A tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Museum Archipelago believes that no museum is an island and that museums are not neutral.
Taking a broad definition of museums, host Ian Elsner brings you to different museum spaces around the world, dives deep into institutional problems, and introduces you to the people working to fix them. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.
October 28th, 2019 | 15 mins 6 secs
Museums are seen as trustworthy, but what if that trust is misplaced? Chicago-based independent curator Elena Gonzales provides a solid jumping off point for thinking critically about museums in her new book, Exhibitions for Social Justice.
The book is a whirlwind tour of different museums, examining how they approach social justice. It’s also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward.
In this episode, Gonzales takes us on a tour of some of the main themes of the book, examining the strategies of museum institutions from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
September 30th, 2019 | 11 mins 30 secs
bulgaria, museum of humor
To the extent that there was a Communist capital of humor in the last half of the 20th century, it was Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Situated in a valley of the Balkan mountains, the city prides itself on its unique brand of self-effacing humor. In 1972, the Museum House of Humor and Satire opened here, and the city celebrated political humor with people in Soviet block countries and even some invited Western guests.
Today, three decades after the collapse of Communism, the Museum House of Humor and Satire remains one of the region's most important cultural landmarks. The museum has had to reinvent itself to interpret not only a democratic Bulgaria, but a the global, meme-driven, and internet-forged culture most visitors live in.
I went to Gabrovo to visit museum director Margarita Dariskova, who describes how the museum's strengths in its early years—like knowing how to present political humor without arousing the interest of the authorities—inform how the museum thinks of its role in the world today.
August 26th, 2019 | 11 mins 53 secs
From Apollo Mission Control in Houston, Texas, to the field in southeastern Russia where Yuri Gargarin finished his first orbit, there are many sites on earth that played a role in space exploration. But Hutchinson, Kansas isn’t one of them.
And yet, Hutchinson—a town of 40,000 people—is home to the Cosmosphere, a massive space museum. The Cosmosphere boasts an enormous collection of spacecraft, including the largest collection of Soviet space hardware anywhere outside Russia. How did all of these space artifacts end up in the middle of Kansas?
To find out, I visited Hutchinson to talk to Cosmosphere curator Shannon Whetzel. In this episode, Whetzel describes the story of the Cosmosphere as “being in the right place at the right time,” why the museum’s collection includes “destroyed” artifacts, and how she interprets Soviet hardware for a new generation.
August 5th, 2019 | 14 mins 42 secs
akomawt educational initiative, endawnis spears, mashantucket pequot museum
Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word for the snowshoe path. At the beginning of winter, the snowshoe path is hard to find. But the more people pass along and carve out this path through the snow during the season, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk it together.
In this episode, endawnis Spears (Diné/ Ojibwe/ Chickasaw/ Choctaw), director of programming and outreach for the Akomawt Educational Initiative, talks about the different between living culture and sterile museum artifacts, how Native narratives are violently presented through a white lens in museums, and the potential for museums to disrupt that for many visitors.
July 15th, 2019 | 8 mins 8 secs
apollo 11, cité de l'espace
Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse, France is a museum in the middle. It is in the middle of France’s Aerospace Valley and the European Space Industry. But it is also geographically in the middle of the two competing superpowers in the Space Race that ended with Apollo 11.
June 17th, 2019 | 14 mins 35 secs
The most-visited room in the most-visited science museum in the world reopened last week after a massive, five year renovation. Deep Time, as the new gallery is colloquially known, is the latest iteration of the Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
June 3rd, 2019 | 11 mins 8 secs
archiving, sarah nguyen
Everything decays. In the past, human heritage that decayed slowly enough on stone, vellum, bamboo, silk, or paper could be put in a museum—still decaying, but at least visible. Today, human heritage is decaying on hard drives.
Sarah Nguyen, a MLIS student at the University of Washington, is the project coordinator of Preserve This Podcast, a project and podcast of the same name that proposes solutions to fight against the threats of digital decay for podcasts. Alongside archivists Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie, and producer Molly Schwartz, Nguyen advocates for Personal Digital Archiving, the idea that for the first time, your data is under your control and you can archive it to inform future history. Personal archiving counters the institutional gatekeepers who determined which data and stories are worth preserving.
In this episode, Nguyen cautions that preserving culture digitally comes with its own set of pitfalls, describes the steps that individuals can do to reduce the role of chance in preserving digital media, and why automatic archiving tools don’t properly contextualize.
May 13th, 2019 | 13 mins 33 secs
The Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience, which opened at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2013 brings visitors “nose to nose” with one of the three remaining Space Shuttle orbiters. The team that built it used principles of themed attraction design to introduce visitors to the orbiter and the rest of the exhibits.
Atlantis is introduced linearly and deliberately: visitors see two movies about the shuttle before the actual orbiter is dramatically revealed behind a screen. The orbiter’s grand entrance was designed by PVAG Destinations, whose portfolio includes theme parks and museums. Diane Lochner, a vice president of the company who was part of the architectural design team, says that without that carefully-planned preparation, visitors wouldn’t have the same powerful emotional reaction to the Shuttle.
In this episode, Lochner is joined by Tom Owen, another vice president at PVAG Destinations to talk about the visitor experience considerations of the Shuttle Atlantis Experience, whether attractions engineered to create a specific emotional response in visitors are appropriate for museum contexts, and the broader trend of museums taking cues from theme park design.
April 29th, 2019 | 9 mins 57 secs
mona, museum of old and new art, tasmania
The Museum of Old and New Art opened in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia in 2011. With a name like that, MONA could include any type of art. But looking at the collection, it’s clear that its creator, millionaire gambler David Walsh, has a fascination with sex and death -- and bets that the rest of us do too.
Walsh himself calls MONA a “subversive adult Disneyland.” The building’s architecture is designed to make you feel lost, and the art is displayed without any labels whatsoever. It’s just you and the art.
In this episode, Hobart-based musician Bianca Blackhall talks about how she’s watched MONA reshape the creative community and art landscape of the island, what makes the museum different from other art museums, and how Hobart is now in “Sauron's Eye of tourism.”
April 15th, 2019 | 14 mins 32 secs
david gough, tasmania, tiagarra
The displays at the Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum in Devonport, Tasmania, Australia were built in 1976 by non-indigenous citizens and scientists without consulting Aboriginal Tasmanians. David Gough, chairperson of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation, remembers visiting the museum when he was younger and seeing his own culture presented as extinct.
Today, Gough is the manager of Tiagarra. When he took over, one of the first things he did was put masking tape over the inappropriate and incorrect descriptions and write in the correct information. As Gough explains, racist language covered up and written over by the very people it describes is the perfect metaphor for what Tiagarra was in the past and what it is going to be in the future.
On this episode, Gough and fellow Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation board member Sammy Howard give a special tour of the museum, describe using the museum to educate members of their community and the wider public, and discuss the future of Tiagarra.
April 1st, 2019 | 14 mins 44 secs
female factory, jody steele, tasmania
Penal transportation from England to Australia from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s was used to expand Britain's spheres of influence and to reduce overcrowding in British prisons. The male convict experience is well-known, but the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart is at the center of a shift in how Australians think of the role that female convicts played in the colonization of Tasmania.
Dr. Jody Steele, the heritage interpretation manager for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, which includes the Female Factory, says that having a convict ancestor used to be considered shameful. But in the past 20 years, attitudes have shifted dramatically. Sites like the Female Factory, the Female Convicts Research Centre, and a general interest in geological research have helped the public better understand how the forced labor of women built the economy of the island.
Today, the museum is on the cusp of a major renovation. Dr Steele describes how the proposed design, chosen by an all-female panel, will present the female convict experience in Tasmania.
March 18th, 2019 | 14 mins 28 secs
The fight for racial diversity in museums and other cultural institutions is not new: people of color have been fighting for inclusion in white mainstream museums for over 50 years. Dispose these efforts, change has been limited. A 2018 survey by the Mellon Foundation found that 88% of people in museum leadership positions are white.
Stephanie Cunningham has a clear answer for why these white institutions aren’t changing: “When you’ve been practicing exclusion for so long, you can’t change overnight.” That’s one of the reasons why she co-founded Museum Hue with Monica Montgomery in 2015.
In this episode, Cunningham traces Museum Hue’s trajectory from a small collective to a national membership-based organization, and spells out why being a well-meaning institution is necessary but not sufficient for equity in the field.