The National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, destroyed by fire in September 2018 (photo: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)
Published on 12/20/2021
By José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP – Brazil’s cultural heritage has shrunk in recent years as a result of major disasters, such as the fires that destroyed the National Museum in 2018 and gutted Cinemateca Brasileira, the national film archive, with the largest collection of moving images in Latin America, in 2021. These were disasters foretold, according to experts, and would fatally have happened sooner or later because of the state of neglect into which the public properties concerned had been allowed to fall owing to budget cuts and the disregard of the authorities charged with their upkeep.
Museum reconstruction and conservation were discussed during the 7th FAPESP 60 Years Conference, held online on December 8, 2021, under the general title “Cultural Heritage Management and Policies”. The moderator was Renata Vieira da Motta, Chair of the Brazilian Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The speakers were Carlos Augusto Calil, a filmmaker and academic, and Nivaldo Vieira de Andrade Junior, a professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).
Calil is affiliated with the University of São Paulo’s School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP). He is a former head of Embrafilme, Cinemateca Brasileira and Centro Cultural de São Paulo, and a former Secretary of Culture for the City of São Paulo (2005-12). Andrade Junior is affiliated with UFBA’s School of Architecture. He is a former President of the Institute of Architects of Brazil (IAB), and a member of the Cultural Heritage Advisory Board to the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN).
Luiz Eugênio Mello, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, delivered opening remarks.
“I first visited the National Museum in 1979. The fire was a disaster foretold as long ago as that. It was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’,” said Calil, who focused on the historical perspective, pointing out the many problems as well as the rare but promising victories. He reserved special praise for IPHAN, whose survival for more than 80 years he called “a miracle”.
He also presented a number of proposals to enable cultural heritage institutions to address their longstanding problems, such as making them administratively independent from governments, so that even as public entities they could be kept out of political-party infighting and electoral manipulation; giving them autonomy to negotiate with private enterprise as well as the public sector; setting up endowments so that they are no longer subject to budgetary contingencies; appointing their leaders for a fixed term to avoid musical chairs as parties take turns to wield power; and creating a culture of efficient financial execution to maintain solvency.
“In Brazil, we don’t have a culture of collaboration among government entities, or even within parties or between departments of state or municipal governments,” said Andrade Junior, who focused on the built heritage and architecture of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia.
According to him, the historic city center of Salvador has 1,500 decaying abandoned buildings. “Privatization shouldn’t be either a taboo or a panacea. Many of these buildings could be privatized, but it’s absurd to convert a symbolic building like Palácio Rio Branco, the former seat of government in the state of Bahia, into a luxury hotel, which is happening now,” he said.
Autonomous management of Quito’s cultural heritage in Ecuador is an inspiring example, he added.
Discussing public-private relations in the Q&A session, Calil said partnerships are inevitable. “But they shouldn’t entail private management of public money. There have to be matching contributions. Transferring the entire public-sector budget for heritage to private enterprise is simply not done by any other country in the world,” he argued.
Both Calil and Andrade Junior stressed the need for a third actor in these relations, in the shape of civil society, via both organizations and direct participation by the local community. An auspicious example is Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca (the Society of Friends of the National Film Archive), which has been revived and is now chaired by Calil.
A recording of the event (in Portuguese) is at: fapesp.br/15201.
Videos of the six previous conferences are at: 60anos.fapesp.br/conferencias.