The Venezuelan experience in inventorymaking

The Ley de Protección y Defensa del Patrimonio Cultural (the Venezuelan Law on the Protection and Defence of Cultural Heritage) of 1993 decreed the establishment of an Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural, IPC (Institute of Cultural Heritage, www.ipc.gob.ve). One of the main tasks of this Institute is the inventorying of Venezuelan Cultural Heritage. During a first inventorying exercise, only 610 cultural goods were declared of which 476 were architectural (colonial). The Institute realised then that this did not reflect the wealth and variety of the country’s cultural heritage. The Institute decided therefore in 2003 to start a new inventory project that would aim at reflecting all forms of cultural heritage of all Venezuelan municipalities. In 2005, 68 000 expressions of tangible and intangible heritage had been registered, and the project was expected to be finalised with some 110 000 expressions inventoried.

The new inventory aimed at reflecting those cultural manifestations that are valuable for the communities themselves. By doing so, it rejects the principles previously used of the establishment by a specialist of their exceptional value, and of the appropriation of heritage by society in general through public policies. The final goal of the new inventory was instead to register all the activities, mani - festations, products or cultural expressions that represent and socially characterize each of the Venezuelan communities and groups. The basic inventorying criterion used was the representative character of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage for the communities and groups, including the listing of individuals with distinctive skills that symbolise a collective identity.

Field work started in 2004 through the gathering of information, on municipal basis, by using pre-existing questionnaires, which resulted to be of limited effectiveness as they were neither reflecting the representative principle of the exercise, nor including the right questions for valuing other heritage than monuments or sites. New questionnaires were therefore developed with the idea that one question would lead to the next, leaving enough flexibility to afterwards compile and edit the information gathered. The assessment criterion used for determining the representative character was the need to prove the evidence of a collective valorization of the cultural goods to be registered. Lacking this evidence, the elements were rejected.

The information gathering was organized by workers in the field of culture, students, volunteers and the network of local teachers, which is one of the most extended public networks in the country. The communities were informed about the scopes and purposes of the project and were told that only the information they wanted to provide would be published in the Catálogos del Patrimonio Cultural Venezolano, a series of more than 200 books that presents the results of the inventory in 335 municipalities. Cultural heritage was registered, for each of the municipalities, under five categories: los Objetos (objects), lo Construido (built heritage), la Creación Individual (individual creations), la Tradición Oral (oral traditions) and las Manifestaciones Colectivas (collective manifestations). An editing and publishing team was in charge of bringing the information back to a brief description of each of the elements for practical reasons concerning the publication of the inventory. The rest of the written and audiovisual information is included in digital form in a central database of IPC, with the purpose to make it accessible via internet and other means to the general public. IPC also has the intention to publish a CD with the cultural heritage of each of the Venezuelan administrative regions and a cultural mapping project. The inventory is seen as a main cultural and educational tool to be used in development policies.

From a legal point of view, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Supreme Court) decreed that all cultural heritage that has been duly registered and published in the inventory, is subject of protection by the Law on the Protection and Defence of Cultural Heritage. When allocating financial resources for safeguarding inventoried intangible cultural heritage, priority is given to cultural heritage under threat of disappearing. Today, more than 84 000 cultural expressions have been inventoried and more than 160 Catálogos have been published and are available for free in every cultural, social and educational institution of each municipality.