About the show

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.

Episodes

  • 78. How Museums Present Public Health with Raven Forest Fruscalzo

    March 30th, 2020  |  13 mins 5 secs

    Museums across the globe are now closed because of COVID-19. Some of those shuttered galleries presented the science behind outbreaks like the one we’re living through.

    As Raven Forrest Fruscalzo, Content Developer at the Field Museum in Chicago and host of the Tiny Vampires Podcast points out, the fact that museums are closed is an important statement: they trust the scientific information.

    In this episode, Forrest Fruscalzo discusses the people that make up public health, how museums can be a trusted source of public health information, and examples of museum galleries that incorporate public health.

  • 77. Trump Asks, “Who's Next?” Lyra Monteiro Answers, Washington’s Next!

    March 16th, 2020  |  14 mins 37 secs

    The statue of George Washington in New York City's Union Square commemorates him on a particular day—November 25th, 1783—the date when the defeated British Army left Manhattan after the American Revolutionary War. The statue celebrates the idea that Washington brought freedom to the country, but professor of history at Rutgers University-Newark Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro researched how many people of African descent that Washington was enslaving on that same date: 271.

    Representing these people formed the heart of Washington's Next!, a participatory commemorative experience focused around that statue. In this episode, Monteiro describes how a tweet from President Trump was the inspiration for the name, how passersby reacted to the project, and the subtle ways that public monuments have power.

  • 76. 400 Years Post-Mayflower, the Provincetown Museum Rethinks Its Historical Branding

    March 2nd, 2020  |  12 mins 39 secs

    Sometimes, a historical event is all about the branding. And the brand of Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts as the spot where the Mayflower Pilgrims first disembarked 400 years ago this year is pretty strong.

    The branding is strong enough to override the fact that the Mayflower actually first landed on the other side of Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown. The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum commemorates that site. And even within a museum that’s trying to correct an inaccuracy, it has its own to grapple with: the museum used to portray the meetings between the members of the Wampanoag Nation and the Mayflower pilgrims with dehumanizing murals.

    In this episode, Courtney Hurst, board president of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, describes how the museum is working to correct these inaccuracies by working closely with the Wampanoag Nation. And as the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arrival approaches, the museum is in the middle of yet another rebrand. Just as the word pilgrim was reframed by Mayflower passenger William Bradford as a way to tie his journey to stories in the Christian Bible, the museum is reframing the word pilgrim to include recent Provincetown history.

  • 75. Museduino: Using Open Source Hardware to Power Museum Exhibits

    February 17th, 2020  |  10 mins 7 secs

    Proprietary technology that runs museum interactives—everything from buttons to proximity sensors—tends to be expensive to purchase and maintain.

    But Rianne Trujillo, lead developer of the Cultural Technology Development Lab at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU), realized that one way museums can avoid expensive, proprietary solutions to their technology needs is by choosing open source alternatives. She is part of the team behind Museduino, an open-source system for exhibits and installations.

    On this episode, Rianne Trujillo and fellow NMHU instructor of Software Systems Design Jonathan Lee describe the huge potential to applying the open source model to museum hardware.

  • 74. 'Houston, We Have A Restoration' with Sandra Tetley

    January 13th, 2020  |  14 mins 13 secs
    apollo mission control center

    Every time an Apollo astronaut said the word Houston, they were referring not just to a city, but a specific room in that city: Mission Control. In that room on July 20, 1969, NASA engineers answered radio calls from the surface of the moon. Sitting in front of rows of green consoles, cigarettes in hand, they guided humans safely back to earth, channeling the efforts of the thousands and thousands of people who worked on the program through one room.

    But until recently, that room was kind of a mess. After hosting Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle missions through 1992, the room hosted retirement parties, movie screenings, and the crumbs that came with them.

    Spurred by the deadline of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019, the room was carefully restored with a new visitor experience. The restoration project focused on accurately portraying how the area looked at key moments during that mission, right down to the ashtrays and soda cans. In this episode, Sandra Tetley, Historic Preservation Officer at the Johnson Space Center, describes the process of restoring “one of the most significant places on earth.”

  • 73. Sanchita Balachandran Shifts the Framework for Conservation with Untold Stories

    December 2nd, 2019  |  14 mins 59 secs
    sanchita balachandran

    The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset — a mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis.

    Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, founded Untold Stories to change that mindset in the conservation profession. Through events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation, Untold Stories expands cultural heritage beyond preserving the objects we might find in a museum.

    In this episode, Balachandran talks about Untold Story’s 2019 event: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, avoiding the savior mentality, and how the profession has changed since she was in school.

  • 72. ‘Speechless: Different by Design’ Reframes Accessibility and Communication in a Museum Context

    November 18th, 2019  |  14 mins 42 secs

    Museums tend to be verbal spaces: there’s usually a lot of words. Galleries open with walls of text, visitors are presented with rules of do and don'ts, and audio guides lead headphone-ed users from one piece to the next, paragraph by paragraph.

    But Speechless: Different by Design, a new exhibit at the Dallas Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, guides visitors as far away as possible from words with six custom art installations.

    In this episode, curator Sarah Schleuning and graphic designer Laurie Haycock Makela discuss how their personal experiences lead them to Speechless, and describe the process and considerations of putting it all together.

  • 71. Assessing Curatorial Work for Social Justice With Elena Gonzales

    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.

  • 70. The Gabrovo Museum of Humor Bolsters Its Legacy of Political Satire Post-Communism

    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.

  • 69. Soviet Spacecraft in the American Heartland: The Story of the Kansas Cosmosphere

    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.

  • 68. The Akomawt Educational Initiative Forges a Snowshoe Path to Indigenize Museums

    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.

  • 67. Cité de l'Espace Celebrates Apollo Day from the Middle of the Space Race

    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.