Cultural center on wheels brings the arts closer to working-class Brazilians

Bus set up to bring busy Brazilians closer to art and music during their daily commute in hectic metropolis, in Sao Paulo

By Steven Grattan and Leonardo Benassatto

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - At one of Latin America's largest commuter bus terminals in Brazil's gritty downtown Sao Paulo, 84-year-old Rerizenil de Paula Santos waits on a bus decorated with neon lights and bright graffiti amid the hustle and bustle of rush hour.

It is the 10th time she has boarded this first-of-its-kind project, known as the cultural center on wheels. Its aim: to bring art and music into the lives of busy, working-class Brazilians.

The bus is decked out with professional lighting and a sound system, and each Tuesday organizers invite new musical or theatrical artists to entertain passengers, who can sign up online or jump onboard from the street if there is space.

"Its main purpose is to try to decentralize and make access to the arts more reachable", said the project's organizer, Anderson Mauricio.

"We mostly have people from the periphery (of the city) who are marginalized in terms of access to the arts, so this bus is a kind of bridge, to try and promote art without borders," said Mauricio, an actor, speaking at the Parque Dom Pedro bus station.

Mauricio, 40, says the idea came from his personal experience of the arduous five-hour daily commute he used to make into the city as a theater student.

"A good part of my time was on a bus, on public transport. And that's when I thought, well, the bus... it's a traveling house for people who live on the periphery, and why not a cultural space?" he said.

The project, which has received public funds, started in 2019 but its success was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now people from all ages and backgrounds sit side by side for the free ride. Paula Santos, young students, middle-aged commuters, a homeless man, all boarded the day Reuters visited.

"You come in here, everybody has fun and I think it's wonderful. It couldn't be more beautiful," Paula Santos said.

Onlookers on the street peeked through the windows in disbelief as it made its hour-long journey around the city center.

"I was really impressed with the sound quality, with the beautiful esthetic of everything," said musician Leve Venturoti, 24, on board for the first time.

"This proves that if you really try to reach out to people from different places, that you can indeed give access to everyone. There are people of all ages, older people, younger people," he said.

(Reporting by Steven Grattan and Leonardo Benassatto in Sao Paulo; Editing by Gerry Doyle)