René Rivard

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René Rivard
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Born (1941-07-30) July 30, 1941 (age 82)
NationalityQuebec and Canadian

René Rivard is a Quebec and Canadian museologist. In 1970, he was appointed superintendent of the National Historic Sites Service for Ontario and Quebec, and in 1973, he was promoted to director of the Interpretation and Exhibition Production Service at Parks Canada in Quebec. In 1980, he became a consultant in the design and development of museums and heritage sites, first under the Muséart banner, before creating in 1987 the agency Cultura bureau d'études. A UNESCO consultant in several African countries from 1978 to 1985, he was often associated with the development of new museology in Quebec and abroad. On the advice of his mentor, the eminent French museologist Georges Henri Rivière, he helped found several ecomuseums[1].

Short biography

René Rivard was born in Victoriaville[2], a small town[3],[4] in Bois-Francs, Quebec, on July 30, 1941, as the eldest of seven children. After his primary and secondary studies, he completed a High School in Chicago, before sailing to Italy in 1958 where he completed his Liceo at the Collegio degli Scozzezi in Rome. He then went to California and studied for a year at Claretville College, in Los Angeles. Returning to Quebec, he completed his classical course at the Collège de Victoriaville in 1963, which earned him a BA from Laval University in Quebec City. After a few jobs in his home region, he was appointed director of the Canada Manpower Centre in Chandler, Gaspé, in 1968. Two years later, he was promoted to National Historic Sites Service superintendent for Quebec« and Ontario. Thus began his career in heritage.

In 1973, the National Historic Sites Service was combined with the National Parks Service as Parks Canada[5]. There he was promoted to director of the new Interpretation & Exhibition Design, for Quebec. There, with his team of creators, planners, and designers, he developed new practices in interpretation productions, which he later called the "museology of subjects"[6]. Thus began his career in museology because these new methods gave a strong impetus to the «museology of objects» previously practiced in Quebec museums. In 1978, UNESCO entrusted him with a first consultancy mission to Cameroon for the establishment of its National Museum. He did about ten others until 1985, working in Niger, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, Algeria, Kinshasa, and Tunisia. He left Parks Canada in 1980 to become self-employed and a heritage and museum development consultant. He founded a first agency called Muséart, then another in 1985 with a few colleagues, which actively participated in the development of the methodology and programming of the exhibitions of the future Musée de la civilisation in Québec. In September 1987, with his two partners Paule Renaud and Joanne Blanchet, he created Cultura bureau d’études, an agency still active today and of which he has been the general manager since its very beginning.

Over the course of his 50-year career in heritage and museology, René Rivard has helped create, develop, or renovate some 270 museums, interpretation centres, and historic and heritage sites. He directed more than 75 thematic exhibitions, mostly permanent, gave nearly a hundred lectures and workshops, and published a dozen books and more than 50 articles, most of them in specialized journals. On the other hand, he provided numerous courses at the university, college, and professional levels, in addition to being involved in more than a dozen associations and organizations, national and international.


• In December 2021, René Rivard was awarded the Ordre du fier monde for his services at the Écomusée du fier monde, a Montréal ecomuseum[7].

• In 2003, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for his contributions to the Canadian museum world.

• In 2012, he also received her Diamond Jubilee Medal for the same reason.

• In 2002, he was recognized as a Fellow of the Canadian Museums Association (CMA-AMC).

• In 2000, he was awarded the International Career Award by ICOM-Canada, the Canadian chapter of the International Council of Museums.

• In 1996, the Société des musées du Québec (SMQ) honoured him with its Career Award.

• In 1990, the Association québécoise des interprètes du patrimoine (AQIP), of which he was a founding member, awarded him its Prix Mérite.

• He was also honoured by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-Canada) in 1996, the Brazilian Government at the 1992 Earth Summit, the International Movement for the New Museology (MINOM) of which he was one of the founders and the Ak-Chin First Nation of Arizona in 2001 for the creation of its Him Dak ecomuseum.

New museology

In his career as a museologist, René Rivard witnessed the evolution of museology and visited several cultural institutions around the world where new museology was taking shape. He also participated in many projects where neo-museological practices were implemented, where approaches were experienced and sometimes endorsed.

It must be said that in the early 1970s, in the face of many criticisms described as a crisis by some museologists[8], the museum world was exploring new avenues for recovery in several places around the world. Innovative experiments are being tried simultaneously in France with the development of ecomuseums under the impetus of Georges Henri Rivière (GHR) and Hugues de Varine, and in the United States with neighbourhood museums such as those of Anacostia in Washington, founded by John Kinard, and El Museo del Barrio in New York. Other ecomuseum experiments such as the Casa del Museo initiated in the suburbs of Mexico City will give from the 1980s hundreds, even thousands of comunitarios and escolares museos today scattered in all the States of Mexico[9].

This is also the case in Sweden, where, thanks to the Riksutställningar (National Exhibition Centre), a Community Museology has emerged, developing an avant-garde museography and a range of interactive or travelling thematic exhibitions on revealing and engaging social issues[10]. In the Iberian Peninsula, various museums and avant-garde heritage interventions have also been developed, such as in Molinos, Teruel in Spain, and Portimao[11], Mertola[12] and Alcobaças in Portugal.

In South America, Brazil stands out with several museum initiatives conducted in the favelas of Rio and others, or with the Museum of Images of the Unconscious[13] in psychiatric hospitals. In Africa, more specifically in Niger, where as early as the 1960s, under the impetus of the wife of President Boubou Hama, a disciple of GHR, the new museology was already asserting itself with the development of polyform, identity and inclusiveness of the National Museum of Niger, in Niamey[14].All these experiences increasingly asserted that the museum can and must play a role not only in the conservation and presentation of material witnesses of artistic, historical and natural heritage but also be active at the social level, from the quest for identity to the development of the society it serves. These museum initiatives were often the result of social or cooperative movements combining the will of some curators to make their museums more socially useful, to satisfy the desire of certain individuals and groups to learn more about their heritage and their environment and to participate in their collective development. This context has enabled the implementation of initiatives and tools for “new museology,” a museum approach that aims to facilitate the relationship between museums and society.

As early as the 1980s, Quebec became a centre of new museology with the creation of a dozen ecomuseums, including those of the Haute-Beauce and the Fier monde in Montreal, which proved to be an experience that still attracts the attention of museologists today. Here is «Le chant du pays» written by the creators of the Écomusée de la Haute-Beauce: "The song of the country is like words of love. It is not given to all to free themselves in order to fully express what they feel in front of the other. The «organic ecomuseum» possesses this rare virtue of allowing modesty and inhibitions to be transgressed. The affectionate learning of the country and of the people who live in it through various forms of interpretation is translated into the poetic evocation of sublime feelings, and silences that speak. The song of the country, reflecting a deep knowledge of the land, is one of the epitomes of the ecomuseum, all too often judged by the success of its formulations[15]."

It was in this vein that René Rivard published his first essay in 1984: Que le musée s’ouvre…, the result of research carried out in Quebec and Canada, in several European countries, in the United States, in Latin America and in Africa, especially in Niger. This book was published in English the following year under the title Opening up the Museum… Towards new museology: ecomuseums and "open" museums, and it was distributed to all Aboriginal communities in Canada by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and around the world.

In 1983-84, he took an active part in the creation of MINOM, the "Mouvement international pour la nouvelle muséologie", and in the holding of its first international workshops, first in Quebec and then in Portugal, Norway, Spain, and France. The Quebec Declaration signed in 1984 by all the participants of the first MINOM Workshop held in Montreal, Quebec and the Haute-Beauce, in a way continues the work of the Santiago de Chile Round Table, in 1972, moving from the concept of the “museo integral” to that of the “new museology” itself.

"Muselogy of ideas, of issues, challenges, and debates"

At the turn of the 2000s, a reflection is unfolding in some museum environments that push still further the "museology of subjects" that had developed during the 1980s-1990, thanks to the contribution of open heritage interpretation practices developed by the team led by René Rivard at Parks Canada in the mid-1970s. In April 2004, with a sustained observation of museums around the world, he and his associate Paule Renaud presented the new name “museology of ideas”[16] to the delegates of the Canadian Museums Association gathered in Quebec City.[17] to designate the new discourses of some museums at the forefront of social museology.

In their essay on definition, they pointed out that the "museology of ideas" does not start from material or intangible heritage, that it does not find its roots, nor its motivation in the "museology of objects", nor of "subjects". Rather, it is based on collective societal values and ideas, not those of particular groups. These societal ideas, without consensus, are already in the public square where they are the subject of speeches and discussions and presentations other than museums, whether on television, radio, books, newspapers, the Internet, or social networks. It covers the presentation by museums of engaging questions about racism, gender equality, homophobia, inclusion, various human rights, the threats of war conflicts and climate change, etc.

Examples of this new dimension of social museology are the Labour Museum in Noorköping, Sweden, the Tolerance Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum on the Seam on Jerusalem Border, the Nibelungen Museum in Worms, Germany, museums of memory such as the Memorial for Peace in Caen, France, the Holocaust Museums in New York, Montreal, Washington, Berlin, the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem and the Shoah Museum in Paris, the Musée de la Resistance et de la Deportation in Grenoble, the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, as well as several of the museums grouped under the heading of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience17: District Six Museum, in South Africa, Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York, The Work House in England, Memoria Abierta in Buenos Aires, the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, Gorée Island, Senegal, and some 350 other institutions in 65 countries.

Evolution and Influence

Anne Castelas, a museologist specializing in the history of those involved in museology in Quebec, condenses the professional life of René Rivard: "René, you are in a way a summary of the history of Quebec museology because you have been in the last half-century in all the movements that have made it evolve towards what it is today. Your journey has allowed you to conceive and popularize the flow of museum interpretation from the “school” that you directed at Parks Canada. It made you join and participate in the vast international movement «Ecomuseums and New Museology» to become one of its great promoters. It also allowed you to develop with creative designers avant-garde exhibit design... Your career inspired the museology of Quebec and even of France with many ideas for modernization and professionalization. Your evolution from interpretation to new museology remains the key to better understanding your background and appreciating your influence. I am not making this up, I am just interpreting your story[18]."

Through his work abroad, René Rivard had a definite influence on museum practices not only in Quebec but also in other Canadian provinces, especially Nova Scotia, not to mention Nunavik Quebec. For more than 35 years, he left his mark in several countries, notably in France where he carried out some 85 projects, interventions, and training, in Sweden where he carried out more than twenty interventions, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where he provided extensive training on Museums and the Environment to trainees at the UNESCO Training Centre in Niamey, Niger, and to staff at archaeological sites in Tunisia. He has also participated in a dozen major African museum projects, including two in Egypt, one in Cameroon, one in Burkina Faso and another in Rwanda.

Some 65 thematic exhibitions by René Rivard and his collaborators in Quebec, Vermont, New Brunswick, France, Antigua, La Guadeloupe, and Sweden certainly influenced museum and museum practices in these environments. His influence was also felt at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he acted as an advisor for the development of an experimental ecomuseum project in a southwestern American indigenous community, the Ak-Chin First Nation. The institution also selected him for training on new museum and ecomuseum practices that he gave in Chicago, Tucson, Arizona, Indianapolis, and New Mexico.

Presented at the Écomusée du fier monde in Montreal from November 2021 to April 2022, the exhibition Un homme, une vision, des musées – René Rivard et la nouvelle muséologie[19] was a concrete and public tribute to his 50-year career. Coinciding with the publication of his life story and professional assessment in December 2021, the exhibition presented him in his career, ranging from the evolution of the “museology of subjects” in his museum and heritage interventions to the “museology of ideas, social issues…” throughout North America, France, and Scandinavia, as well as Africa and South America, hence his influence on Quebec’s museum practices and elsewhere in the world where he worked. The exhibition’s curator Paule Renaud presented the journey of a man who has made the preservation and enhancement of human heritage the work of his life. But beyond the 200 or so museums he helped build, and the incalculable wealth he worked to preserve, it is the deeply human aspect of René Rivard’s career that is at the heart of the exhibition. The experience of a man who has never feared to go out to discover the unknown, to expose himself to the difference and to put his knowledge at the service of communities and people around the world, united by their love for their roots and their desire to keep their history alive[20]."



René Rivard: Opening Up the Museum. 2015, new edition in English, reviewed, commented, and illustrated 30 years after the 1st publication in 1984. Éditions Cultura, Montréal. 141 p.


René Rivard, Glenn Sutter, Tobias Sperlich, Douglas Worts, Lynne Teather: "Fostering Cultures of Sustainability through Community-Engaged Museums: The History and Re-Emergence of Ecomuseums in Canada and the USA", 2016, in Saskatchewan Sustainability, vol. 8, 1310, on Website

René Rivard: "Museums and Changing Cultural Landscapes", 2016, 4th Alma S. Wittlin Memorial Lecture, published in ICOM Memorial Lectures 2016 Reader, 24th General Conference of ICOM in Milan, Italy, ICOM-Austria, Vienna

René Rivard: “The State of Museums in Canada.” 2016, submission to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Government of Canada, and published in its report Moving Forward – Building a Stronger Canadian Museum Sector, September 2018

René Rivard: "Museums Hoist their New Colors", 1999, published in 29 languages and braille The UNESCO Courier, February 1999. pp. 40-42

René Rivard: "Ecomuseu: a experiência americana", 1992, published in Portuguese in Acts, 1st International Ecomuseums Conference, Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 22 p.

René Rivard: "Opening Up the Museum", 1990, published in The Source Book, American Association of Museums, Washington DC, pp. 27-47, for its Congress of Ideas held in Chicago, May 1990, with a presentation titled The Ecomuseum Way.

René Rivard : "Museums and Ecomuseums : Questions and Answers". 1988, text adapted from Opening Up the Museum and published in Økomuseumnoka – identitet, øcokologi, deltakelse, ICOM-Norway. pp.123-128

René Rivard: "Ecomuseums in Quebec", 1985, in MUSEUM, Unesco, no 148, pp. 202-205, also in French and Spanish, re-published in the last number of MUSEUM International, no 212/4. pp.19-22. See Ecomuseums in Quebec - UNESCO Bibliothèque Numérique.


  1. Montpetit, Raymond. "Une muséologie québécoise dynamique et d'aujourd'hui : favoriser l'appropriation des collections par les publics de maintenant" (PDF).
  2. "In 1941, the population de Victoriaville was 8,516 souls".
  3. "A strong proportion of men worked in furniture factories. Victoriaville was then considered the Furniture Capital of Canada: Noël Bolduc" (PDF).
  4. "Women worked in the clothing industry specialized in men's suits and apparels: Monique T. Giroux" (PDF).
  5. Department of Indian & Indian Affairs: Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1973-1974. Information Canada, Ottawa, 1974. Catalogue no R1–1974. Publication AINC, No QS-3148-000-BB-A 1, page 6.
  6. René Rivard, Paule Renaud: Objets et non-objets : nouvelle muséologie et développement culturel en action. 1994. A communication at the Seminar L'objet contemporain held at Musée de la civilisation, Quebec, March 14-15 1994, published in Actes du séminaire L'objet contemporain.
  7. "Ordre du fier monde".
  8. Bazin Germain: "Crise de l’institution muséologique", in Germain Bazin, André Desvallées, Raymonde Moulin, « Muséologie », Encyclopædia Universalis [online], accessed May 13, 2023.
  9. In 1979, Hugues de Varine defined the difference between the traditional museum and the community museum [or ecomuseum...] by the opposition of three terms: "The museum, beyond scholarly definitions, was and still is: a building plus a collection plus an audience. What is the reality of these three elements and especially what will happen to museums in the coming decades? [...] The museum building is replaced by a territory, which is the well-defined territory of a community. [...] The collection consists of everything that lies on this territory and of all that belongs to its inhabitants, real estate as furniture, material or immaterial. It is a living heritage, in constant change and creation. [...] The public is the entire population of the territory concerned, to which may be added, incidentally and secondarily, visitors from outside the community.” in Techniques + ARCHITECTURE, September 1979, no 326, p. 82.
  10. Riksutställningar 1965–2017, retrieved 2023-08-02
  11. "The Best in Heritage". Retrieved 2023-08-02.
  12. "Museu de Mértola" (in français). Retrieved 2023-08-02.
  13. "Moro, Fernanda de Camargo e Almeida, in Museum, XXVIII, 1, p. 34-41, illus".
  14. "VIDÉO. L'éclectique Musée national de Niamey, 'miroir' du Niger | TV5MONDE - Informations". (in français). 2021-01-14. Retrieved 2023-08-02.
  15. "Authors: Guy Baron, Michel Fortin, Pierre Mayrand, Odalice Miranda Priosti. Conclusion of an interview of Louise Champoux-Paillé with Pierre Mayrand, the "unrepentant revolutionary"" (PDF).
  16. René Rivard, Paule Renaud : La muséologie des idées : examen et tentatives de définition. Research presented by Paule Renaud, with Powerpoint by René Rivard, April 28, 2004, at the annual conference of the Canadian Museums Association (CMA) held in Quebec City, April 27-30, 2004. Non published.
  17. "17. See the immense work and international presence of the Coalition which numbers some 350 members in 65 countries".
  18. René Rivard, Anne Castelas: Un homme, une vision, des musées… René Rivard et la nouvelle muséologie. 2021, Éditions Cultura, Montréal. p. 8
  19. "Un homme, une vision, des musées".
  20. "Association québécoise des interprètes du patrimoine (AQIP), Actualités".

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