The Museum Watch Program of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) released a grave statement this morning expressing concern over the future of cultural institutions in Mexico. Citing “draconian austerity measures” in the sector as well as the precarious situation of many cultural workers across the country, CIMAM is urging the current administration to take immediate steps to preserve its museums.
“CIMAM is deeply concerned that the actions of the current government in Mexico will lead to the destruction of these important cultural institutions,” the statement says.
Mexican public museums rely entirely upon state support, CIMAM notes. “This position may on the surface be one that many museum professionals would envy as an alternative to the neoliberal model that has become dominant within international museums, however in Mexico it might now become a recipe for disaster,” the statement reads.
The message is the latest in a series of increasingly urgent alarm bells warning about the decline of Mexican institutions. Earlier this year, thousands of artists and cultural workers signed a letter imploring the current administration to include museums in its COVID-19 relief packages. They also asked that funds designated for the ambitious revamping of Mexico City’s Bosque de Chapultepec park, including a new contemporary art center designed by artist Gabriel Orozco, be reallocated to serve existing and struggling organizations.
In May 2019, under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the arts sector saw cuts of up to 50% in funding for activities such as exhibitions, CIMAM notes. Regional museums funded by federal support cultural programs have suffered budget cuts of 76.53% since 2018. This year, a presidential decree capped 75% of the operating budgets of public museums funded by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL), which oversees Mexico’s major arts centers.
“Despite these devastating cuts in funding to museums a budget of $175 million has been assigned to the new Chapultepec Forest development which has been identified as a national priority,” CIMAM says.
When López Obrador ascended to power in 2018, many held hope that his populist coalition would provide some relief to the long-strained arts ecosystem. His National Regeneration Movement — which united the country’s left-wing Labor Party and the right-wing Social Encounter Party — campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption and support for Mexico’s Indigenous community, among the country’s poorest, and seemed poised to recognize the value of culture.
But the present state of institutions “reveals a more complex and worrying picture,” CIMAM says. In addition to the emaciated budgets of museums, the organization warns of the vulnerable conditions of arts workers, many of whom are hired on a temporary basis, a designation known as Capítulo 3000.
“This status denies them appropriate labour rights and healthcare, fundamental rights at any time but of critical importance during this pandemic,” CIMAM says.
Founded in 1962 and headquartered in Barcelona, CIMAM is an affiliate of the International Council of Museums, a network of more than 35,000 museum professionals and members of the global museum community. Its Museum Watch Program was formed in 2012 to bring awareness to museums and collections in critical situations, especially those threatened by economic and political turmoil.
The statement published today is accompanied by a letter from the Museum Watch Committee and Mami Kataoka, president of CIMAM, addressed to Mexican Secretary of Culture Alejandra Frausto Guerrero sent this morning.
“In writing to you we also recognise the invaluable cultural contribution that these institutions provide not only to the city of Mexico and its people but to the country as a whole, and to communities and museums around the world,” Kataoka and the committee write. If the government does not restore funding to previous levels, they add, “museums will not be able to survive creating irreparable loss to Mexico and its citizens.”