April 10, 2008
Espaço Cubo: Creating New Centers from the Margins

One of my first posts on this blog was on DocTV an Ibero-American documentary coproduction program that was first initiated in Brazil. One of the reasons that I continue to admire that project is that it addresses all the needs in the value chain in a constructive and inclusive manner, working with artists and both the public and private sector. Now, through a class on public art with Antoni Muntadas at MIT in conjunction with the São Paulo University, I was able to finally visit Brazil and discovered a country that is bustling with creativity and drive.

There, the musician and producer Benjamim Taubkin let me know about a grassroots project that shares those same laudable characteristics with DocTV, but, instead of being generated from the country's center, it was brewed by group of young social scientists in Cuiabá in the Mato Grosso province. It's called Espaço Cubo, and it has grown from an experiment into a full-fledged movement.

Back in 2002, the group realized that, although there were many rock bands in Cuiabá, none of them played original songs, so they decided to rent a space for the bands to rehearse with the condition that they work on their own material. When the bands were ready, Espaço Cubo approached the city's clubs and asked them to give them one night a week; it didn't matter if it was their worst night.

They then promoted it with through traditional media and multiple blogs and social networks, and that's how they created a circuit for the local bands to play in. Few countries can boast of having a richer musical heritage and the local audiences quickly engaged with rock music where they could see themselves represented. In order to propitiate further diffusion of the music created within the Espaço Cubo collective, all their work is licensed under Creative Commons.

The next step was the creation of a local festival. It is called Grito do Rock (Rock's Yell), and it's now going on its sixth year. The success of these relatively simple development strategies has been so overwhelming that they've created the nationwide network Fora do Eixo (Off-Center). Fora do Eixo aims to interconnect cities that had been isolated from the traditional musical production, creating the potential for a powerful distribution circuit for their bands and ancillary products, such as DVDs, books, magazines, T-shirts, etc. The network already has its own radio station and several blogs and newsletters, and Grito do Rock now happens all over the country.

Espaço Cubo recently created their own currency and credit system as well, the 'Cubo Card.' With it, they look to facilitate internal cooperation while replicating a market structure. The collective's income is transformed into this currency; when sponsors approach the project, they can also form part of this barter system. For instance, a restaurant could offer food in exchange for advertising all of which is valued in 'Cubo Cards.'

Pablo Capilé, founder and project leader commented on the Calmantes com Champagne 2.0 blog that "no one here has any pseudo-socialist discourse. We are just working for a market that is more compatible with the new musical reality of the country, and that it's supported by locally generated resources, which, when interconnected in a national network, generate a very promising value chain. This is based on barter and solidarity economy, with democratic access and a relationship with public and private entities. It demystifies the idea of the artists that have to build their careers on their own."