The following is text is an open letter from the Institute of Brazilian Architects in response to the devastating fire that tore through Brazil's National Museum on Sunday evening.
The Institute of Architects of Brazil (IAB), fulfilling its mission of contributing to the technical-scientific and sociocultural development of the country and preserving the national cultural heritage, deeply mourns the irreparable loss of the National Museum, the central institution of culture and science located in the district of São Cristóvão, in Rio de Janeiro, that was consumed by fire on the night of September 2nd.
The fire in Quinta da Boa Vista not only left a an architectural ensemble declared national heritage in ruins but also destroyed millions of artifacts and historical documents belonging to its collection, which were of worldwide relevance and among the most representative of Brazilian history. It is, therefore, an irrevocable loss, which is being lamented by everyone who cares about Brazilian culture and memory, both in Brazil and abroad.
The destruction of the National Museum, 200 years following its foundation and 80 years after being landmarked, is a result of the significant decline in investments in culture, education and science in recent years. The problems stemming from the scarcity of resources for the museum's maintenance were widely known and have been the subject, in recent years, of several articles published by the national press. A budget of less than 14,000 BRL a month for the maintenance of equipment is representative of the lack of understanding of its importance for Brazilian history, culture and sciences. It also demonstrates the scarce distribution of resources in the financing of cultural and scientific initiatives, a scenario that tends to worsen with austerity measures that freeze investments in these sectors for the coming decades.
Despite 81 years of existence of laws aimed at preserving national cultural heritage, the effective safeguarding of our cultural assets has always been limited by the human and economic resources allocated to these actions. The National Museum, for example, did not have the necessary facilities to prevent and fight fires, which would surely have led to a less traumatic outcome.
To denounce the abandonment to which the Brazilian cultural heritage is relegated, the IAB and its partner institutions promoted a "embrace heritage" a little more than two weeks ago, involving hundreds of people in 27 cities in 13 States, from President Figueiredo in the Amazon to Santana do Livramento on the border of Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay.
In times of crisis, we must learn. The Historic Center of Quito, the world's first urban site to be added to Unesco's World Heritage List, was hit by a devastating earthquake in March 1987; at the end of the same year, taking advantage of the national outcry provoked by the destruction, Ecuador created the “Fund of Salvation of the Cultural Heritage” which instituted the most successful example of preservation of the urban heritage in Latin America; in the past thirty years it has been used as a reference for guaranteeing the necessary resources for the preservation of the Ecuadorian national memory.at the end of the same year, taking advantage of the national outcry provoked by the destruction, Ecuador created the “Fund of Salvation of the Cultural Heritage” which instituted the most successful example of preservation of the urban heritage in Latin America; in the past thirty years it has been used as a reference for guaranteeing the necessary resources for the preservation of the Ecuadorian national memory.
Faced with the loss of the National Museum of Quinta da Boa Vista, the IAB calls on society and institutions concerned with preserving our culture and our memory to demand from the Presidency of the Republic and the National Congress the immediate creation of a permanent fund, managed IPHAN and IBRAM, which guarantees the maintenance of national museums and the preservation of our cultural heritage, regardless of political interests.
Likewise, we demand that the presidential candidates and the National Congress commit themselves to the creation and maintenance of this fund. Recently, the IAB and the Brazilian Architecture and Urban Planning Council (CAU / BR) published an "Open Letter from the Architects and Urbanists to the Candidates in the 2018 Elections for the Right to the City", which presented proposals and which is being sent to candidates from all parties from all over Brazil. The proposal to create a permanent fund for the preservation of cultural heritage is detailed in the aforementioned proposals.