By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Museu da Maré, a well known museum and cultural center located in Rio’s Complexo da Maré favela, faces possible closure on December 9th and community members joined by supporters from around the world are rallying to save it.
Well known throughout the city and internationally, the Museu da Maré was established in 2006. The museum is located in Complexo da Maré, a group of favelas in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone). Home to over 140,000 residents, the area, although occupied by Military forces since April 5th, is the site of frequent distrubances including shootouts between traffickers and police.
The museum was created in an effort to draw attention and energy away from that violence and to give residents a sense a pride in their culture, heritage and location. In addition to regularly hosting installations and workshops, the Museu da Maré tells the story of the community with over five thousand historical photos of the area, its inhabitants and their lives, as well as, housing some of the residents’ belongings and personal testimonials.
The space for the museum was originally granted by contract and lent to the museum for ten years. When that contract expired at the end of last year, The Libra Group, owners of the building, stated there was no shareholder interest in contract renewal. They then gave the museum until December 9th to evacuate the premises.
“The company that owns the space wants it back, they want us to clean out the place in three months and give it back, as if peoples’ lives could be cleaned out like that,” Antônio Vieira, the director of Museu da Maré, said during the Museums Association Conference held in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, earlier this month. “There’s a big movement in the community and we’re in that fight at the moment. People are coming forward to help us fight and keep our home.”
The community organized the “Museu da Maré Resiste!” (Maré Museum Resists) movement. Calling for action on social networks with hastags including; #sosmuseudamare and #maréresiste and #museuresiste, the group also started three online petitions on Panela de Pressão do Meu Rio, Petição Pública and Avaaz.org.
Offering one possible solution to the impending closure, the Avaaz.org petition calls on the Ministry of Culture, the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro and the government of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro, to expropriate the property and transfer it to Museu da Maré.
In addition to the actions on social networks and petitions, on October 18th, the group held a day of activities and marched along Avenida Brasil in protest of the museum’s closure.
Maria José Correia, a forty-year-old mother and Complexo do Maré resident told Agência Brasil during the protest; “I came because my little daughter takes ballet and hip hop classes here and they are the greatest. It is important because the children, instead of staying on the street, are here, where they have several activities. I think it’s important for the community. Closing would be bad because everything here is going to end, there’s a lot.”
Support is also coming from outside of the community. Pedro Rebelo, a sound artist and Professor of Sonic Arts at Queen’s University Belfast’s Sonic Arts Research Centre who initiated and curated the participative sonic arts project ‘Som da Maré‘ at Museu da Maré from May through June of this year, told The Rio Times; “It was a remarkable discovery to closely work with the museum. I think it is clear for anyone visiting, that this is an arts organization rooted in the community and at the same time producing work recognized internationally.”
“The museum’s permanent exhibition addressing the history of Maré is extremely thoughtful and carefully curated demonstrating how a local museum can produce the highest quality work,” Rebelo continued. “Having worked at the museum for a period of six months I witnessed the rich collaborative environment that is established through regular workshops, visits, education activities […] I think it is important to continue to articulate the relevance of the museum for the community and the quality of work that it represents in an time of transition for Maré and to negotiate a model that can be sustainable for the future.”
Currently the museum will continue its programming but its future remains uncertain. “There are some communities and some community institutions that are key symbols, and this is one of those institutions,” Theresa Williamson, Executive Director of the non-profit organization (NGO) Catalytic Communities (CatComm) told The Rio Times. “If they go down it means anyone can go down. If an institution with that sort of recognition and quality work goes down… no one can be spared.”
See the official website here, for more information about Museu da Maré.