Volume 13, Number 2, May 1991, pp.18-21, map

Conservation Training in Latin America

by Suzanne Deal Booth

Latin American countries have a tremendously rich and varied cultural heritage, including Precolumbian artifacts and sites; textiles, paintings and polychrome sculpture from the Spanish-Colonial period; as well as contemporary art and architecture. This vast heritage exists in a wide range of environments and conditions, from tropical rain forests in Brazil to the deserts and cold regions of Argentina, Chile and Peru. It is really quite difficult to generalize about the problems and conditions for the artistic and cultural heritage in a region as large and diverse as Latin America; however, some general observations can be made as long as we keep in mind that we are speaking of 21 independent countries spread over approximately 7,000,000 square miles--12% of the earth's land surface.

Many countries in Latin America have well-established policies and institutions that govern the protection of their cultural wealth. During the past twenty years, the protection of cultural property in Latin America has taken great strides, and many regional conservation centers, as well as conservation training programs, have been established. Even with these developments, Latin America's enormous and diverse cultural heritage continues to be in great need of conservation, and increasing demands are being placed on the small yet growing number of professionals in these areas, largely because funds are not always adequate for the pressing conservation tasks at hand.

The countries in Latin America with either national conservation centers or conservation training programs at this time are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Both Mexico and Brazil now each have two independently operating conservation training programs.

In Mexico City, the First Latin American Training Program

In 1961, with the help of UNESCO, the first Latin American conservation training program was set up by Paul Coremans in the Ex-Convento of Churubusco, at the Escuela Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion y Museografia, Mexico City. This program has served as a major training center for this region for the past thirty years, and many of the Latin Americans who trained there have gone on to set up regional or national conservation centers throughout Latin America.[1] The program at the Churubusco center offers conservation training courses at various levels from basic to advanced. The program initially had as its focus the restoration of mural paintings from 16th-century convents; today, it offers specialized training in the conservation of easel paintings, mural paintings, ceramics, polychrome sculpture, graphic documents, textiles and metals.

A Strong Conservation Training Center in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

From my own personal experience, I have found the Centro de Conservacion y Restauracion de Bienes Muebles (CECOR) of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to be one of the strongest centers for the training of conservators in Latin America. CECOR was founded in 1978 and offers courses in the conservation of paintings, polychrome sculpture, paper, and conservation science. A prerequisite to admission is a B.A. degree in a related area.

Two Levels of Conservation Training in Bogota, Colombia

The conservation training program of the Centro Nacional de Restauracion (COLCULTURA), Bogota, Colombia, has been in operation since 1980. They have two regular training programs: the professional program lasts five years and accepts up to twenty new students every two years; the "first aid" course addresses the need to provide training outside of the academic environments. In the "first aid" course, instructors from the National Center in Bogota travel to different regions of the country up to three times a year to offer training to regional caretakers of cultural property.1

Training with a Focus on Latin American Needs in Santiago, Chile

In Chile, conservation specialty training has been operating since 1984 as a joint venture of the School of Fine Arts at the Catholic University of Santiago and the Centro Nacional de Restauracion. This program has developed a "profile" of the conservation professional in Latin America with the aim of turning out much needed qualified conservators. This was one of the first attempts ever at developing a training agenda and curriculum addressing Latin American needs in conservation. Consequently, in recognition of the need to teach science more thoroughly in their conservation training school, an introductory science course is now required of all students prior to taking specialty courses in conservation.2

Lampadia Foundation Conservation Projects in Argentina, Brazil and Chile

Several privately funded organizations are sponsoring projects in the protection of cultural heritage in Latin America. Since 1985, the Lampadia Foundation in Argentina has set up three national foundations in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The overall funding for these three foundations comes from the Lampadia Foundation; however, the work in the three countries is conducted by, and in the name of, the national foundations. The national foundation in Argentina is called Antorchas, and they have set up a conservation laboratory--Tarea--which specifically treats paintings and sculptures from public organizations, churches and museums in Argentina. In 1985, the Fundacion Antorchas helped to finance an inventory of Argentine colonial art conducted by the National Academy of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. The sister organizations in Chile (Fundacion Andes) and in Brazil (Vitae, Apoio a Cultura) also contribute to conservation training possibilities in such ways as providing aid to conservators to attend specialty meetings and courses.3

A New Training Center in Puebla, Mexico

The Mexico Conservation Study Center, Puebla, Mexico, was inaugurated in March 1990 and is the newest training initiative to be established in Latin America. Funded jointly by the Jenkins Foundation and the World Monuments Fund, New York, the Puebla Center has a focus on archaeology and architecture. It will soon start functioning as a center for documentation, training and research in conservation for Mexico and Latin America.

UNDP/UNESCO Efforts Provide More Training for Conservators and Expanded Awareness for Government Officials

Over the past fifteen years, conservation training in Latin America has been greatly encouraged and strengthened by the efforts of the Regional Project for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNESCO, working out of Lima, Peru. The Regional Project for UNDP/UNESCO has focused on providing training opportunities for conservators and specialists already practicing in the field. By working directly with Latin American governments, UNDP/UNESCO has helped to raise the consciousness of local and national officials to the need to preserve their heritage as well as to the importance of conservation.

A 1985 Workshop in Bogota, Colombia Explores Conservation Training in Latin America

The need for conservation training in Latin America was addressed in a November 1985 Workshop on the Evaluation of Training Courses on Conservation of Moveable Cultural Property, held in Bogota, Colombia. The participants in this workshop produced a document summarizing their conclusions and recommendations in 13 points, which were reproduced in Newsletter No. 2 of the ICOM Committee for Conservation Working Group on Training in Conservation and Restoration. They were concerned about the exclusion of courses on the conservation of paper, metals and textiles from the professional training curriculum. At the time of the meeting, these subjects were being only sporadically taught in Latin America as they had yet to be incorporated into the overall teaching curriculum of conservation training programs.4

ICOM Committee on Conservation Summarizes the Workshop's Findings

In 1985, the ICOM Committee on Conservation had several recommendations: a) to involve governments and international organizations in improving the existing training programs; b) to offer more and better short courses for practitioners without formal training; c) to provide an exchange of specialized personnel, professors and consultants among Latin American and Caribbean nations with countries in other parts of the world; and d) to exchange documents and scientific and technical knowledge among centers of conservation, restoration and museology as well as universities and other relevant technical institutions in Latin America.4

Advanced Training Opportunities and Symposia Through UNDP/UNESCO and the GCI in 1987, 1989 and 1990

In 1987, UNDP/UNESCO and the Getty Conservation Institute began a collaboration to provide advanced regional training courses for Latin American conservators. To date, they have co-sponsored courses on the Conservation of Paintings on Canvas, Mexico, (1987) and the Conservation of Polychrome Sculpture, Brazil, (1989). Both courses took place over a nine-week period with instructors from Latin America as well as from the United States and Europe. The aim of this collaboration was to provide training opportunities for conservation professionals in Latin America and also to bring together international experts with regional specialists and conservators.

Further collaboration by the UNDP/UNESCO and the Getty Conservation Institute has included a jointly sponsored International Conference on the Conservation of Precolumbian Textiles held in Arica, Chile in 1990. This symposium brought together textile conservators, curators, researchers, and archaeologists to discuss issues related to the preservation of these important and fragile textiles.

Latin American Conservation Teachers Confer About Curriculum Development

In February 1990, The Getty Conservation Institute sponsored a seminar for Latin American conservation teachers with the aim of providing training for curriculum development in this specialized area. Prior to the seminar being held in Los Angeles, this group of fifteen Latin American conservation instructors visited laboratories and museums throughout the U.S. under the sponsorship of the United States Information Agency (USIA).

Continuing Dialogue and Exchange is Needed

There exists a thirty-year tradition of conservation training in Latin America; however, many Latin American conservators still feel isolated from developments in conservation, due mainly to language barriers and the long distances between countries. Latin American conservators are constantly faced with the challenge to find solutions that are most appropriate to the materials, objects, environmental conditions, and realities of their own countries. Conservation techniques developed in Europe and North America are not always possible to adopt, due to lack of funds, shortage of trained staff and the variable climatic conditions which can be quite different from what is found in Europe and North America.

Since 1985, the standards in conservation and training have changed considerably in Latin America. I believe this is due to the determination of Latin American conservation professionals to improve the level of their training, and in large part to the efforts of various international and national organizations to provide advanced training opportunities. Even though the situation has improved significantly, it should not be overlooked that funding for conservation projects, programs and training remains a critical issue in Latin America. For conservators who would like to learn more or become more involved with Latin American conservation issues, an exchange and professional dialogue--both at the national and international level--is what I feel is needed to bridge the cultural gap.

An overview of conservation centers and training programs in Latin American and the Caribbean is provided in Centros de conservacion y restauracion de bienes muebles en america latina y el caribe1 . This publication presents the results of a study undertaken in 1985 by the UNDP/UNESCO with Colcultura, Bogota, Colombia. Addresses and additional information about training programs in Latin America can be found in the "International Index on Training in Conservation of Cultural Property" published by ICCROM and the Getty Conservation Institute in 1987.

 [Map] There are 21 countries in Latin America, spread over approximately 7 million square miles. The countries in Latin America with national conservation centers or conservation training programs--at this time--are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico Peru and Venezuela


1. "Centros de conservacion y restauracion de bienes muebles en america latina y el caribe." Final Report, ICCROM, Colcultura, and UNDP/UNESCO. Bogota, Colombia, 1988.

2. "The Graduate Conservator in Employment: Expectations and Realities." Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the Working Group on Training in Conservation and Restoration of the ICOM Committee for Conservation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1990.

3. "Training gets International Attention", The Abbey Newsletter, Provo, Utah, Vol. 10, No. 3, June 1986.

4. "Annual Report of the Lampadia Foundation," Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1986.

Additional information can be obtained from these publications

1. International Index on Training, in Conservation of Cultural Property, ICCROM and the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1987.

2. "Museums, heritage and cultural policies in Latin America and the Caribbean", Museum, Unesco, Paris, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, 1982.

Suzanne Deal Booth
208 Adelaide Drive Santa Monica, CA 90402

about the author:
From 1986 to 1990, Suzanne Deal Booth worked at the Getty Conservation Institute as Training Coordinator and organized several conservation education projects in Latin America.

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