In memory of Kusuma Barnett

Written by Claire Messenger, Manager, International Training Programme

We were deeply saddened to learn that Kusuma Barnett, former Head of Volunteers at the British Museum and long-term supporter and friend of the International Training Programme (ITP) passed away on 5 February 2024.

Kusuma was involved in the establishment of volunteer programmes at the Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she went on to be Head of Volunteers and remained involved in the volunteer programme until as recently as 2022.

Kusuma pictured in the galleries at the British Museum, surrounded by ITP fellows, talking about objects.

Many of our fellows will remember Kusuma as one of the first people who welcomed them to the British Museum with a tour of the galleries.  Kusuma was part of the ITP from the very start – supporting the creation of the programme and the development of tours for our ITP fellows on their first days in the museum.  Kusuma’s tours were inspiring and insightful.  Rather than focussing on the highlights of the collection, the tours were carefully crafted, showcasing objects that told a story about the Museum, both past and present. She loved to consider where our fellows came from and give time and space for them to connect with their own cultures and always encouraged them to talk about objects and tell their own stories.

Kusuma speaking to ITP fellows in the galleries at the British Museum.

Kusuma supported the ITP in many ways.  She enjoyed meeting fellows from around the world and learning more about their institutions.  She loved to share her experiences of establishing a volunteer programme and would introduce fellows to volunteers around the Museum based in the galleries on the Hands-on desks.  And if one of our fellows wanted to know more, Kusuma would happily take them for coffee and talk in more detail about the benefits of working with volunteers.

Kusuma speaking to ITP fellows in the galleries at the British Museum.

Kusuma also loved the ITP’s Object in focus event – a project where each participant is asked to plan and propose a display for a single ‘spotlight’ object.  She was always fascinated to talk to the fellows at our supporter’s event and hear more about their dynamic and creative projects.  And she often supported the Object in focus project with excellent workshops which looked at ‘What do objects say’ – encouraging fellows to think about the multiple stories that objects can tell and then how to share that information in the most effective way with their audience.

Kusuma in between two fellows who are talking about an object.

Working with Kusuma was always a delight.  She had so much knowledge and experience to share but her genuine interest in the lived experiences of others was such a pleasure to see.  Through the ITP, I became friends with Kusuma.  She was enthusiastic and dynamic, kind, thoughtful and generous – nothing was too much trouble for her.  Her love of life was contagious and every moment I spent with Kusuma was a joy – I will miss her so much.

Kusuma will be greatly missed by the ITP team and members of our global network and our thoughts go out to her family and friends at this very difficult time.