Fire at the Natural History Museum and Botanic Garden, Belo Horizonte

So sad that yet another tragedy hit a university museum in Brazil. This week, a fire at the Natural History Museum and Botanic Garden, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, destroyed part of the collections.

Photo Divulgação COBOM, Brasil.

UMAC sends to our friends in UFMG our condolences and full solidarity. We are also forwarding dozens of messages that are arriving from everywhere in the world to the Museum director, Prof. Mariana Lacerda.

UMAC is working closely with ICOM Brazil and the UFMG Museum Network to accompany the situation and help when we can.



UMAC forwards a message received from Prof. Adriana Vianna, Curator of Anthropology at the Museu Nacional (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), with instructions for the follow up of the fire last Sunday:
Anyone wanting to donate collections: send email to
Anyone who wishes to volunteer: send email to, mentioning VOLUNTARIADO in the subject.
Anyone wanting to send digital photos of collections or archival manuscripts: send email to
All materials found after the fire should be delivered at the Entrance of the Library (Horto Botânico), Monday-Friday, 10-16h.

Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro


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Rossieli Soares da Silva 
Minister of Education 

Sérgio Sá Leitão 
Minister of Culture 

Dear Ministers, Your Excellencies, 

As we saw the collection of the Museu Nacional destroyed in what has already been widely recognized an “announced tragedy”, we are writing to call your attention to the problems of university museums in Brazil, expecting effective action before other “announced tragedies” will take place. 

The Museu Nacional is a university museum, characterized by the “principle of inseparability between teaching, research and extension”, as established in Article 207 of the Brazilian Constitution. In Brazil, there are thousands of university museums, whose collections encompass cultural assets in all areas of the sciences, arts, humanities and technology, as well as invaluable books and manuscripts. 

These museums and their collections preserve “tangible and intangible assets related to higher education institutions and their institutional bodies, as well as to the academic community of professors, researchers and students, and the social and cultural environment that shapes this heritage”(EUROPEAN UNION, 2005). As cultural assets, they must be protected and promoted by the Brazilian State, as shared responsibility with the Union and all entities of the Brazilian Federation, as expressed in articles 23 and 215 of our Constitution. 

Like many university museums, the Museu Nacional is linked to a federal entity, which in turn is subordinate to the Ministry of Education. However, this Ministry does not allocate in its budget dedicated funds for museums, collections or cultural heritage under its responsibility, nor does it have any control over how many museums and cultural heritage is administered on a daily basis by Brazilian universities, not even those belonging to federal institutions, as is the case of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). 

The Ministry of Culture, the Brazilian Institute of Museums (IBRAM) and the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), responsible for the promotion and protection of the Brazilian cultural heritage, do not have specific lines of action for university museums either, which historically have been outside its sphere of action. The budget of the Ministry of Culture barely supports the maintenance of its own operating structures. 

In this dysfunctional scenario, university museums are absolutely invisible. They rely almost exclusively on the internal politics of their university for the allocation of resources essential to their existence. 
Both the Museu National and the smaller university museums all across Brazil are increasingly dependent on project funding. However, firefighting systems and the maintenance of buildings and collections should not be dependent on project funding. Brazil has just seen the sad result of public management anchored exclusively on project funding: the 21 million reais raised by the Museu Nacional through BNDES did not solve the problem of the lack of investment in basic infrastructure and the daily maintenance of institutions. 

It is impossible to manage museums and preserve our cultural heritage only with project funding. How many university museums in Brazil will have to burn, be flooded, stolen from or simply face closure before the scale of their daily tragic situation becomes clear to everyone!? 

In view of the above, the entities and citizens listed below express their solidarity with the Museu Nacional and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and request from Your Excellencies: 

1. Immediate attendance to the emergency demands requested by the direction and technical team of the Museu Nacional, in order to safeguard those parts of the Museum and its collections that were not consumed by the fire; 

2. Creation of a permanent funding program in the annual budget of the Ministry of Education to guarantee direct resources for the maintenance of university museums in federal institutions; 

3. Establishment of a permanent funding program in the annual budget of the Ministry of Culture to support university museums at all administrative levels; 

4. Composition of a permanent institutional structure to support university museums in Brazil, encompassing the government and civil society, both at ministerial level and in federal institutions. 

Hoping that Your Excellencies will support the reconstruction of the National Museum and help avoid further tragedies in Brazilian university museums, we the undersigned: 

Network of Teachers and Researchers in Museology 
Brazilian Permanent Forum of University Museums 
Brazilian Network of University Collections and Museums 

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Devastating Fire at the Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro


Yesterday, a huge fire broke out at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. Those of you who participated in the ICOM-UMAC 2013 in Rio may remember the Museum’s beautiful building, situated in the middle of a city park.

The Museu Nacional is a university museum, part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It is the oldest museum in Brazil, created in 1818. It hosts one of the largest scientific collections in the world, comprising c. 20 million specimens and artefacts of natural history, anthropology, archaeology, as well as historical archives and libraries.

At this point, the full extent of the destruction remains unknown and so does the cause of the fire. Fortunately, there were no victims. UMAC hopes at least part of the collections have been saved.

There is certainly a need for a full investigation, debate and answers, but for now, this is already one of the largest catastrophes in museum history anywhere in the world. It is most important to recognize the significance of this enormous tragedy and irreplaceable loss for science, education and culture, in Brazil and the world, and to demonstrate solidarity and support to our colleagues at the Museu Nacional.

Presently, UMAC is exploring possibilities of expressing our support in more tangible ways. Meanwhile, we are compiling all supporting messages arriving from all over the world. In due time, we will forward them to the Director of Museu Nacional and to the administration of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Marta C. Lourenço, University of Lisbon

UMAC-ICOM President

Lisbon 3 September 2018

See also ICOM Statement (3 September 2018) on this tragedy.