Seminar on Interventions in Cultural Property Affected by Legal Protection

Seminar_Interventions-LegalEarlier today, I attended a half-day seminar on “Interventions in Cultural Property Affected by Legal Protection,” which covered the legal framework for built heritage protection and the general practice of conservation in Brazil. What I found particularly useful was the presenters’ focus on the challenges that Brazil faces for the present and future. This is my brief attempt to summarize what was presented.

Brazil, like many other Latin American and European countries, is heavily influenced by international conservation doctrine, such as the Venice Charter and the Burra Charter. This is quite different from the United States, where for numerous reasons that are too detailed me to describe here, we decided to “reinvent” the Venice Charter and call it the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Conveniently, in the United States, we usually pretend that nothing much happened in terms of international doctrine after 1964, but I digress.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, all citizens in Brazil have a constitutional right to have their tangible and intangible heritage recognized and protected. In addition — and I find this quite remarkable — all levels of government are also legally obligated to work with communities in the recognition and protection of this heritage. While this is a goal, the presenters expressed concern that this community involvement isn’t happening to a sufficient degree, which is, unfortunately, pretty much the same across the globe.

Brazil doesn’t seem to have many incentives to encourage the conservation of built heritage. Beyond a few, highly competitive grants there doesn’t appear to be much available to private property owners. (I confess I really don’t know the situation on incentives in Brazil very well, so I take the presenters’ claims at face value; unfortunately, there weren’t many particulars offered in these presentations.) The presenters identified this situation as one that very much needs to change in order to balance the punitive approach of laws that form the basis for heritage protection. Speaking of laws, here’s the primary laws that affect built heritage in Brazil in the state of Pernambuco:

  • Federal Constitution of 1988.
  • Federal Law 25 of 1937 that established the “tombamento” or inscription and legal protection of heritage properties and formed the federal agency in charge of heritage protection.
  • Federal Law 9.605 of 1998 that established criminal acts against the environment and culture.
  • Federal Law 8.666 of 1993 that created standards for public bidding, contracts, and administration.
  • State of Pernambuco Resolution T.C. 03 of 2009 that established a special court to address cultural heritage issues.
  • There are also additional laws at the local level in many municipalities.

Unlike in the United States, in Brazil, the federal government, the state government, and local governments can all regulate private property, which means that, for private property owners, the laws protecting built heritage can be very confusing because they tend to overlap. The presenters mentioned that there is very little coordination between these levels of government in terms of heritage protection and management, which is a significant problem that needs to be addressed.

The presenters covered much more material than I’ve summarized, but these areas were particularly poignant and interesting for me. Of all the themes that seems most salient, it was the difficulty in engaging the public in conserving the historic environment. Again, this problem is not unique to Brazil by any means, but it does reinforce the importance of understanding the reasons why this is the case and ways to address the issue. Brazil is in a better position to address this situation that most other countries, however, because of the central position of heritage in the constitution. There are few countries in the world where heritage protection is part of organic law, but where it is, the argument for heritage conservation is already predicated on fundamental grounds.

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