Protest against Guggenheim in Rio de Janeiro

June 2003 -

Fighting poverty is more important than art. Residents of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are protesting the arrival of a Guggenheim museum.

Mayor Cesar Maia has concluded an agreement with the Guggenheim Foundation in New York to open an annex of the world-famous museum in its city. There are already sites in Las Vegas, Berlin, Venice and Bilbao. Maia has set aside 250 million dollars for the project; 130 million dollars of this is for the building, and thirty million dollars are for the license rights. For this amount Rio will be given access to the expertise and the collections of the foundation and its partners: the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna. The largest part of the museum is set aside for international contemporary art. The mayor says the funds have already been set aside.

Critics believe that the money must be spent on fighting the extraordinary level of poverty in the city. Twenty-five percent of the residents have no running water; thousands of children live on the street. Schools and hospitals are needed. Others fear for the continued survival of established cultural institutions in the city. The costs for the museum, which are reported to be four times the annual budget of the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, could have negative consequences for the flow of subsidies to existing institutions.

Mayor Maia sees the project as an investment in his city. The museum is supposed to breathe new life into the dilapidated harbour district. He expects that the museum will attract one million visitors per year. The annex in the Spanish Bilbao has created an enormous number of tourists for the city. However, the Guggenheim site in Las Vegas had to close its doors due to lack of interest.

At the insistence of opponents, a Brazilian judge has declared the building contract between the mayor and the Guggenheim Foundation null and void for the time being.