Museums in Caracas strained by hyperinflation and power outages

Latin America

Venezuela’s museums are struggling to stay open.

Spiraling hyper-inflation and power outages mean hard choices for people caring for the buildings and the treasures within. CGTN’s Juan Carlos Lamas reports from Caracas.

The grand museums of central Caracas were once a focal point for tourists and residents. It was where art lovers could see up close the works of masters as diverse as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Henry Moore.

And it’s where Venezuela proudly presented the works of home-grown artists like Armando Reverón, the master of light, and kinetic artist Carlos Cruz-Diez.

Now, these museums were suffering from the country-wide economic downturn.

Constant power outages made the temperature and humidity impossible to control. Air conditioners broke down and spare parts couldn’t be found.

“In Venezuela, the first thing you feel when entering a museum is heat. The lights are not the most suitable,” said art restorer Miguel Angel Garcia. “People can touch the art pieces and there is no one who stops them. Thousands of art pieces in Venezuelan museums are dying.”

Taking care of artwork so it can be seen by generations to come was often the work of highly-skilled professionals.

“Most of the personnel at the museums have left,” Museologist Luis Chacin said. “Some pieces have already been destroyed due to poor care, and without qualified art professionals, many more are at risk.”

Four major art museums line one square in central Caracas. Many local visitors said they can’t be concerned about art when they are worried about putting food on the table every day.

“Our lives are destroyed by the economic crisis. I’m no longer eager to visit museums, because I have to line up to buy food,” said pensioner Maria Cols.

But for others, the art in these museums represented an escape from harsh reality.

“Museums are wonderful places to be,” pensioner Luis Vendarien said. “I’ll continue visiting them for years to come.”

The museums charged no entry fee, and there were no plans to change that.

More than 25,000 pieces of art are kept in Caracas’ museums. Most of them are under government administration.

Because of hyperinflation, a year’s operating budget lasted just a few weeks.

Many pieces had been taken off display, exhibition rooms closed, and items put in storage, where is is less expensive to control temperature and humidity.

Out of sight in order to safeguard cultural heritage.