To become familiar with Casa do Povo’s long history, one needs to frequent it. The audio-guides available on site work as a good introduction, leading interested visitors through the building’s spaces and the streets of the Bom Retiro neighbourhood. In general, all the activities make present the history of the institution’s formation.
Founded by a non-profit cultural association right after the end of World War II, in 1946 Casa do Povo was erected through the collective efforts of a politically engaged portion of the Jewish community then thought of as “progressive,” hailing from Eastern Europe, most of them resided in the neighborhood of Bom Retiro. The space was born of a double desire: to pay homage to those who died in the Nazi concentration camps and to create a space that would unite the wide variety of associations that had been born here, in the international struggle against fascism – thus providing continuity to the secular, humanist, Jewish culture that nazi-fascism had attempted to suppress in Europe. This double desire was realized in 1953 with the inauguration of Casa do Povo as a living monument, a place where to remember is to act. The translation of this idea materialized through the construction of a modern building, designed by young architect Ernest Carvalho Mange. The ample halls on each floor are malleable spaces that adapt to different uses. In 1960, in the building’s basement, the Teatro de Arte Israelita Brasileiro [“Brazilian-Israelite Art Theatre”], or TAIB, was inaugurated, designed by Jorge Wilheim with murals by Renina Katz, stage design by Abrahão Sanovicz and panels by Gershon Knispel.
More than just a memorial, more than a cultural center, the building was once home to the Ginásio Israelita Scholem Aleichem [“Scholem Aleichem Israelite School”] (GIBSA), reading groups, amateur theater groups and Yiddish theater, a library, the Kinderland club, editorial committee meetings for the newspaper Nossa Voz, neighborhood associations, as well as the SESI Teatro Popular, plays staged by Teatro de Arena, by authors such as Plínio Marcos, Gianfrancesco Guarnieri and Augusto Boal; concerts by MPB4, classes by Lygia Fagundes Telles, book releases and many other activities that marked the avant-garde of the time. During the Brazilian civilian-military dictatorship, Casa do Povo established itself as a place of cultural and political resistance. While the sons and daughters of the politically persecuted studied in the school with scholarships and under fake names, many performances staged at TAIB were censored and teachers were arrested and tortured. The institution survived the so-called ”Years of Lead” but, from the 1980s onward, it was stricken by an institutional crisis that accompanied São Paulo’s relative inner city decay. However, at the end of the 2000s, Casa do Povo began a renovation project with the objective of continuing its founder’s ideals. It returned to the city’s cultural scene and has firmed its role as one of the few spaces that develops, houses and encourages artistic practices focused on creative process, experimentation and interdisciplinarity, establishing a strong connection to its neighborhood and its past. Today, the institution’s mission can best be described with reference to its history, employing three words in Yiddish, the language spoken by the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who founded this house in the middle of the last century.
A place of living memory, in this case, that of the institution, the neighborhood, the migrations and the resistances.
A platform around which assorted collective initiatives, artistic or otherwise, gather.
Space that brings the future to the present, developing experimental practices.
Over the years, Casa do Povo has constructed an archive comprised of over 4000 books, hundreds of photographs, objects and documents that recount part of the cultural history of the city, of Bom Retiro, of the Jewish immigrants, of the resistance against the dictatorship and of Yiddish culture. The archives are open to researchers and any interested parties who schedule their visits in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.