality of marginalized groups in urban spaces, which in turn is related to processes of urban renewal and social control. In this sense, the emphasis on the reopening of the Capitol Theater made by the cultural intermediaries of Mexefest can be understood as conquering another piece of the city. Revitalized to receive hip hop culture programming in 2016 through the festival, the “delivery of equipment to the community” announced another cycle of gentrification on Avenida da Liberdade. The Liberdade’s Avenue neighborhood where Mexefest takes place, was strategically transformed into a unique spot for this festival every year during the third weekend of November. The initiative had a dramatic effect on how this particular place was imagined, and this in turn had an effect on the concentration of tourists in the heart of Lisbon. To reinforce the iconic figure of Liberdade’s Avenue in connection with the city’s gentrified tourist districts (Chiado and Príncipe, for instance), Mexefest helps to mitigate cultural differences with neighborhoods of immigrants that are situated within the area of the festival (especially the Intendente and Martin Moniz).

The ideas of Lindón, and Hiernaux, D. (orgs.). (2012) provide further insights for our analysis of the above mentioned case studies. These authors describe how suburbs were historically erected on the grounds of pejorative discourses that saw ghettos and outskirts as poor and brutish areas that required transformation. In addition, they argue that all state projects function in terms of such axes of value, transforming deteriorated neighborhoods through gentrification operations. Metaphorically, gentrification can work as a form of enchantment or fetishism, “allowing new urban policies and attracting new marketing trends to the urban centers but also implementing international tourism” (Ibidem: 97). In line with this idea Miles (2007) notes how the image of creative neighborhoods is a strategy meant to attract celebrities, investment and tourism and inflate property values, thereby, “reinforcing the claiming of the hegemonic cultural against the suburbs and outskirts areas” (Zukin 1995: 23).

This discussion prompts us to consider how the kind of urban development materialized in festivals and cultural events functions not just to bring marginalized groups into urban centers, but also as a facade through which the center maintains its distance from - and power over - the margins. This paradoxical idea suggests that contemporary governmental power operates through a logic of previously established conflicts and by controlling outsiders through cultural mediation. In this situation, festivals such as the Virada Cultural in São Paulo have been acting as an inverted diaspora, encouraging marginalized groups to occupy central areas and traditional venues. At the same time, the institutionalization of marginality in the programming of events opens up the possibility for such groups to be recognized, generating a sense of belonging and mitigating possible social conflicts that may emerge in the context of urban daily life.

To illustrate this argument, over the last 10 years in São Paulo, for instance, a variety of cultural events have proliferated in the historical center, such as the case of the Festival Baixo Centro and SP na Rua. In the same period, Festival Todos and Lisboa Mistura, two equivalent versions of these Brazilians festivals in the Portuguese capital, took place with the intention of bringing marginalized groups closer to upper class neighborhoods. In this festival, immigrants, refugees, LGBT – Queer people and other representatives of marginalized classes and minorities are attracted to urban centers through particular actions: specific cultural programming, facilities for using public transportation, raffle tickets for events, and marketing campaigns promoted by cultural intermediaries. The goal is to ensure that different marginalized groups have guaranteed access to culture, as well as to build a positive image and give a social label to the event. As a consequence of this process, the standardization of urban cultures and the institutionalization of so-called marginal practices (street dance and rap, for example) through the creation of official programs and project financing have yielded important clues that allow us to affirm that today urban festivals and public-private partnerships are striving for the social repositioning of different marginal groups through different artistic disciplines.

In this regard, Virada Cultural underwent a somewhat controversial movement in view of the process of decentralization of its activities in relation to the center and periphery debate. Analyzing newspaper articles and printed flyers with the programming of each edition of the event since 2005 (Image 1), we realized that although some decentralized activities were already taking place during the first 4 years of the event, since 2010 more substantial actions were made to move important stages of the Virada Cultural away from the center of São Paulo.

The tendency towards decentralization has two main arguments: to avoid cases of violence and to make the event more accessible to the inhabitants of the periphery […]. Decentralization, on the other hand, is criticized for taking the focus of an important characteristic foreseen in the origin of the Cultural Virada: occupy the central region of the city, emptied out of business hours, with little access for residents of the periphery and sometimes considered hostile to part of the population because of its degradation and violence (Lima and Montensanti 2016: 1).

In a recent article, Nexus Expresso, Lima & Montensanti (Ibidem) write in a very enlightening way about the decentralization process of the Virada Cultural, showing us that this debate has long been the object of controversy. Analyzing the history of the event, since 2010, they note that organizers and public powers have been intercalating movements of centralization and decentralization of cultural activities for some time. At times they have also sought to privilege programming in cultural centers and more distant areas (as in the editions of 2010, 2012 and 2014), and at others they have put emphasis on stages and activities in the central region of the city (2011, 2013, 2015) (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Printed Virada cultural programes. Fotography by author

Despite the significant presence of Virada Cultural around the city center, the decentralization of its events became a necessity as the years passed, not only due to issues of crowd management, but also due to the creation of government policies to promote greater access to cultural events. It was during the 2017 edition that the theme of decentralization took on a larger scale and became more controversial. The cover of the Folha de São Paulo Special Guide (2017) at the time reported: “Cultural Spread - Daniela Mercury in Anhembi, Liniker in Jockey, Alcione in Carmo Park: Virada Cultural disperses attractions and proposes trips around the city”. The decision of the political group manager of the municipal government of São Paulo to design a more diverse program and change the concept of the event drew important media attention. The huge venues set up in consecrated spaces of the old center such as the Praça da Sé and Praça Júlio Prestes were replaced by five venues distributed in other regions of the city: Anhembi (Municipal Sambódromo), Interlagos (Municipal Autódromo), Jockey (Butantã), Campo Limpo Square and Carmo Park.

As part of the government’s program for urban renewal, festivals play a prominent role in practices of social control, particularly in the city of São Paulo where for instance graffiti and battles and slams between rappers have been inserted into official cultural events. Additionally, festivals offer cultural programming in different parts of the city for specific ethnic niches. These and other strategies belong to a series of policies for including marginal cultures within institutionalized programs carried out by public powers in both cities. Such is the case of the Program Vai - Valorization of Cultural Initiatives in São Paulo, and the Strategies Program for the Culture in the city of Lisbon (Costa 2017). In this sense, attending to the practice of public festival events allows us to analyze how urban renewal programmes have sought to shape patterns of sociability, conviviality and city planning strategies (Ferreira 2010).

This section examined the range of mechanisms used to redesign cultural production and institute spaces of inclusion for marginalized groups in cultural events, redefining the margins through urban renewal activities. As explained earlier, there is a counter-sense present in the movement between cultural production, gentrification processes, renewal projects and the social integration of the periphery in the city: marginal groups appear at once as agents of revitalization of the urban centers and as a factor to be controlled through the consumption of art and cultural enjoyment in specific areas of the city.

6 Final Remarks

Through theoretical reflections combined with data gathered from research conducted in São Paulo and Lisbon, this paper has shown that the research theme of cultural festivals is in essence polysemic. Moreover, many of the discussions presented here may also provide insights for the field of leisure studies. Because it is a multidisciplinary subject in the area of cultural studies and more particularly in the research line on festivals and events, the theme requires an academic perspective that is open to dialogs between canonical theories and contemporary view points on the subject and the city. In addition to being treated as isolated events of art and culture, music festivals are now becoming important mediators for large contemporary urban centers, such as Lisbon and São Paulo. Culture and economic development in relation to tourism and city branding, renewal projects, and new forms of mediation by new technologies are some of the aspects that can involve festivals in contemporary cultural dynamics.

Festivals that are designed as factors of integration recover and amplify an important political sense of collective celebrations as a form of social control, especially in the case of cities with cultural effervescence and miscegenation. In São Paulo, for example, in the last 10 years we can observe the proliferation of a series of festivals and other cultural actions of great impact carried out in delimited areas within the historical center, such as the Festival Baixo Centro and the Festival SP na rua. A very similar movement took place in the Portuguese capital around the same period, when Festival Lisboa Mistura was organized in streets and public spaces of the Martin Moniz neighborhood, as well as other initiatives organized by the municipality, such as the Festival Todos, hosted in Lisbon since 2009.

Bring the representation of marginalized groups to the center, to keep the center far away from the margin: this paradox could be a key piece for understanding how forces that operate to stabilize urban conflicts are regulated by the institutionalization of culture through projects of urban requalification and social control of different groups. Operating as a kind of inverted diaspora, the return to the historical center through the creation of festivals has been an increasingly recurrent theme. Different examples around the world show that cultural events play an important role in this process. The microcosm observed in Lisbon and São Paulo can also be found in a multitude of cities with similar profiles and nowadays it is not rare to see festivals and other similar initiatives that associate their programme directly with minority groups and refugees. This rhetoric has generated significant investments in cultural events in different ways, particularly in divided and problematic communities. Finally, it should be remembered that open culture gives rise to an ambivalence that is continually present between the stability and discontinuity of contemporary urban dynamics. This has previously been discussed and expressed in the pair that involves staticity and ephemerality as self-regulating characteristics of contemporary cities by festivals.

This ambivalence provides a counterpoint to the fleeting character that is generally attributed to music festivals and cultural events in general since, as they are now an increasingly present phenomenon, they become an important mediator for the urban ambiance. Cultural events are increasingly creating ways for the enjoyment of urban space based on a succession of experiences, which in turn end up functioning in a controversial way (Latour 2012) as stabilizers of discontinuity. In this way, this paradox makes ephemeral and at the same time dense the place of a cultural universality made available to singular subjectivities, integrating the world through music and globalizing the city that receives it.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ItajubáItajubáBrazil

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