The national museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro burnt down earlier this month with the loss of up to 90% of its collections. Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Public funding cuts threaten “very existence of museums”, warns Icom

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 21.09.2018
Council calls for adequate investment in museums after Brazil fire
Cuts to public expenditure on cultural heritage are threatening “the very existence of museums in many parts of the world”, the International Council of Museums (Icom) said in a statement this week.

The strongly-worded statement said that the devastating fire at Brazil’s national museum on 2 September, which destroyed up to 90% of its collections, should force the international museum community to “face some hard facts about our sector”.

Pointing out that funds for ongoing museum operations were “steadily declining”, the statement said: “In the face of such adversity, museums have shown great resilience and creativity in attracting and generating new sources of revenue, from sponsors and donors or merchandising activities.

“However, these models can only be sustainable with strong government backing in the form of public policies and a clear commitment to fund museums’ daily operations.”
 
The statement continued: “Governments must set out policies to support this crucial mission, prioritising museum security, as well as the continuous protection, maintenance and research of collections.

“Without this support, vital aspects of a museum’s operations are neglected, which can lead to disastrous results as the Brazilian experience illustrates all too painfully.”

Icom called on policy-makers worldwide to “to recognise the need to care for museums, to allocate adequate funding and to develop policies that will allow these cultural institutions to carry out their vital role in society for generations to come”.

The organisation said it was ready to collaborate with national and regional governments and partner institutions “to ensure that a disaster of this magnitude is never repeated”.

Museum sector representatives in the UK have echoed Icom’s warning about the dangers posed by a lack of public investment in museums.

The Museums Association’s director, Sharon Heal, said: “The fire and the resulting loss of collections at the national museum in Brazil represent an awful and unimaginable tragedy. Our sympathy goes to the people of Brazil who have lost irreplaceable items of their cultural heritage and our thoughts are with the museum staff who cared for the collections and are now having to try to salvage what they can.

“It would appear that staff and others warned about the perilous state of the building in Rio and called for urgent action. The events in Rio should serve as a warning to other institutions and governments that neglect and lack of investment can jeopardise our collections and the buildings that house them.”

In the UK, museum sector bodies made a commitment this week to take a more coordinated approach to museums and collections at risk. The agreement will see 16 organisations work together to provide support and guidance to institutions that are in difficulty.

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

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