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Porto Alegre Postcard | The Nation

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Porto Alegre Postcard

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Interventions like the samba parade and the Farra de Teatro not only added to the giddy assertion of public space. They offered a model for the doing of politics: groups of strangers coming together with common purpose and, with a little improvising, discussion, adjustment and trust, making something wonderful happen.

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Alisa Solomon
Alisa Solomon, director of the arts and culture concentration at the Columbia Journalism School, is the author of...

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The more contemplative art presented at the WSF--the best of it, anyway--evoked experiences with an affective clarity and force. In a large exhibit by photographers from all over the world, for instance, Rula Halawani's series of small pictures taken at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank show close-ups of the hands of Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, and of the documents passing between them. The sense of repetition, the suppressed intimacy between the parties, the power relations expressed in the attitude of a finger, the ritual quality of the exchange--these metonymic images convey the feeling of occupation better than political discourse on any panel could.

Few in number compared with the other thematic terrains, the discussion sessions in Arts and Creation were mostly local. Brazilians and sometimes other Latin Americans traded stories of how they set up an arts project in, say, a school or a favela. In one of the most obvious overlaps with other issues on the WSF agenda, some participants considered ways to protect cultural production from the ravages of WTO's free-trade rules, which, they say, would let Hollywood crush film and television studios in developing countries and endanger cultural diversity. (India and Japan are siding with the United States in its effort to remove trade barriers, figuring that Bollywood and Anime would clean up in expanded markets.)

Gilberto Gil himself would hardly want to restrict foreign artworks from entering Brazil--the tropicalismo he embraced as a musician in the 1960s was all about ingesting every happening sound, whether electric rock and roll or Argentine tango, into the old bossa nova. The point, though, is that the bossa nova was still there to tinker with--it hadn't been decimated by a steamrolling commercial machine--and that Gil was not replacing it but reinventing it.

Gil seems to find the best analogy for this principle of protecting the local while being open to the global in the open-source software movement he has taken up so enthusiastically, and on which Brazil has been leading the way. Having access to everything--rather than seeing choices restricted by what survives best in the loaded marketplace--is the key, he argued on a panel with digital honchos Lawrence Lessig and John Barlow. Open-source software, he said, allows him to accomplish his primary task as cultural minister: "to expand the space for invention and creation." It's what W.E.B. Du Bois called "cultural democracy."

The WSF will be held every other year from now on, organizers decided after the close of this edition. It will take place in Africa in 2007, and in the meantime regional meetings will convene next year. (The Americas are likely to hold theirs in Venezuela.) It's impossible to predict whether each regional forum, or even the WSF two years from now, will sustain and build upon the advances made in Porto Alegre in incorporating art in a deep and textured way. But one thing is sure: No other world is possible without it.

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