Member Spotlight #20: Zelia Rodrigues Peixoto, Senior Cultural Producer, Oi Futuro
Zelia wears many hats and is not afraid of a new challenge. She shares insight on being a leader and the importance of continuing to learn. [Interview by Alix Vadot]
Zelia Rodrigues Peixoto is one of the women at the forefront of Arte Sônica Amplificada (ASA), a Brazil-based project executed in partnership with shesaid.so, Lighthouse, and Oi Futuro, and funded by the British Council. The program is a six-month long intensive program for women in the music industry to develop individual creative projects. Zelia leads the project as Head of Cultural Management of Oi Futuro.
“In the beginning I wanted to be a history teacher, but when I realized that cultural management as a profession existed, I fell in love. I liked history very much — to learn about different places in the world, their stories, etc. But eventually I moved towards cultural management. I discovered early on that my goal was to support people — initially, I thought I would do so through history, but then learned that it was possible through cultural management. I learned as much about how potent Brazilian culture is as the fact that it transforms people.”
After graduating with a degree in cultural management, Zelia first worked in film production. Through this career, she learned a lot about what the film industry looks like in Brazil, and how this differed from other professions as well as how it compared to the same industry in other countries. She also developed strong organization skills during this time. “In film, there is a general vision of a project, and how to execute this project, and how to do so in the solicited time. These are all skills that have stayed with me ever since I worked in cinema.”
Zelia’s first contact with the music industry came in her early days with Oi Futuro, when she was at Oi Futuro Ipanema. As part of her job, she would be in regular contact with artists for shows, presentations, gigs. She also remembers two specifically music-related projects, where she first learned about how to book and schedule artists according to what the public likes. “So I began to learn about how the public acts when it comes to music within a cultural center. And I began to look for new types of artists all throughout Brazil.” She quickly came to love this part of her job.
“I think the aspect that I like most about my job is having contact with the public, principally with ASA but also through my work as a theater producer in the cultural center. When I see that people like a specific theater piece, or that participants in ASA like the program as it is, and that it is transforming people’s lives — culture really changes people’s lives — this is the greatest form of gratification. It is a moment that makes me the happiest. Transforming people’s lives through art. That is what I like most.”
Of course, there is a good administrative and bureaucratic chunk of the job that is not always as exciting, but a career as a cultural manager can be quite satisfying, from Zelia’s perspective.
In terms of getting to this point in her career, one thing anyone can learn from Zelia’s experience is not giving up. She almost did when she saw that the market for cultural production in Brazil was so dry.
“I was working in cinema but in Brazil, cinema work can be a lot of hours — I was getting really tired and was ready to give up on cultural production. I was doing another university program at the time — economic studies. But then I saw an opening with Oi Futuro for an internship. I applied and got it. I was earning less than when I was working with film, but it gave me time to continue my studies on the side, so I decided to stay as an intern. Then they hired me and I’m still there! And I ended up stopping the economics program too.”
Zelia is also a big believer in the movement to include more women in the industry.
“I think it’s really important that we all work together. We women, not only in Brazil but in the world, make up more than half of the world’s population. So how come we are not represented in the same way? We should be at least 50% of festival line-ups, etc. This is something that I would love to see happen and in my head, this only happens when people work in a collaborative way. We have to work together and understand that there are no gender differences. People can change. Men can understand that women are as capable. That they should not fear hiring women. That women should not fear hiring other women. And that women can succeed in getting leadership roles to be able to hire other women.”
As a leader herself, Zelia managed a successful first year of ASA and just hosted the launch of the second annual program. In the beginning of the project, she was key in presenting the reality of Rio de Janeiro’s music industry to Lighthouse and shesaid.so, and introducing them to Oi Futuro’s partners in this industry. The inaugural program welcomed 50 participants who were divided among four focus areas, participated in workshops, and developed independent projects over the months-long program. As cultural manager, Zelia’s role encompasses various things.
“I worked as a community manager and supported these 50 participants to understand how the market for sound and music works. I brought guests from all over Brazil to talk during panels, from October to March. Meanwhile, the participants developed their own projects which they had to present as a pitch at the end of the program, in March. This first year was very interesting. It was a lot of experimentation.”
sss: What was one of the most important things that you learned through organizing ASA?
“I always like to meet people’s expectations and answer their demands. At ASA, there were 50 women expecting a variety of things, and it was very difficult to attend to every wish of every woman. So I was forced to change my thought pattern and understand that there is already a program in place. As a community manager, the women wanted many answers from me, and I ended up being at the front of the program in many ways. And this, sometimes, left me tired. I ended up going to therapy and learned to accept that I would not be able to respond to every demand. From this point on, I learned to be kinder with myself and with the participants. It was a reminder that this program was not made for me, but for other people. I learned a lot about myself.”
Of course, Zelia also learned a ton in terms of professional skills and has recently earned herself a promotion.
A next step for Zelia and the ASA team is to develop a stronger component of the program aimed at supporting women in entering the job market. “Many women were impacted positively by the program and are now working together. This program is truly creating a network and we played a big role in this. But I would like to develop this aspect of the program a bit further in the next years. How these — now 100 — participants can enter the job market in a healthier and more profitable way.”
Zelia hopes to continue working with ASA for a while, and to continue supporting this great circle of women.
“In the years before ASA, I felt stuck, I didn’t know where to go, what to do. I was doing a lot of research about women and found this to be a really great world. Through ASA, I managed to help women directly, support them in their growth through their art. They managed to change themselves as much as they changed the world around them.”
Personally, Zelia is eager to work with more women in the creative industries. She also wants to develop her spiritual side more and delve into the topic of alternative therapies — something she has tried incorporating into her work before, through yoga sessions at ASA, for example. Zelia is also now studying in yet another university program (she’s unstoppable!), this one in Anthropology. She loves studying humans and society — “It has been incredible to open my perspective, to be able to understand how society works beyond culture. How other societies function, other ways of understanding the world.” She brings these studies with her in her mind, and the new perspectives she is gaining through this course are also helping her in her work with ASA.
To finish up, we leave you with a piece of advice from Zelia about what it takes to be a leader in the creative world:
“Know yourself. For me, this is the answer to a lot of questions. I think you won’t achieve anything without knowing yourself, because this is the only way to really understand your flaws and skills. That, and a willingness to change, through culture, through art. In society — countries like the UK already understand this and I think the U.S. does too, principally through music — art is an industry and, contrary to what many people think, it is an industry that gives back. In Brazil, this notion does not exist yet. It is an industry that transforms lives. To be a leader in this sector, you have to understand yourself and also understand the market and how everything works, because many times people have a dream, people have ambitions, but they don’t understand how the market works. It’s important to understand what’s happening in the market, how things are developing, etc. To be alert, attentive to everything and understand everything that is happening around you.”