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  Centro Popular de Cultura - CPC [Centre for Popular Culture]        


The Centre for Popular Culture - CPC was created in 1961 in Rio de Janeiro, in association with the União Nacional dos Estudantes - UNE [National Union of Students] to bring together artists from varying origins: theatre, music, cinema, literature, visual arts, etc. The axis of the CPC project was defined by its attempt to build a "national, popular and democratic culture", by raising the awareness of the popular classes. The guiding idea of the project relates to the notion of "revolutionary popular art", conceived as a privileged instrument of social revolution. The defence of the collective and didactic character of the work of art and the committed and militant role of the artist drove a series of initiatives: the staging of plays at factory gates, favelas and trade union centres; the publication of poetry notebooks sold at mass-market prices, the pioneering realisation of self-financing films. The CPC's commitment was summarised in the Anteprojeto do Manifesto do Centro Popular de Cultura [Preparatory Project for the Manifesto of the Centre for Popular Culture], written by the sociologist Carlos Estevam Martins (1962), the first director of the CPC. The document postulates the commitment of the artist in the face of the political and cultural context of Brazil of the period, and makes the diagnosis that popular art is impossible outside politics. According to the Anteprojeto, the art of the people is of a "naïve consciousness", "without artistic quality or cultural pretensions", and has no other function than to "satisfy needs for play and ornament". In defining art as one of the instruments for taking power, and the artist as the figure who assumes a commitment beside the people, the CPC argued for a "laborious training effort in the syntax of the masses", but in such a way as to remove them from their place of alienation and submission.

The creation of the CPC took place during the government of João Goulart (1919 - 1976), in a context of heavy political mobilisation, with the expansion of workers' organisations both in the countryside and in the cities. The middle classes, above all intellectuals and students, were present in the political parties (the Partido Comunista Brasileiro - PCB [Brazilian Communist Party] occupied a position of note in the cultural framework of the time, and attracted formers of opinion, including journalists, artists and professionals in general) and in bodies such as the UNE itself. The political militancy and the cultural engagement went hand in hand: the themes of the political debate find a direct echo in artistic and cultural output. This situation differed from the "developmentist utopia" of the 1950s, which promoted the intense dialogue of the artistic avant-gardes, such as Concretism, with technology, industry and the market. According to Carlos Estevam Martins, the idea of the CPC had its origin within the São Paulo theatre group, Teatro de Arena, during a season in Rio de Janeiro of the plays Eles Não Usam Black-Tie [They don't wear evening dress] by Gianfrancesco Guarnieri (1934- ), and Chapetuba F.C., by Oduvaldo Vianna Filho (1936 - 1974). The dissatisfaction of several members of Arena with the group itself, which, despite its efforts remained a "middle-class theatre", led them to stage the play with a strongly didactic character A Mais Valia Vai Acabar, seu Edgar [The surplus value will end, Mr. Edgar] by Oduvaldo Vianna Filho and Chico de Assis, with music by Carlos Lyra (1939- ), which was staged at the theatre of the Faculdade Nacional de Arquitetura [National Architecture Faculty] in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. Carlos Estevam was invited to take part in devising the play when he was a sociologist at the Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasileiros - ISEB [Superior Institute of Brazilian Studies], so that he would collaborate with a "scientific and didactic explanation of surplus value" an integral concept of Marxist theory. The group that met there subsequently organised a philosophy course with José Américo Pessanha, held in an auditorium made available by the UNE. The debates during the course gave form to the idea of the CPC, which benefited from other experiences, above all the Movimento de Cultura Popular - MCP [Popular Culture Movement], founded in Recife by Germano Coelho, Ariano Suassuna (1927- ), Hermilo Borba Filho, Abelardo da Hora (1924- ), Aloizio Falcão, Paulo Freire (1921 - 1997), Francisco Brennand (1927- ) and Luís Mendonça. The MCP, which was associated with the Secretaria Municipal de Educação [Municipal Secretariat of Education], developed activities in various areas (but above all in the field of theatre) on the basis of a strong teaching programme which aimed to "raise the cultural level of the people".

The direct influence of the MCP on the conception of the CPC may be noted in the predominance of theatre over the other arts, in its collective work, in its defence of engagement and the need to raise the awareness of the people. From December 1961 until December 1962, the CPC produced the plays Eles Não Usam Black-Tie and A Vez da Recusa  [The Turn of the Refusal] by Carlos Estevam; the film Cinco Vezes Favela [Five Times Favela] which brought together Couro de Gato [Cat Hide] by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1932 - 1988), Um Favelado [A favela dweller] by Marcos Faria, Escola de Samba e Alegria de Viver [Samba School and Joy of Living] by Cacá Diegues (1940- ), Zé da Cachorra [The Bitch's Zé], by Miguel Borges and Pedreira São Diogo [São Diogo Quarry] by Leon Hirszman (1937- ); the collection Cadernos do Povo [Peoples' Notebooks] and the series Violão de Rua [Street Guitar], in which Moacir Félix (1926- ), Geir Campos (1924 - 1999) and Ferreira Gullar (1930- ) took part. It also promoted courses on theatre, cinema, visual arts, philosophy and the UNE-Volante [Flying UNE], an excursion lasting three months around the main cities of Brazil to make contact with university, workers' and peasants' grass-roots movements. The CPC subsequently strengthened the area of adult literacy and the architecture sector, which fundamentally worked to support the staging of plays. The cordel  literature workshops included the participation of Félix de Athayde and Ferreira Gullar. The street theatre project of Carlos Vereza (1939- ) and João das Neves (1935- ), as well as the peasant theatre of Joel Barcelos aimed to bring art directly to the people, by staging plays in the workplace, in residences and leisure venues. The CPC also promoted book fairs accompanied by music shows, to which it invited the "sambistas do morro"  Zé Kéti (1921 - 1999), Nelson Cavaquinho (1910 - 1986) and Cartola (1908 - 1980), also with the participation of Vinícius de Moraes (1913 - 1980). The collections Cadernos Brasileiros [Brazilian Notebooks] and the Revista Civilização Brasileira [Brazilian Civilisation Magazine], edited by Ênio Silveira, and História Nova [New History] organised by Nelson Werneck Sodré, suggest the intense collaboration between intellectuals of the ISEB and the CPC. In the field of visual arts, less notable than the others, contributors included Júlio Vieira (1933 - 1999), Eurico Abreu (1933 - 1990), Delson Pitanga and Carlos Scliar (1920 - 2001).

While the experience of the CPC bore fruit in other areas of the country, such as Belo Horizonte, where the poet Afonso Romano de Sant'Ana (1937- ) was active, its locus was Rio de Janeiro. Testimonies indicate that attempts to bring the CPC to São Paulo, for example, failed on account of the hegemony of the Teatro de Arena within the city.

The military coup of 1964 led to the closing of the CPC, the imprisonment of artists and intellectuals and political exile. Even so, echoes of the CPC project reverberated in subsequent initiatives, such as the famous show Opinião [Opinion] in 1964, by Oduvaldo Vianna Filho, Armando Costa (1933 - 1984) and Paulo Pontes, which reunited Zé Kéti, João do Vale (1934 - 1996) and Nara Leão (1942 - 1989). The spectacle bore a certain affinity to the CPC, in so far as it argued that art was "all the more expressive" the more it had an "opinion", and the more that it proposed itself as an instrument for disseminating political content. The importance of the CPC experience should not divert attention from other movements and artists active during the 1960s, who often also acted on the basis of a commitment to a national and popular agenda, but which had not been associated with the project of the CPC group, e.g. Glauber Rocha (1939 - 1981) and Hélio Oiticica (1937 - 1980). This does not imply, however, an emphasis on the lack of connection between their work and that of the members of the CPC. Oiticica, for example, projected the work Cães de Caça [Hunting Dogs], 1961, which contained the Poema Enterrado [Buried Poem] of Ferreira Gullar.

Updated on 17/07/2006