Friday 7 June 2-6pm

Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, London

Composite of a Tibetan monastery museum display; the sign for the Gopher Hole museum, and the entrance to the museum of sexual diversity in Sao Paolo

During the late twentieth century there was a massive rise in the numbers of museums across the world. In the main, these new museums were small, independent and addressed non-traditional subjects. However, very little is known about the differences and commonalities in museum development in a global context. In this half-day symposium, specialists on Brazilian, British, Canadian, Tibetan, and Kenyan museums will explore the various factors that underpinned museum expansion in specific countries or regions. We will ask: what forms did the new museums take, who founded them, for what reasons, and with what effects?

Book your place:


Lianne McTavish: From Gophers to Fear and Wonder: Studying the Small Town and Rural Museums in Alberta, Canada

Louise Tythacott: The Buddhist Museums Boom

Bruno Brulon Soares: Community museums of the 21st century in Brazil: local experiences for a global reflection

Fiona Candlin: Village Life, the Cold War, and the Beeching Cuts: Opening museums in the UK

To be followed by a round-table discussion.

Chair: Annie Coombes


Lianne McTavish: From Gophers to Fear and Wonder: Studying the Small Town and Rural Museums in Alberta, Canada

In 2013, I received funding to visit and analyze the small town and rural museums in Alberta, a province in western Canada. My research assistant (Misa Nikolic) and I first strove to find and map every museum in the province, a difficult task that eventually revealed 315 organizations. We then visited, photographed, and documented over 71% of those museums, highlighting the small and officially “unrecognized” museums in remote locations. My talk will describe the challenges we faced, the adventures we had, and the lessons we learned during this process, highlighting such themes as automobility, resource extraction, and Indigenous cultures.

Louise Tythacott: The Buddhist Museums Boom

Over the past decades, Ladakh in northwest India has experienced a museum boom with the creation of exhibitionary spaces in many of the key Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. These small monastery museums have been established for a range of reasons – protection, security, education, as well as to make money by attracting the increasing numbers of both domestic and international tourists. This paper will explore the role, purpose and functions of these small museums, drawing on interviews undertaken in 2017 with Buddhist practitioners and museum caretakers in Chemre, Hemis, Likir, Matho, Phyang, Shey, Stakna and Thikse monasteries.

Bruno Brulon Soares: Community museums of the 21st century in Brazil: local experiences for a global reflection

Community museums have transformed contemporary museum practice. In management their own museums, members of communities who are not experts or museum professionals have been able to represent themselves, and to work together to transform their social environment and lived realities. This presentation takes the Museum of Removals in Rio de Janeiro and the Museum of Sexual Diversity in São Paulo as examples of small community museums that have been actively used as political devices.


Fiona Candlin: Village Life, the Cold War, and the Beeching Cuts: Opening museums in the UK

How and why do people found museums? During the late twentieth century the number of museums in the UK tripled. Most of these new museums were small, independent, and they generally focused on highly specific or localised histories. It is not clear why so many museums of this type opened. In this lecture, Fiona Candlin will draw on work in progress from the Mapping Museums project to provide some explanations.



Bruno Brulon Soares is a Brazilian museologist and historian, with a PhD. in Anthropology, and currently Professor of Museology in the Department of Museological Studies and Processes – DEPM, at Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro – UNRIO (Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro – UNIRIO), in Brazil. He is the coordinator of the Research Group Experimental Museology and Image – MEI and the Laboratory of Experimental Museology at UNIRIO. From 2013 to 2019 he is Vice-chair of the International committee for Museology – ICOFOM, of ICOM.

Fiona Candlin is Professor of Museology in the History of Art department at Birkbeck, University of London, and the Principal Investigator on a large scale research project entitled ‘Mapping Museums: The history and geography of the UK independent sector 1960-2020’. She has published widely on various aspects of museums, particularly on the history, curation, and architecture of small independent museums. She co-edited The Object Reader (Routledge 2009) with Raiford Guins, and is the author of Art, Museums, and Touch (Manchester 2010) and Micromuseology: An analysis of small independent museums (Bloomsbury 2015). Her current writing retains an emphasis on grass roots venues and additionally focuses on definitions of museums and data collection within the museum sector.

Lianne McTavish is Professor of the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, Canada. She specializes in early modern visual culture, the history of the body, and critical museum theory. Her research is funded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, among other sources. McTavish’s publications include Defining the Modern Museum (2013), and articles stemming from recent research on small museums in Alberta ( McTavish also curates exhibitions of contemporary art on themes ranging from the body to natural history and medical imaging.

Louise Tythacott is Pratapaditya Pal Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at SOAS. Her research focuses on the collecting and display of non-Western artefacts, and she has particular interests in the representation of Buddhist and Chinese art in museums. Her books include, The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Berghahn, 2011), Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches (Ashgate, 2014) and Collecting and Displaying China’s “Summer Palace” in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France (Routledge, 2018).

Professor Annie E. Coombes is Founding Director of the Peltz Gallery and Professor of Material and Visual Culture in the Department of History of Art, Birkbeck, University of London. Coombes is a cultural historian specializing in the history and visual culture of British colonialism and its legacy in the present, particularly in Africa. She has produced key publications that investigate contemporary state and community-led memorial projects and museum approaches to this violent and controversial legacy, including: Managing Heritage, Making Peace: History, Identity and Memory in Contemporary Kenya (with L. Hughes and Karega-Munene) (2013) which analysed the growth of community-led small museums in Kenya via the Community Peace Museums Heritage Foundation at a time when the concept of national ‘heritage’ was being redefined in Kenya; History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (2003) and Museum Transformations (co-edited with Ruth B. Philips, 2015).