Mapping Brazil - Heritage

The 2015 update on heritage in Brazil – by Mariângela Castro
Olinda and Recife


Cultural heritage in Brazil and sustainable development: challenges for the twenty-first century
At the international expert meeting on World Heritage and Sustainable Development organised in partnership with the Unesco World Heritage Centre in Ouro Preto in February 2012, the Brazilian Institute of National Artistic and Historic Heritage (Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional, IPHAN), a federal entity under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture with responsibility for preserving the different elements that constitute Brazilian society and the mission of promoting and coordinating the conservation of the nation’s cultural heritage, presented some important considerations about the pressing need to incorporate the conservation and safeguarding of such heritage with sustainable development policies.

For IPHAN, understanding the relationship between heritage and sustainable development is the key to designing cultural heritage protection policies that are effective, meaning that they are capable of simultaneously preserving the past and building the future.

Unlike in other countries, the heritage protection policy in Brazil, which began 78 years ago with the creation of IPHAN (13/01/1937), was formulated by modern intellectuals unencumbered by romanticised ideas of the past, who operated on the principle that it was indeed possible to conciliate preserving the past with building the future.

This should be, and indeed has been, the most basic assumption when formulating and implementing cultural heritage policies and a watchword for effective preservation policies, underpinning sustainable development as a whole with a view to improving the quality of life and wellbeing of society.

Conserving cultural heritage and the environment is fundamental for sustainable development; indeed, it is just as important as human development indices and economic growth for promoting social wellbeing. Culture has a crucial role in preserving the memory and identity of peoples.

In June 2012, Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). It was held with the aim of forging global agreements capable of controlling and reducing different forms of pollution and the degradation of natural and cultural resources and adopting development principles and procedures that would assure current and future generations the right to a sustainable and productive life in harmony with the natural environment.

Transversality is one of the key principles that guide preservation initiatives taken in Brazil. Through it, different interpretations of the country, with its diverse natural and cultural features, are combined to produce more complex, multiple approaches. In the tangible dimension of cultural heritage, the scope of preservation work has expanded to take in a broader range of heritage of different scales, like cultural landscapes and cultural itineraries, while in the intangible dimensions of heritage significant progress has been made, such as in the recording, safeguarding and spread of knowledge, festivities, forms of expression and places that encapsulate the nation’s culture in its many manifestations.

Today, the issue of heritage preservation in Brazil is not only broader, but it also focuses more directly on the diverse identities that constitute the most vulnerable groups in society. Since 1988 the Brazilian Constitution has defined cultural heritage from the perspective of its forms of expression; the ways it is created, made and experienced, including scientific, artistic and technological creations; the works, objects, documents, buildings and other spaces designed for artistic and cultural manifestations; and urban settings and sites of historical, landscape, artistic, archaeological, paleontological, ecological and scientific value. Basically, recognition of the existence of cultural heritage of a tangible and intangible nature.

Preserving memory so that future generations can find out about their history is the mission of IPHAN and many other heritage protection entities at state and municipal level, as well as non-governmental organisations. This institutional arrangement is consistent with the values of sustainable development because of its forward-looking perspective. It is impossible for a heritage protection policy to be sustainable without linking up with other public policies, seeing cultural heritage as part of the economy and adopting the principles of sustainable development; a commitment that goes beyond merely preserving and safeguarding this heritage to encompass improving education, increasing income and employment, promoting social progress, and enhancing living standards and human rights.

Much has been done by different tiers of government to provide technical and financial assistance in this area. The work on the ground is rolled out by organisations and institutions devoted to heritage preservation with the assistance of specialist researchers and technicians and the involvement of organised civil society.

Basically, the local, regional and national recognition and management of cultural heritage will only succeed if it is linked to sustainable development, and for this to happen it must be on the government’s agenda, influencing the strategic thinking and actions of public and private sector players alike.

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