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.


  • 63. Sex and Death Are on Display at The Museum of Old and New Art

    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.”

  • 62. David Gough Reclaims Stewardship of Tiagarra for Aboriginal Tasmanians

    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.

  • 61. Jody Steele Centers the Convict Women of Tasmania's Penal Colonies at the Female Factory

    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.

  • 60. Stephanie Cunningham on the Creation and Growth of Museum Hue

    March 18th, 2019  |  14 mins 28 secs
    stephanie cunningham

    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.

  • 59. Faith Displayed As Science: How Creationists Co-opted Museums with Julie Garcia

    March 4th, 2019  |  14 mins 1 sec
    julie garcia

    There’s a new tool in young-Earth creationists' quest for scientific legitimacy: the museum. Over the past 25 years, dozens of so-called creation museums have been built, including the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Creation Museum in Kentucky. Borrowing the style of natural history museums and science centers, these public display spaces use the form and rhetoric of mainstream science to support a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, including the creation of the universe in six days about 6,000 years ago.

    In her 2009 thesis, “Faith Displayed As Science: The Role of The Creation Museum in the Modern Creationist Movement”, Julie Garcia visited the AiG Creation Museum and three other creation museums: The Creation Evidence Museum in Glenrose, TX, Dinosaur Adventureland in Pensacola, FL, and the Institute for Creation Research which is near San Diego, CA.

    In this episode, Garcia discusses her findings and explores why museums are a particularly well-suited medium for creationist ideas.

  • 58. Joe Galliano Fills In The UK’s Family Tree At The Queer Britain Museum

    February 11th, 2019  |  13 mins 45 secs
    joe galliano, queer britain

    Joe Galliano came up with the idea for Queer Britain, the UK’s national LGBTQ+ museum, during the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexual acts in England and Wales. Discouraged by the focus on male homosexuality and on legislation, he launched a bid to preserve histories that have been ignored or destroyed. If all goes well, the museum will open in London in a few years.

    In this episode, Galliano talks about the UK’s history of anti-gay legislation, how he is working to create a ‘catalytic space’ at Queer Britain, and why the medium of museums is right for this project.

    The word ‘Queer’ was synonymous with ‘strange’ or ‘weird’, and a common slur thrown at LGBT individuals. Activists in the 1980s reclaimed the word and used it as an umbrella term for a wide range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Nowadays, queer is an increasingly popular way to identify within the community, but as historical traumas persist, and the word can still be found in hostile environments, it’s important to note that not everyone is in agreement. Joe Galliano and Queer Britain use the term as a proud self-identifier, and an intentional move away from using the word ‘gay’, and male homosexuality in general, as a stand-in for all identities.

  • 57. The Colored Conventions Project Resurrects Disremembered History With Denise Burgher, Jim Casey, Gabrielle Foreman, & Many Others

    January 28th, 2019  |  15 mins 48 secs
    denise burgher, gabrielle foreman, jim casey

    In American history most often told, the vitality of Black activism has been obscured in favor of celebrating white-lead movements. In the 19th century, an enormous network of African American activists created a series of state and national political meetings known as the Colored Conventions Movement.

    The Colored Conventions Project (CCP) is a Black digital humanities initiative dedicated to identifying, collecting, and curating all of the documents produced by the Colored Conventions Movement.

    In this episode, two of the CCP’s co-founders and co-directors, Jim Casey and Gabrielle Foreman are joined by research fellow Denise Burgher to discuss how the project mirrors the energy and collective commitments of the Conventions themselves, how to see data as a form of protest, and creating an a set of organizational principles.

  • 56. Lana Pajdas Trains Her ‘Fun Museums’ Lens to Croatian Heritage Sites, From The Battle of Vukovar to Over-Tourism in Dubrovnik

    January 7th, 2019  |  10 mins 49 secs
    lana pajdas

    Lana Pajdas is the founder of Fun Museums, a heritage and culture travel blog with a radical idea: museums are fun. It is the guiding principle of her museum marketing and consulting work.

    In this episode, Pajdas describes Heritage Sites in her native Croatia, from the interpretation of the 1991 Battle of Vukovar at the Vukovar Municipal Museum to the Game of Thrones-inspired Over-Tourism in Dubrovnik.

  • 55. Barbara Hicks-Collins Is Turning Her Family Home Into the Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum

    December 3rd, 2018  |  14 mins 58 secs
    barbara hicks-collins, bogalusa civil rights museum

    Barbara Hicks-Collins grew up in a Civil Rights house in Bogalusa, Louisiana. In her family breakfast room in 1965, her father, the late Robert “Bob” Hicks, founded the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The armed self-defense force was formed in response to local anti-integration violence that the local police force complicitly supported.

    The house became a communication hub, a safe house, and a medical triage station for injured activists denied medical services at the state hospital. After her father’s death, Barbara Hicks-Collins decided that the house has one more chapter: as the Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum.

    In this episode, Barbara Hicks-Collins talks about growing up with the Civil Rights movement in her living room and describes the process, progress, and challenges of today’s Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum project.

  • 54. Buzludzha Is Deteriorating. Brian Muthaliff Wants To Turn It Into A Winery.

    November 19th, 2018  |  14 mins 8 secs
    brian muthaliff, bulgaria, buzludzha, dora ivanova

    High in the Balkan mountains, Buzludzha monument is deteriorating. Designed to emphasize the power and modernity of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Buzludzha is now at the center of a debate over how Bulgaria remembers its past.

    Architect Brian Muthaliff wants the building to evolve along with Bulgaria. His master’s thesis on Buzludzha describes a re-adaption of the site to subvert the original intention of the architecture, including installing a winery and a theater.

    Unlike architect Dora Ivanova’s Buzludzha Project, which we discussed at length in episode 47, Muthaliff’s plan only calls for a single, museum-like space. In this episode, we go in depth on what a museum means and what is the best path forward for this building and for Bulgaria.

  • 53. Tribal Historic Preservation Office Helps Students Map Seminole Life for the Ah-tah-thi-ki Museum

    November 5th, 2018  |  12 mins 31 secs

    The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum, on the Big Cypress Reservation in the Florida Everglades, serves as the public face of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. But the museum collaborates with the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office(THPO) next door to preserve the tribe's culture, working for and with the community through various shared projects.

    One of the projects is called Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps, which is now on display in the museum. Quentin Cypress, Community Engagement Coordinator at THPO, and Lacee Cofer, Geo Spatial Analyst at THPO, started the project with Juan Cancel, Chief Data Analyst at THPO. The team taught 11th grade students at the Ahfachkee School (the school on the Big Cypress Reservation) GIS mapping software and helped the students create their own maps about a Seminole or Native American topic.

  • 52. Paula Santos Dives Into The "How" of Museum Work on Cultura Conscious

    October 15th, 2018  |  10 mins 26 secs
    los angeles county museum of art, paula santos

    By day, Paula Santos is Community Engagement Manager at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. By night, she hosts the excellent Cultura Conscious podcast.

    On Cultura Conscious, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, Santos interviews cultural workers on their work with justice and equity. The discussions dive deep into what Santos calls the "nuts and bolts" of museum work.