Casa Branca Fest Brazil: Togetherness through the Arts

Dani Penna, Dudude, Thais Mol and Fred Paulino (and CABRA the goat) @casabrancafest/ @viewtifulimagens

During a journey through Brumadinho, Córrego do Feijão and Casa Branca in Minas Gerais in June, I met Thais Mol, artist and one of the four organisers of the Casa Branca Fest that took place on June 21 and 22. Followed up by a Skype interview, Thais and I discussed challenges and possibilities for the Brumadinho region after the tailing dam rupture at the Córrego do Feijão mine, which killed more than 230 people.


The idea of the festival came into being shortly after the mining tragedy in January, Thais recollects during our talk. “What happened in Córrego do Feijão was a shaking moment for some people, not for all, but for a lot of them. After that is was kind of inevitable to take some action.” At first she and her friends started to clean the neighbourhood, collect waste and make some installations. And then “it just happened,” the artist adds. The festival was realised late June. In the span of 2 days from 10am to 10pm, poetry, performance, mural painting, music and samba were presented. Each artist participated voluntarily, without payment.



Social Cohesion after the Environmental Disaster

“It was very successful,” Thais contemplates, “in the sense of putting people together, of experiencing a moment of togetherness, a moment of entertainment, but not consuming. It was about seeing, listening, talking, well about putting our senses to relate. (…) The responses we got were amazing.”  Thais’ words remind me of a research study about sense of place and attachment after environmental disasters by Amber Silver and Jason Grek-Martin that I read recently. According to the findings, an “attention during the recovery phase on the restoration of aesthetic and culturally significant aspects of the landscape,” may foster “the psychosocial healing and growth of survivors.” Unconsciously and probably as a result from their professional backgrounds and an urge for healing, the group of Casa Branca Fest induced moments of connectedness and social cohesion at the right time. The art events were intended as personal, one to one experiences. Accordingly, the artists performed on the same level as the spectators. This closeness was further visible in a group mantra session to commemorate the victims, which was recorded by GloboTV. At its peak moment approximately 400 visitors were counted. The main audience arrived from the centre of Casa Branca, so to speak, and Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. Thais would like to expand the festival in the future. Not necessarily by attracting more visitors, but with the aim to bring the event to the doorsteps of each community, like to the poorer Jardim Casa Branca. The goal is to include more people and to dissolve (mental and social) barriers.


The Women from Córrego do Feijão

A first step towards this direction was the invitation of the women from Córrego do Feijão. “It was really touching for me,” Thais mentions, “To see that they could go out, not only of the area, but also of the situation they are living in.” Shortly after the tragedy a circle for women, who lost family members in the environmental disaster was created to teach them the technique of crochet. Approximately ten to fifteen women come together twice a week. Sponsoring helps the freshly born project to stay alive, but also to introduce self-sustainable approaches for the future. In addition to classes on the economy of material acquisition and time management, Thais focuses on revealing the women’s stories. “Because wanting or not, people are interested in them,” the artist concludes, “That’s the way they are being seen. This could be an opportunity to gain visibility.” Helping them to own these stories and to create a uniqueness out of it, the project fosters again a sense of connectedness. Soon the circle will be moving to a house to meet on a daily basis and to continue the rhythm of gathering, chatting, and producing together.

The social house is sponsored by Vale, a most sensitive and complex topic nowadays. Vale seems to be one of the biggest financial supporter to a variety of programs in the region. Most income and salaries in this area also derive from the mining sector. Accordingly, people’s opinions are divided. Lawsuits, investigations and money flow are causing distress and anger in the community. Consequently, the four organisers of Casa Branca Fest decided to rely solely on material donation from Brumadinho prefecture, voluntary work and private sponsoring. The road to the artists’ ambition for a revitalised environment through art, ecological and self-sustainable thinking and behaviour is yet to be paved. Religion, politics and gender relations seem to be the most pressuring obstacles for the “new vision of life.” However, the need for inclusion is strong. Fittingly the group chose CABRA as the art event’s mascot. Deriving from the initials of Casa Branca and meaning goat in Portuguese, the animal symbolises regeneration as it reaches mountain peaks. With this goal in mind, the artists will continue their effort to connect people from various social backgrounds. In addition to the women’s crochet circle and the festival, new art projects will focus on children, who encounter unfamiliar things with curiosity. Thais concludes, “When we cross our barriers that separate us, something might change. It might not, but I think any seed that we can put in, is already good.” 

The interview with Thais Mol was conducted on July 7, 2019.

Amber Silver and Jason-Grek Martin, “’Now we understand what community really means’: Reconceptualizing the role of sense of place in the disaster recovery process,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 42 (June 2015): 32-41, 40,