Brazil’s National Museum Launches Rebuilding Efforts with Temporary Exhibition of Surviving Collection

Stabilization work must be completed before experts can assess extent of damage to museum’s collection of more than 20 million artifacts

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The institution begins the long road to restoration ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s been just over a month since an inferno blazed through Brazil’s 200-year-old National Museum, decimating the historic building and destroying the repository of South America’s cultural heritage housed within its walls. Workers tasked with ensuring the institution’s shelled-out husk is structurally sound began stabilizing the rubble almost two weeks ago, as Reinaldo José Lopes reports for Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo, but the exact fate of the museum’s more than 20 million artifacts will remain unclear until the building is deemed safe and salvage efforts can commence.

Additional efforts to resurrect the beloved institution are already underway: A crowdfunding campaign calling for the resumption of museum-sponsored programs at local schools has raised more than half of its stated goal of 50 million Brazilian Real (~13 million USD). And, Nelson Belen writes for the Rio Times, on Sunday, September 16—exactly two weeks after the fire— staffers set up tents in front of the burned building and invited the public to view a selection of surviving items from the museum’s collection. The Art Newspaper’s Gabriella Angeleti notes that these artifacts, which number around 1.5 million, were housed outside of the museum’s main building, escaping the flames.

“Our goal is to be here every Sunday and maintain this relationship with the population and the public,” museum worker Andrea Costa tells Belen of the Rio Times.

On Sunday, September 23, staffers returned to Rio’s Quinta da Boa Vista park for the Brazilian Institute of Museums-sponsored Vive National Museum Festival, Ana Luiza Albuquerque writes for Folha. Tents scattered across the site featured objects ranging from invertebrate specimens to a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex tooth and a replica of Luzia, an early hominin whose 11,500-year-old skull is the oldest human fossil found in the Americas. The fate of the real Luzia’s remains is still unknown in the wake of the fire.

Regiane Jesus for Brazilian newspaper O Globo reports that museum director Alexander Kellner hopes to erect a more permanent exhibition space outside of the charred structure, while the Rio Times’ Belen adds that the museum plans on setting up a nearby kiosk that will keep the public updated on reconstruction efforts.

Unesco officials estimate that restoration could take roughly 10 years, but Kellner tells Folha’s Júlia Barbon that he believes visitors will be able to return to the museum—at least in some form—within the next three years.

For now, officials are focusing on stabilization efforts, which are supported in part by an 8.9 million Brazilian Real (~2.3 million USD) grant from Brazil’s Ministry of Education. According to Folha’s Lopes, the work is expected to take up to 180 days.

Once the building is safe to enter, authorities and museum staff will begin the task of assessing and rebuilding the devastated collection. Cristina Menegazzi, head of Unesco’s emergency mission for the museum, has outlined a plan forward that involves restoring salvageable artifacts, soliciting donations or loans from other institutions and creating replicas of lost artifacts with the help of photographs or 3D imaging technology, the Associated Press’ Sarah DiLorenzo reports.

Nothing can replace what has been lost, but as museum director Kellner tells Lopes, staffers are doing their best to establish a semblance of normalcy in the wake of the disaster. Amphibian collection curator José Perez Pombal Junior says that researchers are sharing space with colleagues based out of the museum’s library and other buildings untouched by the flames. Graduate classes typically held in the building have continued, with one student successfully defending a doctoral thesis. Museum zoologists have even ventured out into the field in hopes of gathering specimens to replace the destroyed ones.

“We will have a new museum,” Kellner concludes in an interview with Jesus for O Globo, “but it will be another museum—we will never have the lost collection again.”

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