Anyone who passes through Manaus Street, in the São Lucas neighborhood, in Belo Horizonte (MG), immediately notices the large mansion that currently houses Espaço Comum Luiz Estrela. On October 26th, the artistic, cultural and knowledge production occupation completes a decade of existence.
To celebrate, between the 23rd of September and the 29th of next month, the Spring Festival will take place, with the theme “Memory, territory and self-management”. During the period, the space hosts conversation circles, workshops, exhibitions, guided tours, presentations, a fair and much more.
The various artistic expressions present in the festival’s program revisit the past, explain the present and point to the future of Espaço Comum Luiz Estrela, which was occupied in 2013 as part of a theatrical production. Today, it is a self-managed cultural center, which promotes art and politics.
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Joviano Mayer, who is part of Trupe Estrela, an occupation theater collective, recalls that, at the time, the capital of Minas Gerais was experiencing a great cultural effervescence and that, with the experience of the June 2013 days, processes of struggle were boosted in city.
“Star is the result of this. On the day of the occupation, we did theater. Two people entered the mansion, on October 24, from a theatrical scene, in which the staircase was part of the scenography and everyone was in costume. On the morning of the 26th, we arrived with a bus, with several artists, who started to take part in the recovery of the property”, says Joviano.
The mansion occupied by the artists had been abandoned for almost 20 years. Listed by the municipality in 1994, the property was built in 1912, with the purpose of being the Military Hospital of the Public Force of Minas Gerais, currently the Military Police of Minas Gerais.
From that period until the early 1990s, the space also housed a children’s psychiatric hospital, which was closed after reports of poor conditions, a psycho-pedagogical center (CPP) and the Yolanda Martins State School, closed the year the property was listed.
After the occupation, the Fundação Educacional Lucas Machado (Feluma), which had a transfer agreement for the property signed with the Fundação Hospitalar de Minas Gerais (Fhemig), owner of the land, filed a request for repossession.
However, lawyers supporting the movement worked together to prevent the eviction, obtained a favorable decision from the courts and opened a negotiation table with the government of Minas Gerais.
“At the negotiation table, with all the political, cultural and parliamentary pressure, we managed to have the space ceded to us for 20 years”, says Joviano.
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The Luiz Estrela Common Space is organized based on self-management, horizontality and has a statute that seeks to prevent the reproduction of authoritarian, sexist, racist and LGBTphobic practices.
Tita Marçal, one of the artists who first entered the mansion, highlights that the ideal defended by the occupation is freedom from all forms of oppression.
“We are here for ourselves, for each one of us. As long as there is a need for consensus and dialogue, the conversation needs to be carried out in assemblies, through non-violent communication”, explains Tita.
To achieve these objectives, the space also developed its own way of organizing itself. Currently, the occupation has approximately 90 people, who contribute according to their time, interest and availability.
Estrela has deliberative assemblies, a council, and nine thematic research and action centers, which are Architecture and Restoration, Theater, Cine Estrela, cinema, Criar Cura (for the anti-asylum fight), Cozinha Comum ( which researches food), the Escola Comum (which brings together educators), the Bloco Comum (which is the carnival block), the Feirinha Estelar (which brings together artisans), and the Permacultura (which operates in the courtyard of the mansion).
Luciana Lanza, who is a dancer and producer, explains that one of the challenges of building self-management and horizontality is breaking with the values and forms of organization of capitalist society.
“The feeling I have is that people, when they occupied the house, perhaps did not have the dimension of responsibility that they were taking on themselves, especially when a self-managed place is proposed”, assesses Luciana.
“You get here and you need to change a key in your head, because you won’t have a boss who will tell you to wash your dishes or take out your trash. This should be an exercise in awareness, in spatial occupation”, adds the dancer.
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In 2017, the Architecture and Restoration Center for the Luiz Estrela Common Space received the highest Brazilian national heritage award, the Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade Award, for its responsibility for preserving cultural heritage.
Restaurateur Tatiana Pena, who is part of the collective, explains that actions carried out in the mansion are of a different nature, because she is committed to maintaining the property’s history.
“During these ten years, the roof, doors and windows were all restored. We are beginning to study the paintings on the walls of the mansion. It is a restoration always in process. We don’t forget the theory. But, at the same time, we have the flexibility to keep the mansion restored, without being in the mold of a common restoration”, says Tatiana.
“Our objective is not to make the mansion beautiful again, with everything ‘painted’. We want all the layers that exist here, since the construction of the mansion, to remain here. This, for the restorer, is also a challenge, it is the deconstruction of what we learned in college”, adds the restorer.
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The occupation pays homage to Luiz Otávio da Silva, known as Estrela. Homosexual and homeless, he was murdered on June 26, 2013, in Belo Horizonte, on the same day as one of the June Days demonstrations that was most repressed by police forces. His death was never investigated.
Luiz Estrela is loved and known by artists and activists in the capital of Minas Gerais, for his presence in the city’s cultural and political events.
To develop its activities, Espaço Comum Luiz Estrela has a crowdfunding platform, in which the population can donate any amount. To contribute, simply click this link.
Source: BdF Minas Gerais
Editing: Larissa Costa