Down with indifference!
A variety of topics and thought-provoking presentations are the hallmarks of the Braskem Frontiers
of Thinking lecture series, featuring intellectuals and artists from Brazil and other countries
Written by: Leonardo Maia
Philosopher Luc Ferry: debating language
Thinking about philosophy, the arts, society; broadening horizons; allowing a vast range of theories and profound meditations to flow freely. These are some of the many aims of an event like Braskem’s Frontiers of Thinking, a project that was born in 2007 in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Stirring up the cultural scenes of Porto Alegre and Salvador, where the lecture cycles were held in 2008, as well as in São Paulo, where it was introduced this year for the first time, the project has brought to Brazil intellectuals like philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, musician Philip Glass, author Beatriz Sarlo, sociologist Edgar Morin and filmmakers David Lynch and Wim Wenders.
The reverberations of Braskem’s Frontiers of Thinking program can also be gauged through its impact on the media and opinion formers. “Frontiers arrived to meet a significant demand in Bahia for high-quality events of a more refined intellectual nature. These sessions offer a diverse range of themes to a varied audience in terms of social and professional backgrounds and age groups. We haven’t seen anyone leave untouched and unaffected. It is a watershed in the intellectual life of Bahia,” says historian Ubiratan Castro de Almeida, Director General of the Pedro Calmon Foundation and a member of the Bahia Academy of Letters.
Rio Grande do Sul architect and designer Marília Vianna is also very pleased and excited about this event being held in her state, which is called Copesul Braskem’s Frontiers of Thinking. “I believe that a diverse range of outlooks is highly enriching for dialogue between several currents of opinion, and is good for everyone’s intellectual health in Porto Alegre. It helps refresh our ideas and broaden our horizons. That’s what Frontiers is all about.”
Getting academia on board
Braskem went out in search of partners to ensure that the project reached a broad range of participants and was “adopted” by the local academic communities. Three universities are providing institutional support in Rio Grande do Sul: the Federal University at Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS). In Bahia, the program’s partners are the Federal University at Bahia (UFBA), Universidade Salvador (Unifacs) and Faculdades Jorge Amado. In addition to these institutions – which each receive a set number of invitations to distribute to low-income students – cultural centers, bookshops, hotels, movie theater chains and PR firms also provide support for Frontiers of Thinking.
“This is an important project because it is broadening our intellectual horizons. The university is cosmopolitan, but a lack of wherewithal has struck this institution in recent years and prevented it from carrying out its function of connecting the global to the local. This explains our enthusiasm at becoming partners of Frontiers and helping bring thinkers of the highest quality to our community,” says Naomar Almeida Filho, the President of the Federal University at Bahia. Father Marcelo Fernandes de Aquino, President of Unisinos, follows a similar line of reasoning: “Frontiers of Thinking is helping Rio Grande do Sul go out and find new ideas, new solutions, new commitments. It is an injection of cosmopolitanism and an intelligent way for Braskem to build up a stable alliance with the soul of Rio Grande do Sul.”
Inspired by the success of the edition held in 2007 by what was then Copesul (now Braskem) in Porto Alegre, this year’s Frontiers of Thinking program is being organized along the same lines. It also reflects the influences of other initiatives, such as the Humanities Forum, which is held in Bahia and brings together 40 opinion formers from a wide range of areas to discuss current issues. Today, the two programs are coexisting in perfect harmony. “The overarching aim of Frontiers is providing cultural support, bringing the arts and culture to the environments where we work while adding institutional value to the Braskem brand. It is our main cultural program,” says Braskem Marketing Director Frank Alcântara.
The theme in 2008 was “The Arts and the Language of Contemporary Culture,” which fostered wide-ranging debates in the fields of philosophy (Luc Ferry and Bernard-Henri Lévy), psychoanalysis (Charles Melman and Contardo Calligaris), literature (Camille Paglia and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez), theater (Fernando Arrabal and Gerald Thomas), music (Philip Glass) and filmmaking (WimWenders, José Padilha and David Lynch).
The diversity of these lectures and debates provides a broad view of the theme. “Frontiers of Thinking has refreshed many of my ideas and enabled me to reach new inferences and conclusions. I work in a creative field, and this opportunity to have access to a wide-open range of human knowledge fosters something that I feel to be essential: the ability to see the world more broadly from different and fresh points of view,” says Marília Vianna. Rio Grande do Sul physician and well-known author Moacyr Scliar has attended several of these lectures: “This is a cultural event of extraordinary importance, as we can see from the size and quality of the audience, the extremely interesting debates and its impact on the media. I am a columnist for several newspapers and have written enthusiastically and admiringly about this event.”
In 2009, Frontiers of Knowledge will present four lectures in Rio Grande do Sul and four in Bahia, including a range of renowned foreign speakers. Innovations in diverse fields of knowledge will be discussed in relation to the theme of “Reinventing Life, Reinventing the World.” One of the project’s “curators,” Alan Hilgner, underscores that the process of selecting the speakers is still underway. “We consult groups of intellectuals, academics and opinion formers for recommendations. The speakers are always selected on the basis of their quality and the significant body of work they have presented to the world.”