Vernacular and Micro-Museums database – US and Canada

The beta version of micromuseums.site is up. There are some issues with loading on some servers that are still being worked on, but if it appears it should be fully functional.

Explore the project here: https://micromuseums.site.

Project Description

In her book Micromuseology, Dr. Fiona Candlin suggests that micromuseums are “small museums … operating within a nexus of related conditions, namely, low incomes, few staff, and relatively limited physical space.” Micromuseums tend to be the projects of individuals looking for ways to share their passionate interest in collecting with the public; they are often (though not always) dedicated to a single subject, and they are typically small in physical size and audience. Micromuseums in North America range from the Museum of Fear and Wonder in tiny Bergen, Alberta, to Barney Smith’s Decorated Toilet Seat Museum in Texas, and from the parafictional Museum of the Flat Earth on Fogo Island to the tongue-in-cheek Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. Sometimes they employ the familiar tropes of traditional museums, including taxonomically organized collections, clear labelling and didactics, and sophisticated display strategies, but more often they are cluttered and esoterically organized, offering space for the public viewing of objects that might not normally make their way into museum collections. Variously called micromuseums, amateur museums, vernacular museums, do-it-yourself museums, and even wild museums, such collections are, according to Maja Mikula “[e]clectically curated and largely ignored by the mainstream museum sector, [and] sit at the interstices between the nostalgic and the future-oriented, the private and the public, the personal and the communal.” Nonetheless, as Candlin and Mikula note, such collections have much to offer the study of more traditional museums.

This database collects and maps micromuseums in the United States and Canada. It was researched by undergraduate and graduate students in the Museum and Curatorial Studies program at Western University, Canada, and initially completed in 2019. The database is imagined as a starting point for further research and can be explored and freely used (though it should be cited where possible). Additions are always welcome and can be sent to project lead Dr. Kirsty Robertson through the comments feature on the site. The database is part of a larger project to investigate the critical possibilities of tiny and micro-museums.

Project Takeaways

  • As Candlin notes in her book, micromuseums are very difficult to define. Deciding what to include and what not to include in this database was tricky, but generally speaking, collections found here receive little to no public funding, occupy small spaces, are the work of one person or a small group, do not have Boards or other oversight, and do not belong to museum bodies (such as the American Museums Association or ICOM). There are exceptions throughout the database.
  • The database skews heavily towards micromuseums in urban locations with web presence and/or media coverage. Perhaps as interesting as what is included on this website is what escaped our research notice.
  • Micromuseums are extremely ephemeral. The database is never complete, and though we have not yet tracked the effects of the current pandemic on tiny institutions, we expect many will close their doors.
  • Most micromuseums use the title of museum for the authority it confers, but there are others that use the term to re-work authority or to use it against itself (examples include the itinerant Museum of Capitalism and the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in New York City).
  • Commercial pop up museums (such as the Museum of Pizza or the Museum of Ice Cream), also known as Instagram museums, have not been included in this database. While technically they might be considered micromuseums, their main purpose is profit-making or advertising, a distinction that we decided was too great for this particular project.
  • Also, not included are personal collections of Indigenous belongings and remains that were wrongfully acquired. These collections should not have been assembled in the first place and should be returned.

This database includes research conducted by: Stephanie Anderson, Rachel Binder, Helen Gregory, Dayna Obbema, and Jessica Sealey

Design by: Eeva Siivonen

About Kirsty Robertson

Kirsty Robertson is Associate Professor of contemporary art and Director of museum and curatorial studies at Western University, Canada.

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