Costume Museum of São Brás de Alportel: a human and cultural heritage to safeguard!

How can a decision, which we believe to be just because of ignorance, call into question a unique heritage at a regional level and a unique work with people? How can an institution like Santa Casa da Misericórdia allow this unrest?

There are times when we cannot remain silent, especially when circumstances require us to act as a civic, conscience and professional ethical imperative. This is one of those moments, when we begin to have concrete signs that the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of the Museum of Costume of São Brás de Alportel may be in danger, as the distinguished and my dear professor at the University of Coimbra warned, José d'Encarnação, in the newspaper “Notícias de São Braz” of 20.07.2021.

The Costume Museum of São Brás de Alportel is, today, a reference at national and international level for the coherent, continuous and consistent path it has been taking over the last two decades, in a very strong connection with the communities, involved in the action and discussion of life of the territory and its inhabitants. It was and continues to be a stage for thinking and creating knowledge about the identity of São Brasenses through the study of the collections it houses.

It is a space for everyone in São Brás, where everyone can meet, an example of which is the model Association of Friends of the Museum, the dream of any museum director! An Association that reflects the multiculturality of the community, as well as responding to its needs, creating relevance and added value in those communities.

Museums are places to color the world, where dialogues are created, they are spaces of tolerance, which promote knowledge to avoid fear of the other. On the other hand, they are safe places to discuss unsafe subjects. Basically, they are places of humanity.

But many museums cannot be and/or dare not be! However, it is not the case of the Costume Museum of São Brás de Alportel that dares to make a difference.

In the context of national museology, we are facing a relevant museum, with life and that starts from the collections, the territory and the people to transform, to think about the present and to be part of the communities and not just the reflection of these communities.

This is the Museum that now seems to be in danger, how is it possible that we have arrived here?… How can a decision, which we believe to be just because of ignorance, call into question a unique heritage at a regional level and a unique work with people? How can an institution like Santa Casa da Misericórdia allow this unrest?

We believe that we still have time to invert this unhappy moment for the Algarve's cultural heritage and to see the São Brás de Alportel Costume Museum's capacity for action strengthened.

The “Museum in Layers” project, implemented between 2013 and 2016, in which I had the honor of participating in some sessions, gave rise to several works by academics published in international scientific journals. This was the turning point in the Museum's work, when it connected itself with greater consistency to research and thought, with very practical consequences in the exhibitions it produced and in the community work that it sublimated.

Today this method of working a museum is a reference for many professionals. From this peripheral, if today being peripheral is not as central as being, a corner of Southern Europe, our Costume Museum of São Brás de Alportel created a methodology for museums around the world.

“Museum for All”, an ongoing work, around a theme that is very dear to me, places accessibility on the museum's agenda and makes it even more inclusive and capable of receiving people with special needs. Some of the readers may think this is a banal or common theme, but look at the Algarve's museology and realize that, once again, we are facing a decision that puts the museum at the forefront in the region.

I've been in the Algarve's museums for 25 years… I know Emanuel Sancho well and with him I took the path of an involved, active, participative and community museology.

Later with him, with José Gameiro, Jorge Queiroz and Idalina Nobre, we created the Algarve Museum Network (2006).

I know your capacity for innovation, work, demand and quality in what you do. It's the people who make the difference and Emanuel Sancho makes the difference! He took the valuable legacy of the Cunha brothers and knew how to respect it, dignify it and work it in a professional, competent and daring way, with always very limited means, but permanently resorting to new solutions to have communication, investigation, inventory, conservation and exhibitions…

So much to say about the know-how of this museum, so much to share the moments (and there were many) of sharing, confronting ideas and growing that I lived (and hope to continue living) in this space.

But the focus now is to be just a clear cry (remembering the great poet António Ramos Rosa) of warning to Santa Casa da Misericórdia in a challenge not to postpone support for the Costume Museum of São Brás de Alportel.

I also challenge the Friends of the Museum, so that they vehemently and firmly exercise their right to citizenship and freedom so that a clear cry is born in defense of your/our Museum.

And, finally, a request for public help to the Municipality of São Brás de Alportel so that it acts with conviction in the defense of its cultural heritage that belongs to everyone, because, in this Museum of Costume of São Brás de Alportel, the heart beats of the various São-Brasenses communities.


Author: Dália Paulo is a Museologist and Cultural Manager, was vice-president of ICOM Portugal from 2017 to 2020