SESC POMPEIA, A UNIQUE, HYBRID CULTURAL SPACE
The fifth step of the Wide Open Project – a world tour of “positive ecosystems” – was in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. With more than 12 million inhabitants in 2018, the city buzzes with cultural…
The fifth step of the Wide Open Project – a world tour of “positive ecosystems” – was in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo.
With more than 12 million inhabitants in 2018, the city buzzes with cultural initiatives and hybrid spaces of a new type. All in all, a particularly fertile field of exploration for Wide Open and the opportunity to get to know SESC Pompeia, a unique cultural and leisure centre located in the heart of Sao Paulo’s Palmeiras neighbourhood.
A private cultural centre
This former barrel factory, rehabilitated in the early 1980s by the architect Lina Bo Bardi, now houses a unique cultural centre that attracts people from all horizons. A citadel of culture, the complex comprises several sports facilities, a library, a theatre, exhibition spaces, a restaurant, a solarium and a coliving area. Although SESC Pompeia makes a major contribution to the city’s cultural dynamism and the well-being of its inhabitants, it is not funded by the city. On the contrary, it is fully private and belongs to an extensive network of similar spaces, commonly known as “SESC” (Serviçoes Social do Comércio) or Social Services of Commerce.
Capital fostering collective well-being
With 42 facilities in 21 cities in the state of Sao Paulo, SESC is the country’s largest operator of privately-owned cultural centres. Although SESC was originally devoted to social welfare – offering dentists, maternities, affordable restaurants and sports facilities – it is now re-defining the contours of culture and public space, thanks to its years of experience and unique expertise in creating “positive ecosystems” for the benefit of the local communities.
Looking everything like a public space
Strolling between its concrete pillars, you will certainly come across groups of retirees playing chess in the library, families who’ve come to watch a circus show, youngsters sharing a beer in the patio, idlers relaxing in the sun… What was once a place of work is now a temple of relaxation for all, a real “citadel of leisure”, according to Lina Bo Bardi, an expression revived by Richard Copans in his 2012 documentary about the centre.
Fostering everyday culture
Far from an elitist vision and extending beyond the concept of locally-accessible culture, the space broadens the very notion of culture. Education - seen as a pre-requisite for social transformation - necessitates integrating culture into everyday life, rather than offering it as something apart.
Art then meets leisure, the two combining to encourage greater social inclusion: it’s an art of informal education, leaving visitors free to do what they wish. As a place for learning, SESC Pompeia runs a programme of non-formal, permanent actions, embracing all of its infrastructure and programming, the final goal being to foster autonomy and encounters, whether among visitors or with a current of thought, an artist or a discipline. More than a simple cultural centre and behind its recreational appearance, SESC Pompeia is a space for individual and collective development.
What if the private sector could work for the common good?