The signs of the decadence of museums in Portugal have been increasing sharply over the years of the Pandemic. The case of the Museu do Traje de São Brás is a paradigmatic example.
There have been some references to the case in the regional press, with little emphasis on national channels, with particular relevance to the silence of organizations representing museums and their professionals.
APOM, through the voice of its president João Neto, has sought to intervene constructively (https://www.sulinformacao.pt/2021/08/museu-do-traje-de-sao-bras-pode-tentar-reconciliacao-atraves- de-exposure-on-mercy/) to overcome conflicts.
The warning signal dates back to June, with the attentive José D’ Encarnação giving the cry “Save the Museum” (https://notascomentarios.blogspot.com/2021/07/vamos-salvar-o-museu.html?fbclid =IwAR2IGylM0A5kVJ7XleBiqFFJ8BwR3DC8KTugmK8MkIBxqbkhJeUi3QzlYbI), accompanied days later by the ever-attentive Dália Paulo (https://www.sulinformacao.pt/2021/08/museu-do-traje-de-o-patrio-sao-human-saobras) -cultural-to-safeguard/)
On the part of ICOM nothing emerged. One might think that the fairs would divert attention. Despite the relevance of the dispute about the free admission of museum professionals in temporary exhibitions of public facilities (https://icom-portugal.org/noticias/), yet another sign of decadence, the case of São Brás seems to be absent from the schedule. A sign of his rampant elitism.
Even more shocking will be the absence of a public position from MINOM Portugal. Emanuel Sancho was president of this ICOM Affiliate Structure, except for three mandates (between 2008-2018), with the Museum of São Brás having hosted relevant initiatives of Social Museology, some of which with international references. The absence of a public position is symptomatic of its decay after the Algarve decade.
But what counts in these cases are the hugs of solidarity that Emanuel Sancho deserves, and the support that his museum will be able to gather in this difficult phase, in the face of demonstrating its relevance in São Brás and for Portuguese museums. (Why being a network shouldn’t everyone be in solidarity when a unit is affected?)
The question, as I understand it, can be summed up in a few words. The Costume Museum of São Brás is supervised by the Santa Casa da Misericórdia. It was the solution found in the early nineties of the last century, when local forces, animated by the dynamics of the local development of Barrocal and Serra do Caldeirão, anchored in a network of local cultural animators, proposed the creation of a “cultural center” in the space of the old mansion inherited by the institution. It was configured in the form of a museum, in a proposal to renew the institutional figure, welcoming community initiatives, serving the community through the work on its memory, and through its work it gained an international dimension. It is this relevant role that the new merciful table legitimately challenges, and that it tries to domesticate for purposes that do not escape readings about the repositioning of local actors, already with more complex objectives. Sifting, the signal that is perceived is once again the voice of the owner taming the local initiative
The externalities of museums are always difficult to account for for grocers and wild ducks, more interested in building tall and insisting on solutions from the past. They are short term views. We have witnessed for decades the transformation of the landscape, social and natural, that has renewed this region. Dynamics of transformation are present that this museum seeks to take advantage of, asking it now to become a docile and obedient museum of the past. If this museum does not understand the opportunities to face social challenges, it will be like so many other dead, lifeless places, fed by people from the past and occasional curators.
That is why I speak of the decay of Portuguese museums, which remain incapable of demonstrating their relevance in society.
Antero de Quental, back in 1871, lectured on the “Causes of the Decay of Peninsular Peoples”. There were, according to his positive thinking, and if memory serves me correctly, three causes: religious, political and economic. Religious, because inquisitorial thinking had clouded Renaissance creativity; Political, because centralism had annihilated the dynamics of the councils; and economic, because the atavism of the slave trade (from the prey of the Discoveries) had crippled the creative force of the creative cities.
By evoking the poet Antero at the end of a hundred and fifty years, we have to give some context to this generation of seventy who tried, without great success, to renew the cultural life of the nation. Positive thinking, the search for causes with a deterministic process of evaluating its consequences, was dominant in time. Also the theme of Decadence was fashionable. In Literature and History: Fed by a late romanticism aside; and Arnold Tonybee’s March to Progress (civilization) readings. Herculano and Martins undertook to give them relevance.
But let’s go to the signs. From my point of view all the signs are there. The new religion, evoking sustainability, evokes money that does not enter the museum’s cash register, hindering its autonomy, centralizing decision-making and condemning the museum to a vegetative, lethargic state. Unless, of course, it bows to the predatory logics of tourism and the circumstantial power of this time and the agendas of its actors.
Signs in a country that is indignant at the fragmentation of its heritage objects and remains unable to face the great transition that complexity in the world shows us in these times of anger.
PS: Nor will it be surprising the silences of the universities that cultivate critical studies of heritage. There will also be signs…