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August 26, 2019
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. Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 The Cosmosphere 01:20 Why Not Kansas? 01:35 Shannon Whetzel 01:45 Patty Carey 02:18 Starting the Collection 04:10 Apollo 13 Command Module 05:02 Successes and Failures 05:50 Soviet Hardware 06:50 Space Race Gallery 07:58 Lunasphere 08:35 Teaching the Political Context of the Space Race 09:30 Leaving Trash on the Moon 09:58 Site-Specific Museums 10:51 Join Club Archipelago Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 69. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] There are many sites on earth that played a role in human spaceflight: the mission control building in Houston, Texas where flight engineers communicated with the Apollo astronauts on the moon, or even the grassy field in southeastern Russia where Yuri Gargarin landed to end his mission as the first person in space. But Hutchinson, Kansas isn’t one of these sites. No spacecraft engineering happened here, like in Huntsville, Alabama. No rocket testing happened here, like in Perlington, Mississippi. There’s not even a historic, exploration-related radio telescope here, like in Parkes, Australia. Despite this, 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. Shannon Whetzel: I think some of our brochures say, “why not Kansas”, right? The story of the Cosmosphere is more or less the right place at the right time. Whetzel says that the museum has had many decades to be in the right place at the right time. Shannon Whetzel: Hello, my name is Shannon Whetzel, and I am the curator here at the Cosmosphere. The Cosmosphere’s first iteration was a star projector and folding chairs set up at the Kansas State Fair Grounds in 1962 by a woman named Patty Carey. She was inspired by the launch of Sputnik and ultimately wanted to set up a space science center in the Midwest. Shannon Whetzel: The volunteers we have who have who knew her personally, I did not know her personally, have basically said she’s a very nice arm-twister. You didn’t say no to Patty Carey. And that planetarium grew to what you see now. By the late 1970s, Patty Carey was making plans to transform the planetarium into the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center. Shannon Whetzel: The collection as we know it started in the late 1970s. NASA is looking to… I hate to say “unload,” but looking to get some hardware out there for the public to see, and the Cosmosphere was beginning its first expansion, so we had the space and the connections, and that’s how we started collecting space hardware. The Cosmosphere was the right place — a big building in the midwest— and the right time — the late 1970s. The era was a strange time for space exploration: it was after the Apollo program, but before the Space Shuttle. The Smithsonian Air and Space museum opened in Washington, DC in 1976, and I get the sense that a whole bunch of space artifacts that didn’t make the cut for that museum ended up in Hutchinson. Shannon Whetzel: The Smithsonian and NASA… they want to get stuff… I say stuff… artifacts, priceless artifacts out for the public to see everywhere. Maybe also that’s a sign of their success, that they’ve gotten into the Midwest and it’s been a priority. And we are so grateful to the Smithsonian I don’t know if you noticed how many of our exhibits have Smithsonian labels. I believe we are the only Smithsonian affiliate in Kansas. Looking carefully at the collection, you also see another pattern: hardware from missions that didn’t go exactly as planned. There’s a heavily damaged Mercury boilerplate capsule from the Mercury-Atlas 1 mission. There’s Liberty Bell 7, another Mercury Capsule that was the US’s second human spaceflight mission in 1961 -- the Astronaut survived, but the capsule sank into the ocean and wasn’t recovered until 1999. And then there’s the Apollo 13 Command Module, Odyssey, which was restored and added to the museum in 1995. Shannon Whetzel: I think at the end of the Apollo 13 mission, the astronauts were home safe, it was fantastic, but I think it was viewed more as a failure than a success. So yes, Apollo 13 was display in France for a while, it wasn’t viewed as something that should be in the States as much. And then our guys restored it. I can’t imagine any museum turning away the Apollo 13 Command Module today. But it is the Cosmosphere’s ethos to say yes to an unwanted, unrestored artifact -- even if that artifact is sitting under water, or somewhere in France. They see the investment in recovery and restoration as well worth the effort to add to their collection. And that’s what makes the museum so notable today. But there’s also a point that the museum is making with the collection as a whole: space exploration is as much about the failures as about the successes. Shannon Whetzel: I believe Apollo 13 had come up with that contingency plan before, it wasn’t on the fly. And in a way it was testing their contingency plan. And it went wonderfully. They got home safely. Shannon Whetzel: We discuss a lot now about how it seems in our culture that there’s a fear of failure. We are afraid to fail. Or if something doesn’t work the first time, that means that that idea should be discarded. And I think that that’s not what got us to the moon. That’s not what made our space program successful. Without meaning to, that’s become one of our catch phrases around here. We don’t want our campers, our students to be afraid to fail. But the collection isn’t just made up of American space hardware. The Cosmosphere also boasts the largest collection of Sovet space artifacts anywhere outside of Russia. And this fills in the sizeable gaps of how most other space museums present the Space Race. The Cosmosphere team, which included Patty Carey, started obtaining Sovet Space hardware in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shannon Whetzel: Again, right place at the right time. The Sovet Union was crumbling, they were looking to get rid of their artifacts, we worked through a broker, and we were able to obtain them. And they are part of our collection. They are loaned pieces. Why the decision to try to collect them? Why didn’t other museums try to, in the same way that you did? Shannon Whetzel: I think that our early leaders were very visionary in what we could become and realized in a sense that we were only telling half the story. Half of the Space Race gallery is colored red and filled with Soviet space objects and text about the Soviet human spaceflight program, and the other half is blue, telling the American story. Shannon Whetzel: I think that our gallery is set up particularly well in the sense that you get the comparison. We split the gallery so you can get the sense of this is what’s going on in the Sovet Union at the time, this is what the Americans were doing. So I think our gallery does a very good job of comparing the two-- Mercury and Vostok are right beside each other. The effect is striking -- the Cosmosphere is not a design museum, but by putting the artifacts from two different superpowers close to one another, you get an appreciation for the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the industrial design -- compare the design language of the Lunokhod Moon Rover, on display at the museum, with Amercian Mars rovers that Americans might be more familiar with, and you can see the different ways each program approached the problems of surviving in space, even without the color coordination. Whetzel’s favorite Soviet artifact is the Lunasphere, a copy of a soccer-ball shaped device carried by Luna 2, whose only purpose was to cover its crash-landing site on the moon with little pendents embossed with images of the hammer and sickle. Shannon Whetzel: The Soviets send the Lunasphere, and it’s just a small ball that upon landing, it has a small explosive in it and all of these, our gallery calls them Cosmic Calling Cards go all over the surface of the moon. What a nice little metaphors for the cold war -- what a stick in the eye. Whetzel also said that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to teach younger generations about the political context of the Space Race. After all, it’s been 30 years since the Berlin wall fell. Shannon Whetzel: It is very difficult to explain the cold war. First of all they didn’t live through it, I don’t know if you did. It wasn’t black and white, there was so much grey, and I think that’s the difficult part. Especially, you’ve seen our gallery, it’s pretty big, a 45 minute tour down there you just barely make it to the shuttle, and that’s if you’re rushing. It’s difficult to portray those ideas in a short amount of time to a younger audience. No matter what you do, historically it gets wrapped up nice and neat. As we change here on earth, so too does the way we teach the story of spaceflight. Whetzel gave me an example of the list of items humans have left on moon -- a list that includes everything from the propagandistic Lunasphere pendants to actual trash left by the Apollo astronauts. Shannon Whetzel: I did a tour with our campers the other day, we do a collections tour, and I was telling them, and they were appalled. I was like, wow, the generational difference. They were appalled, they were like, “we trashed the moon”? And I was like, “we did.” This is one of the reasons I will always keep coming back to space museums. The environmental consciousness that the Apollo program itself sparked by its images of a tiny, fragile, borderless earth, now gets the chance to reevaluate Apollo anew. And that is just one of the ways that the Cosmosphere, free from a specific location, can tell the story of human space exploration better than a site-specific museum. Visiting the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston, Texas, visitors learn about how that site played a role in the larger Apollo missions. Visiting the Parkes Observatory in Australia, you can learn about how the radio telescope was instrumental in broadcasting the famous image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon to the world. But the Cosmosphere allows visitors to take a step back. This has been Museum Archipelago.
August 5, 2019
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. endawnis Spears (Diné/ Ojibwe/ Chickasaw/ Choctaw) is director of programming and outreach for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. She saw a need to supply regional educators with the tools to implement competent education on Native history and Native contemporary issues. She co-founded the Initiative with Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) and Dr. Jason Mancini to make those tools. In this episode, Spears talks about the different between living culture and sterile museum artifacts, her discussion at Untold Stories 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation about how Native narratives are violently presented through a white lens in museums, and the potential for museums to disrupt that for many visitors. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 68. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] endawnis Spears: “For many indigenous people, we are looking for ways to engage our culture at all places at all times. And for me and for many other Native people, it happens to be in the realm of museums.” endawnis Spears focuses on engaging with her culture within the realm of museums precisely because museums violently separate her culture from a living context. endawnis Spears: [Introduction in Diné] endawnis Spears: [Translation] Hello, I’m endawnis Spears, and I am Yucca-fruit-strung-out-in-a-line clan. I’m born from the Ojibwe people. My maternal grandfather’s from the Tangleclan, and my paternal grandfather is from the Choctaw/Chickasaw people. I’m the director of programming and outreach for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. endawnis Spears co founded the Akomawt Educational Initiative in 2018 with Chris Newell and Dr. Jason Mancini. The Initiative was born out of their experiences in museum and classroom education across present-day New England. They saw a need to supply regional educators with the tools to implement competent education on Native history and Native contemporary issues. They created the Initiative to build those tools. endawnis Spears: The word Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word for the snowshoe path. One of our co-founders, Chris Newell, is a Passamaquoddy, and he recommended this term as a defining a part of our Initiative. In [the] Passamaquoddy world, snowshoe pass at the beginning of the wintery season is hard to find. It’s hard to walk on, but the more people pass along this path and carve out this path through the snow during the season, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk it together. And we see that as part of our mission and part of the work that we’re trying to do, part of the guiding principles for our work, that we are looking to add to that educational experience for people we are living with and amongst here in what is present day New England because we are all going on the same direction, and the more information and the more culturally accurate and respectful and historically accurate information we are working with, then the easier it is for our children, for our grandchildren. And when I say our, I mean native people, but I also mean non-native people, and so I mean our neighbors and our allies that we live and make lives with here in the present day United States. The Initiative focuses on what is called Sites of Knowledge. These include K-12 schools, universities, and museums. But as Speares describes, the notion of slioed sites of knowledge is a western idea, poorly suited to the work that they do. Instead, The Akomawt Educational Initiative seeks to employ knowledge at all places at all times—something that museums as they exist today fail to do. endawnis Spears: In our traditional communities, in our native communities, there was no place that you would go to learn and to gain the authority on one particular place and then leave that place and not employ that knowledge someplace else or not see the connection between one place and another, so to go to a museum, and this is the authority, and this is where you learn about this, and then you exit the museum, and that knowledge is no longer useful to you as you go about your daily life, that concept of siloing knowledge and siloing our understandings of the world is a foreign one to this continent. Spears shared a striking example of this at Untold Stories 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, the closing session of the American Institute for Conservation’s annual conference. She showed an image of a Haudenosaunee cradleboard, as presented in the Detroit Art Institute. It is completely divorced from context and certainly doesn’t feel lived in, in typical museum conservation fashion. She compares this with an image of the cradleboard that held her as a child and has securely held all four of her children. The ties on the cradleboard are ceremonially re-tied for each child — representing a continuity in the material world, that is nowhere to be found in the museum. endawnis Spears: If you came into my house right now, you would see all of the cradleboards from when I was a baby that were made for me, which I have a few. And then the cradleboards that we had made for our children, my husband and I’s children. They are placed up on the wall. They’re displayed on our wall as beautiful art, as part of our family and part of our heritage. The difference between that and a museum is that we keep pieces of that baby’s experience within the cradleboard, so we keep a blanket in one of them. We put them up on the wall to remind us of that time, that special time with our son or our daughter. And so these are instances where the cradleboard is referring back to a specific child in a specific place in a specific emotional life of our family. Spears uses The difference between her cradleboards in her own home and how they would be treated in a museum collection to illustrate the difference between living collections and ethnographic objects. And I think when we look at cradleboards within museum collections, all of that is ripped away. All of that is stripped, and that stripping of those experiences and the spiritual and emotional life of that piece is a violent one, and it’s a very apt representation of what colonialism is, that we are going to take this, and we are going to rip it away from its relationship with you and make it only relevant in its relationship to us, the colonizers, and that’s the story that gets honored. That’s the story that’s more important, and that is a violent story, and it’s one of domination, and so when we go into museums, and we see items that have a lived relationship with us, within our communities, within our homes, we see them on display as ethnographic objects. That is a reminder that our understanding of our own material culture is not the one that is important. To prevent the continued violent ripping of the emotional life that object collections represent, the Initiative offers a range of educational support services and educational programming across present-day New England. And part of that is making sure certain words remain problematized. endawnis Spears: We don’t like to use the term New England unproblematized. This is not problematic. Everyone calls it New England. This is OK. We sanction this term. We don’t want to use any terms that place American western understandings of our places and our culture and our communities in reference to Europe, in this case England. Some of the services offered by the Initiative take the form of outreach programming like, “Understanding Cultural Appropriation”, or guided tours like, ​”Lessons in Radical Feminism From the Fourteenth Century” at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. The Initiative also offers consulting services, providing museums, historical societies, and cultural institutions with socially just and accurate historic information and the means with which to interpret Native collections and themes with and for Native communities. endawnis Spears: We get to go to museums across southern present day New England and, again, look at exhibits critically. There are many museums in the area that are starting to form Native American advisory panels, and who sits on those panels is so important. I think one thing that Akomawt really is very good at is we are also part of the native communities here in the northeast, so I’m from these other tribes, but I married a Narragansett and all of my children are also Narragansett, which is a federally recognized tribe here in Rhode Island. And so I do have buy-in into this community, into the wellbeing or the representation of my children’s community. Knowing how inaccurately museums portray your own culture, or cultures you’re familiar or interment with, how does that change how you visit museums where you don’t know much about the culture being presented? endawnis Spears: I think that for me to say that I’m always aware of that when I go into a museum is not completely accurate, that native people, even though we know that this has been done to us, we still look to some of these institutions as places of knowledge. And I think that when I go into a museum to learn about something, there is always that question of, how did this get here? Whose was it? Who made it, but really why did they make it? What is this object’s life outside of here? And I think that I’m not always asking that question all the time, but that is a question that’s there at the back of my mind. And I think that the more that museums can bring these disembodied pieces back to a body, the better I would relate to it as a native person and as an indigenous person. I think that there’s definitely a duality at play for me when I go into a museum. It’s conflictual. There are some newer museums that deliberately define their primary audience as members of a Native Nation. An example that just opened in Minnesota is the Hoċokata Ti (the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s new cultural center). There’s a touchscreen interactive media piece there that protects some information behind a code that only Nation-members know. How can practices like these change how museums have presented themselves for centuries? endawnis Spears: That is so interesting because it asks the question, who is the primary recipient of what we’re giving in this space? Who are we pointing this space towards? Who is the orientation point? And that doesn’t mean that there can’t be other people in the space learning from that or watching that process. I think that as museums grapple with their colonizing past and the role that they played in colonizing Turtle Island, the world, being in bed with imperialism, I think that as the museum field grapples with that history, we are going to start to see museums as places where practice can be on display, so in the sense that there is an orientation towards this tribal nation. This is who we are speaking to, but the museum can point out or put on display the fact that this practice is being followed and people are in a museum using the actual practice. The museum is speaking very directly to the practice, very blatantly using language and terminology and saying, “We have a certain group that we are prioritizing here. We want you to learn in this space, but you are not the thing that this museum revolves around,” and that in and of itself is an educational experience. Sometimes it’s good to be disruptive in that way and that museums can be a disruptive force in that process by saying that their orientation is towards this particular community and not towards the over-culture. And I think it’s really important for white visitors to museums in a very comfortable space. They know how to interact with museums. They know how to interact with exhibits that reaffirm what they were already thinking before they went into the building. I think to disrupt that experience can be really interesting and really important, and I think that museums have an opportunity to be a really interesting disruptive tool in that process. The Akomawt Educational Initiative lives at https://www.akomawt.org/. There, you can find a list of resources from a “guide to indigenous terminology” to readings and books organized by grade level. You can also see a list of classes and services that the initiative offers across present-day New England. You can watch Spears in the complete proceedings of Untold Stories 2019 at untold stories dot live. Information is also available for the 2020 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah called, PRESERVING CULTURAL LANDSCAPES. This has been Museum Archipelago.
July 15, 2019
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. From its vantage point in the middle, Cité de l'Espace has its own story to tell. The museum features a mix of Soviet and American space hardware, like an American Apollo lunar module and a Soviet Soyuz capsule. The museum also features an extentive collection of French-made space hardware. In this episode commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I visit Cité de l'Espace to see their preparations for “Apollo Day,” discuss a museum on the lunar surface, and see how the Space Race is presented from the middle. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Unlock Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. It offers exclusive access to Museum Archipelago extras. It’s also a great way to support the show directly. Join the Club for just $2/month. Your Club Archipelago membership includes: Access to a private podcast that guides you further behind the scenes of museums. Hear interviews, observations, and reviews that don’t make it into the main show; Logo stickers, pins and other extras, mailed straight to your door; A warm feeling knowing you’re supporting the podcast. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 67. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] All over the city of Toulouse, France, on buses and on the streets, there are ads featuring a smiling moon with an American astronaut reflected in its sunglasses. [Audio of Toulouse radio ad] Apollo Day is the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing — the first and for now, only time humans have made it to another celestial body — hosted by the Cite de l’Espace museum in Toulouse. [Audio of Toulouse radio ad] Toulouse is the centre of the European aerospace industry, with the headquarters of Airbus anchoring what is known as Aerospace Valley — a cluster of engineering and research centers in the heart of France. Like the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex featured in episode 64, the museum also has aspects of themed attractions, but unlike most space museums in the United States, the museum presents hardware and content from multiple space agencies around the world, taking a more global approach to the history and future of space exploration. This could be because, in addition to being the Centre of the European aerospace industry, the museum and the rest of France sit in the middle: physically in the middle of the two competing superpowers in the Space Race that ended with Apollo 11. NASA, the American Space Administration, and the Soviet Space Program are both well represented here. The museum features a mix of Soviet and American space hardware, like an American lunar module, and a Soviet Soyuz capsule. And the mix of Russian and American is also present in more subtle ways too: in a planetarium show, an animated “James the Penguin and Vladimir the Bear” guide visitors through the night sky. [Audio from planetarium show: “Vladimir, you’re a surprising bear!”] I was keen to visit Cite de l’Espace because my family also sits in the middle of the Space Race. My mom, who is Bulgarian, remembers watching the Apollo 11 moon landing as a kid on TV from behind the iron curtain. She says news about humanity’s achievement was broadcast in Bulgaria, but with an air of disinterested detachment. The adults she was watching the broadcast with knew better than to celebrate. My dad, who is American, remembers watching the Apollo 11 moon landing at his home in Wisconsin: everyone around him was interested and, of course, openly excited. From its vantage point in the middle, Cite de l’Espace has its own story to tell. The story of the Apollo landings is presented here with all the excitement of an American space museum, if a little less patriotic. One obvious difference was the date: when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, it was 8:56pm Houston time on July 20th, 1969, but in France it was almost 4am on July 21st. There’s something charming about accounting for timezone changes on a place like the moon, but I wonder if that’s the reason why the museum’s Apollo Day is July 21st, when I have always learned the moonwalk began on July 20th. Cite de l”Espace did not answer my request for comment, but the exhibit text says that French children were awoken in the middle of the night to watch the moonwalk. In the galley, footage of the moonwalk was interspersed with footage of people watching from all over the world, including Sydney, Australia and Paris, France. In the gallery about the Apollo missions, I watched a museum presentation of earth-moon comparisons for children called Meeting Moon. The focus was on physics: a demonstration of what it would it would feel like to lift a heavy object on the earth and then the moon. But the presentation was rooted in the Apollo Project, referencing specific missions and even the experiences of individual astronauts. The finale of the presentation was as feat of coordination by one of the child volunteers. They were strapped into a harness that simulated moon-like conditions, and were asked to erect an American flag in a hole in the carpeted lunar surface… [Audio of room noise] Which they finally managed to do. [Audio of the room applauding] The presenters noted that the United States was the only country to land humans on the moon so far. [Audio from gallery] I like the optimism of the “so far.” Even if the next enterprise to land on the moon is American, the United States won’t be the only country there for too long. The museum has a temporary exhibit called “Moon, Episode II” (presumably Episode I was the Apollo missions), which presents some of the challenges, and proposes some solutions to going back to the moon. Each of the solutions presented did not rely on national agencies, but simply human ingenuity. Cite de l’Espace is not designed for an American or Russian audience. Instead, the museum is the showcase of space achievements in general and French contributions to those achievements in particular. The biggest thing in the museum is an Ariane 5 rocket, a human-ready launch vehicle designed by the French Space Agency that accounts for 60% of global satellite launches. You can get a bite to eat at La Terrasse guanaise, a reference to French Guiana, an overseas department of France, where European rockets are launched because of the department’s proximity to the equator. But while I was there, the museum was making its final preparations for Apollo Day: moving a lunar module to a special location in the middle of the open air part of the museum, all to get ready to celebrate not just an American achievement, but a human one. One of the young visitors also curious about the preparations was wearing a tee shirt with Yuri Gagarin’s face on it. Gagarin, the first person in space, flew on a Soviet rocket only eight years before the moon landings. The modified version of that rocket is also on display not far away. In a video in the Moon episode II gallery, the narrator notes that the boot prints around the Apollo 11 landing site are still there, untouched just as the astronauts left them, ready for humans to visit again. Cite de l’Espace has nothing to say on the topic of a museum at the site of the landing — a project regular listeners know I want to help develop when the time comes. I hope that future museum at the Apollo 11 landing site is a little like Cite de l’Espace. I hope that it doesn’t just feature the American story, but instead features the mix of countries presented here that lead to the achievement. So, whether you celebrate on July 20th or 21st, I wish you a happy Apollo Day. This has been Museum Archipelago. [Outro]
June 17, 2019
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. It might not seem like much in geologic time, but the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has been welcoming visitors for more than 100 years. Over those years, the dinosaur bones and other fossils—even some individual specimens—have remained at the center, even as the museum presentation around them has changed dramatically. You can measure the change by the different names of the hall through time. What is today Deep Time first opened in 1911 with a different name: The Hall of Extinct Monsters. In this episode, we’re going back in time through the iterations of the Fossil Hall with Ben Miller, an exhibitions developer at the Field Museum in Chicago. From its opening as The Hall of Extinct Monsters in 1911, to renovations in the 1960s and 1980s, to the forceful climate crisis message of 2019’s Deep Time gallery, the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has answered life’s biggest questions. This is the story of how museum workers shrugged off their “cabinet of curiosity” roots and embraced education-oriented exhibits like what we see in the gallery today. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ Join Club Archipelago today to get access to this week's special bonus episode featuring my personal story about my small contribution to the Fossil Hall: Before Deep Time. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 66. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Audio of Deep Time gallery] This is the most visited room in the most visited science museum in the world — the east wing of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. It’s the Fossil Hall, known simply as “the place with the dinosaurs.” Today is just a few days after its 2019 grand-reopening. For the past five years, this room was closed to visitors, undergoing a massive renovation. The new gallery is called Deep Time after the concept of geologic time. Deep Time reflects our current best understanding of life on earth. The dinosaurs in the hall are presented as part of the larger story of evolution: the gallery is punctured by prominent black pillars marking extinction events like the End-Permian Extinction, the End-Cretaceous Extinction that killed all non-avian dinosaurs, and our devastation of life today. It might not seem like much in geologic time, but this room has been welcoming visitors as a museum gallery for over 100 years. Over those years, the dinosaur bones and other fossils have remained at the center as the museum presentation around them has changed dramatically to keep with our understanding of the world. You can measure the change by the different names of the hall through time. What is today Deep Time first opened in 1911 with a different name: The Hall of Extinct Monsters. Ben Miller: It was this great big, open neoclassical space with a skylight three stories up. There was a handful of mounted skeletons of dinosaurs and other animals on pedestals in the middle of the floor, some smaller fossil cases lining the walls. It was very reflective of paleontology in museums at the time, in that paleontologists were concerned with taxonomy and with classifying known forms of life, but they weren’t really concerned about, say, the behavior of those animals, or the ecosystems they fit into. From its opening as the Hall of Extinct Monsters in 1911, to renovations in the 1960s and 1980s, to the new Deep Time gallery today, the Smithsonian Fossil Hall has answered life’s biggest questions. This story is not just a story of life on this planet but also the story of our changing understanding of how we fit into it. Today we’re going back in time through the iterations of the fossil hall with exhibitions developer Ben Miller. Ben Miller: Hello my name is Ben Miller and I’m an exhibitions developer at the Field Museum in Chicago. Before that, I worked for the park commission in Maryland. I was putting together Dinosaur Park. That’s largely my career at this point. Miller writes a blog about the history and artistry of paleontology exhibits in museums called, fittingly, Extinct Monsters dot net. When the Hall of Extinct Monsters opened in 1911, the building that is now the National Museum of Natural History was called the United States National Museum. The hall, with various fossils scattered around the room, generally resembled a classic “cabinet of curiosity” approach to exhibit design. Ben Miller: “Certainly museum workers of the time, particularly at the Smithsonian, they were considering exhibitions as showrooms for the collections, rather than having any particular public educational function.” In other words, there was no overarching story — the exhibit wasn’t telling the story of life, it was just saying, ‘here are some cool fossils.” Ben Miller: That’s always the first thing that is conceived of when one’s putting together an exhibition today is what the story is. At the time, this was a showroom for the collections. There wasn’t any kind of narrative that was considered. They were certainly adding new specimens over the course of the first half of the 20th century, including the biggest thing in there, the Diplodocus, the big, long-necked dinosaur went in in the early thirties. But, the basic architecture of that space remained pretty much the same. It just got more and more crowded. Diplodocus remains in the hall to this day, forming an impressive set-piece in Deep Time. The Hall of Extinct Monsters persisted largely unchanged until 1962, when it was finally renovated as part of a Smithsonian-wide modernization project. Ben Miller: In the 50s and the early ‘60s, the Smithsonian went through this modernization project. The US National Museum and all the other components of the Smithsonian, they were looking at overhauling all these older exhibits and bringing in more a visitor-centric focus to those spaces. The Dinosaur Hall and the adjacent halls got renovated. This was a project led primarily by Ann Karras, who was the exhibit designer at the time. She had a hand at rewriting some of the labels, re-organizing the different fossils that were on display, to put them into a story that the general public would be able to follow moving through that space. They also changed the aesthetics quite a bit, which to me, it was a bit of a downgrade. They got rid of all this gorgeous neoclassical design, the big skylight on the ceiling. They boarded up all the windows, put in dingy brown, wall-to-wall carpeting. Yeah, that’s what the exhibition looked like. The most polite way to describe the dingy brown carpeting would be, “earth tone”. When doing the renovation, workers realized that the largest mount, Diplodocus, was too difficult to disassemble and move, so the new exhibit was designed around it. Still, the exhibit was evolving. Ben Miller: It was partially still based on taxonomy. There was a room for reptiles, a room for mammals, a room for fishes. But, they were bringing in the story of life over time and the evolution of life over time, so, which organisms came first, which came later. There was definitely a tone of progress, that was more in vogue at that time, than you would really see in a modern take on the history of life. The next set of renovations took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Those renovations, known as “The History of Life” followed the evolutionary progression of fossils, plants and animals through time. Ben Miller: I think the turning point was in 1974, when they did the Hall of Ice Age Mammals and the Rise of Man. That exhibit was, rather than being based on taxonomy or the structure of the collections, it was this integrated story that drew on paleontology and anthropology and climatology and geology, bringing in different curators and different experts, as well as exhibit designers, to tell this cohesive, collaborative story about what the Ice Ages were like. That dovetailed a bit with the reorganization of the paleontologists at the museum at the time into what’s now known as the Department of Paleobiology. They were more interested in the life and evolution of these animals. I think everyone knew at the time that that was going to be the future, this integrative approach, telling a story about a particular point in time or bringing together a particular narrative was going to be what exhibitions were going to be in the future. That was what drove the renovations throughout the whole east wing for the rest of the century. They continued on to the spaces where the dinosaurs were and around them and eventually finished in 1991 with the Ancient Seas Gallery. It wasn’t always easy. There were some points of tension between this old guard of curators and the new professionalism and greater voices of authority in the project that the exhibitions department was having. But, ultimately, people were seeing these exhibits as something that existed more for the public, rather than being a showroom for the collections. It’s also the version of the exhibit that Miller remembers visiting as a youngster growing up in the DC area. Ben Miller: I’m not sure when I started going, probably around 1990, and there were still a few changes after that.I was maybe two or three years old, so I don’t really know how deeply I was thinking about it. This was probably the first dinosaur exhibit I went to, so it was just the place to see dinosaurs, I didn’t really have a point of comparison, and got to know all of those specimens very well, going to see them year after year after year. What I think was always very clear is that space was at the mercy of its history, and that this had been a series of partial renovations over the course of decades and decades. There were some tight corridors. There were a lot of false walls boxing people in, leading to dead ends and cul-de-sacs. That was just the result of continuing to add new things and new partial renovations to a space that wasn’t really built for that. They added the cast of T. rex around 2000. But, that version of the exhibit, it stuck around for quite some time. The gallery was restricted in part by the story it was telling, guiding visitors through time in a maze-like fashion, making it difficult from a visitor flow perspective to go backwards, particularly with the visitor numbers as high as they were. This is also the version of the gallery that Miller studied when, later, he worked as an intern at the Smithsonian. Ben Miller: I was working with the Paleobiology Department and, later, with the Education Departments, and one of the things I was doing was visitor research, interviews with visitors there about: how they understood the history of life on earth, how they conceived of the great expanses of time, what they thought about the presentation of evolution in the gallery, and that sort of thing. I hope that that little contribution I made was helpful in eventually conceiving the hall as they did. This series of renovations from the 70s and 80s lasted all the way to 2014 — when the hall was closed for the renovations that ultimately became Deep Time. What makes Deep Time so exciting was that it was by far the most complete renovation since the hall first opened in 1911. And that meant the possibility to completely rethink fundamental assumptions about the way the story of life on earth was presented. That meant stripping the entire gallery of the “earth-tone” carpet, and clearing away all the false walls and cul-due sacks that had made the renovations in the 1980s so claustrophobic. Ben Miller: They had this opportunity to take everything out and start over from the beginning, which I’m very jealous of as a museum professional. Usually, you’re just building on decades and decades of what already exists and trying to fit your new story in. They wanted to bring back that historic architecture. I imagine that also has something to do with the visitorship that the Smithsonian gets. That’s one of the most highly visited museums in the world. They get 8 million people every year. When they plan exhibitions, they really have to think about getting those crowds through the space. I imagine that to that end is part of why it’s such an open exhibit, that you can explore at your own pace and go in different ways instead of going along a predetermined route. Deep Time presents the story of life on earth and that includes drastic changes in climate. The gallery does a good job of presenting anthropogenic climate change against the backdrop of previous, much slower changes. The people who made the exhibit have made it hard to visit the museum without contemplating the climate crisis and our role in creating it. Project manager for Deep Time, Siobhan Starrs, says that while people come for the dinosaurs, “they’re get get a lot more than dinosaurs.” Ben Miller: They were able to really start from square one, what do we want people to think about when they think about the history of life on earth? What they landed on was they really wanted to bring the human story into that, to show that we, as people today, were part of the evolution of life. We’re not separate from it, and everything we see in the world today is something that has a story and has roots in the long history in deep time, as the exhibit is called. I think orienting the exhibition around the extinctions seems like a really good move, as you said, because it connects to the modern story about humans causing extinction today, and, also, because, these extinctions are checkpoints in the history of life where everything changed One of the exhibits that helps visitors think on a deep time scale is an animated interactive media piece called “Your Body Through Time,” which illustrates early instances of characteristics found in our bodies like bilateral symmetry and lungs, and how they evolved in our ancestors. And the presentation of the fossils themselves is dynamic—very much a departure from the taxonomical presentation when the room was simply “the hall of extinct monsters.” Ben Miller: I know something that was important to the curators was to show the skeletons as animals. They went through the process of disarticulating all of their mounted skeletons, conserving them, and putting them back together in poses that show different kinds of behavior, not just eating and killing each other, as you see in a lot of newer exhibits. But, they’re doing things like sleeping and guarding eggs. There’s even a mammoth in there, that’s using its tusks to clear snow off the grass. All sorts of really interesting behaviors that bring new life to these creatures and really show them as living, thinking beings that once existed. The re-imagined exhibit is also arranged in reverse chronological order: visitors start among mammoths and ground sloths of more recent history and move backward in time through increasingly alien-looking versions of North America, until ultimately encountering the earliest life. This reorientation also means visitors enter the gallery in the middle of a human-caused mass extinction event already in progress — the same way we enter any place on earth. Ben Miller: I think it’s a very novel approach to start in the present day and move back. I think most exhibitions, they have started with the origins of life and moved forward. It will be really interesting to see how folks react to going back in time. Certainly from an aesthetic perspective, I think it’s very clever, because you can put your big, impressive ground sloths and mastodons at the front and really show people something really cool. Ben Miller: Whereas if you start with the origins of life, you’re starting in a room full of really old stromatolites and rocks and hell scenes of what the earth looked like then. You’re kind of hiding what the big show is, which is going to be your skeletons of dinosaurs and so forth. It will be interesting to see how people respond to that.
June 3, 2019
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. Image (left to right): Mary Kidd, Sarah Nguyen, Molly Schwartz, Dana Gerber-Margie, and Lyra Gerber-Margie Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to get access to this week's special bonus episode about the new Fossil Hall redesign at the National Museum of Natural History: Before Deep Time. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 65. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Everything is in a constant state of decay. 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. And today, human heritage is rotting on hard drives. The entire internet, everything from social media to Wikipedia, is stored on hard drives on anonymous computer, waiting for the inevitable, and not-too-distant day when they will just wear down and stop working… heritage lost forever to the sands of time. But there is one potentially beneficial loophole to digital heritage as compared to non-digital heritage: digital files can be copied. They can be copied again and again and again, perfectly every time. The path between past and future for a digital file is to hop from one storage to another every few years in an unbroken chain: staying one step ahead of digital decay. Digital copies aren’t like a Xerox of a Xerox which just becomes unreadable over time do to increasing noise. And best of all, making a digital copy doesn’t destroy the original. Sarah Nguyen: Wax cylinders there, you can only do it so many times. Or then the grooves we’ll be inaccurate after playing it. But then within the digital interface, because it’s so easy to pick up and throw away, that’s where it becomes even a higher risk of deterioration and loss within the file. This is Sarah Nguyen, the project coordinator of Preserve This Podcast, a project that proposes solutions to fight against the threats of digital decay for podcasts. She cautions that preserving culture digitally, while having some advantages over other mediums, comes with its own set of pitfalls. Sarah Nguyen: Hello, I’m Sarah Nguyen. I am the project coordinator for preserve this podcast. So alongside the two archivists, Mary Kidd and Dana Gerber-Margie, and our producer, Molly Schwartz. Currently I am an MLIS student at University of Washington, so I kind of get to bring in the current readings of what people are talking about within preservation or within file formats. Preserve this Podcast is a tiny and delightfully meta podcast called, Preserve this Podcast, and it is accompanied by an equally-delightful zine, detailing what you can do to prevent digital decay. The founders saw the podcast industry booming, and wanted to teach independent culture producers who aren’t operating as part of new large, podcast companies, how to keep control of their narratives—now and in the future. Sarah Nguyen: So podcasts are notorious for being DIY. People who are independent storymakers audio creators who don’t have an institutional backing. We kind of see Preserve this Podcast as supporting what we call the personal digital archiving: so PDA is the acronym for it. We want to make it so that podcasters are able to be autonomous and have the agency to control their content outside of the digital decay as we call it. Personal digital archiving is the idea that today, individuals, who history might call normal people have the opportunity to preserve via digital methods. In the past, it was only the rulers or the vastly wealthy who could take control of their own data. This is the first time in human history that your data have a good chance to be archived. Sarah Nguyen: That’s why this whole kind of subprogram of personal digital preservation has been this movement. I think it’s like once a year or twice a year, there is like a PDA conference host at various institutions around the US, where it kind of just talks about what are low barrier to entry practices that people can use to archive their own work because in how the real world works, when you don’t have the luxury of your job being archiving any sort of digital files because you have to like create these things and make sure that there is a return on investment. Artists and creators aren’t really looking to save their work. At the moment in time when you’re creating something, it’s a disruption to actually have to think about “how do I backup and save things?” Because you get on a wave and kind of just want to make it happen. Sarah Nguyen: One of my other part time jobs outside of preserve this preserve this podcast is with a dance company. And when you like just like creating like a piece of work or choreographing a piece while you’re in the dance studio, you’re not also making sure that your file is backed up off this camera off of your iPad or iPhone, you know, after you’ve created it. I will admit it here: I am a hobbyist PDA-er. I have systems that automatically log everything I can about my activity and health to custom spreadsheets. I built a private server that my phone automatically updates my location to several times a minute, so I can always know every museum I’ve ever visited. You can be sure that the file you’re listening to right now will be transcribed and backed up in multiple locations. But according to Nguyen, automatically backing up is only half of what properly archiving actually means. Automatic backups and automatic transcriptions are in some ways making it easier to preserve, but proper achieving is also about contextualizing. So it’s not enough to just record podcasts or my locations as individual entities. I need to contextualize them, too. Sarah Nguyen: And that’s kind of like the biggest one of the bigger bottlenecks of archiving is like are you contextualizing that object, that file correctly so that it’s represented in the correct way? So I think that in certain processing, like the manual side of it potentially is becoming easier, but the more intellectual side of representation and identity of a thing is becoming more difficult because, especially with podcast or almost anything on the internet, Youtube videos, whatever, things are being created at a much faster rate. Many, many hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every second of every day, and each video is analized by machines looking for patterns. Expecting the machines to contextualize all those hours of content is only going to lock in biases — either mirroring society’s or introducing new ones. Sarah Nguyen: The way that people have perceived libraries, museums and archives is an educational space, right? They think that it’s all fun and fun and interesting and educational versus like having a specific opinionated point of view. The whole point of a podcast is that you have a story, you as an individual have this idea of how the world works and you want to share it. That’s what makes it even more important to be able to assign your own descriptive texts to it so that you ensure that people know what you’re trying to say to them upfront. Sarah Nguyen: So like in our most recent episode with Kaytlin Bailey, who does the Oldest Pro Podcast, she talks about, basically the oldest profession, which is sex work. And like for her to say, you know, specific words within her podcast, it can be misinterpreted completely by Google’s algorithm. Then her podcast could potentially be taken down just because through automatic flagging, they’ll misinterpret it as she’s trying to promote sex work. It strikes me that we are in the middle big shift from archiving tools of the past: now, that archiving is in control of an individual — you! — instead of being left to a third-party like a museum or library. That changes the valence of collections if everyone can take control over their own story. Whether any of this data are going to be useful or interesting to the future is beside the point. By reducing the role of chance, and eliminating the institutional gatekeeper who determines which data and stories are worth preserving, anyone and everyone’s data has a chance inform future history. Sarah Nguyen: We put this under the guise of a PDA, a personal digital archive. Right? So it is up to you if you want to and you feel the need and, and the just want to save your work for the future, it’s under your responsibility. I kind of, that’s kind of where we’re putting it at. It’s kind of like if you want to share your story, then you will go as far to preserve it, versus just handing it off to someone who might preserve it under the wrong context. So I think that it’s important to the point where you as a creator believe it’s important. And so if we can give you all the tools and a step by step guide to do as necessary, we would love for anyone to be able to do it. In the past, museums and libraries would control who got to be collected. The best way forward might not just be to force these institutions to open up, but also bypass them altogether by making the archiving tools accessible to all. Sarah Nguyen: In libraries and archives, there is this whole debate about the archives and libraries are not neutral. We’re not neutral because there is that idea that like, yes, we want to give you the options to have access to all different types of materials, even if it is racist or can be hurtful to someone. But, um, should we, because our, we actually neutral in that way. Like is it going to actually help or is it misinformation at that point? So we want to make sure that within your podcast, when you’re creating it, you’re able to control, uh, so that someone doesn’t misinterpret it in a way. Sarah Nguyen: That’s why we want to give the agency to the creator themselves, not to put it under the onus of someone else. And if this does take off, which we kind of hope it does that like someone will be able to fund an actual server or institution where people will be able to submit it for the long term versus in the generalized, internet archive. First steps are just kind of making it in an accessible way in a zine, a podcast, workshops where people can kind of dip into the waters and feel if it’s important to them and if they want to do it. And then if not, we’re totally fine with that too. Preserve This Podcast can be found wherever podcasts are available — for now. In the final episode, Nguyen and the other hosts acknowledge that accessing their podcast into the future depends on a 301 redirect and remembering to pay server bills. The project is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is hosted by the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Preserve This Podcast is also traveling to various workshops and conferences to take podcasters, producers, and audio archivists through their curriculum of archiving podcasts. You can find a full list of where they’re going at PreserveThisPodcast.org.
May 13, 2019
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 PGAV 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 PGAV 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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 64. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript We’re going to start today’s episode with a thought experiment. Think of a museum. The first museum you think of. What does it look like? Hold that thought. Now think of a theme park? How different do they look from each other? My guess, is pretty different. But the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida has aspects of both. One the one hand, it is a museum—galleries featuring spacecraft, historic launch pads, and a complete Saturn V rocket layed out in an enormous room. But on the other hand, it is a themed attraction—a destination featuring ride-like simulators, themed concession stands, and the new Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience. It’s as if the Complex, only a short drive from Orlando, Florida, is competing for visitors against one of the globe’s most effective themed attractions — Walt Disney World. As it turns out, not everyone everyone mentally separates museums and theme parks so discreetly. Tom Owen: We have a nuanced view about the relationship between entertainment and education This is Tom Owen, a vice president of PGAV Destinations who worked on that new Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience at Kennedy Space Center Tom Owen: Hello. My name is Tom Owen. I’m a Vice President with PGAV Destinations. My background is in theater, scenery and lighting design for theater and so I’ve been able to incorporate that theatrical thinking into my work with museums and zoos and aquariums and theme parks really the entire time I’ve been here. It’s not surprising that someone who works in both museums and theme parks would see similarities between the two. But I am surprised that Owen doesn’t see the world divided between education and entertainment. Tom Owen: I think that entertainment is a great way to educate people. If it was just the dry facts, people would get bored and leave. Entertainment doesn’t diminish education. In fact, I think it often times makes it more effective. Diane Lochner We believe that you can actually learn quite a bit from theme parks and themed attractions. This is Diane Lochner, who is also a vice president of PGAV. She also worked on the Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience. Diane Lochner: “Hello, my name is Diane Lochner. I’m a Vice President at PGAV Destinations. And my background is actually in architecture. I’m a registered architect and have been for 20 plus years. And so my intrigue is the understanding of the built environment, but how that impacts visitors as they’re working their way through attractions and museums. And the Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience can be described as both a themed attraction and a museum. The exhibit, which opened in 2013, features one of the three remaining shuttle orbiters — the white part of U.S. space shuttle system that looks like a giant glider. Lochner and the rest of the design team used principles of themed attraction design to introduce visitors to the orbiter. Diane Lochner: So we made some conscious decisions about how to introduce people to the shuttle itself. So, it’s a very scripted linear experience prior to witnessing the shuttle. And that was intentional because we needed to emotionally prepare the visitors to accept the information that they were going to learn about the shuttle. And we think that’s a critical piece in planning. And so before anybody actually sees the shuttle itself, there was a short pre-show film that gave a little bit of information, mostly about the people that were involved in designing the shuttle. It’s not heavy, it’s not deep, it’s not long. And then they move into another theater that is got a very inspirational film again about the shuttle and the launch and some of the sequence of the process of the shuttle, and then finally at the end of that film, the shuttle is revealed very dramatically. This type of timed control with a required film reminds me of a more recent example: George Washington’s Headquarters Tent displayed at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tent is presented in its own theater with screens and projections. If the tent was simply set up in a gallery without the focused attention, people would just walk right past it. But by making a large production out of it with lights, screens, and sounds, the effect is a viscerally memorable experience. Now back to the Shuttle Atlantis. Diane Lochner: The image on the screen actually aligns with the space shuttle beyond. At the end of the film, the screen actually lifts up and the visitors are presented nose to nose, so to speak, with Space Shuttle Atlantis. So it’s a pretty dramatic presentation relative to meeting Atlantis for the first time. Diane Lochner: It’s really been an interesting thing to watch visitors clap and cry as that screen lifts up and reveals the shuttle. And so in that sense, I think we created that really important preparation so that people were ready to receive the information and start to learn and start their experience at Space Shuttle Atlantis. After the screen dramatically lifts up relieving the orbitor, visitors pass through the hole where the screen used to be and enter the Atlantis display, after which they are free to wander through the entire gallery. The main idea of the gallery is that the U.S. Space Shuttle system was an innovative program, designed to reuse spacecraft so that the frequency of going to space could increase and astronauts get more work done in space. Tom Owen: The main takeaway about the whole shuttle program is the individual orbiters was part of a system and that that whole purpose of that whole shuttle program was working in space. And so we depicted Atlantis as a workhorse. In fact, the way that we chose to display it was up in the air, banked at a dramatic banking and with the payload bay doors open, the telescopic arm deployed just as it would have been at the moment that it was pulling away from the International Space Station. So that that message of Atlantis at work was a powerful image that we wanted to ingrain in the minds of people. Tom Owen: Every exhibit that was designed had to be approved by NASA’s STEM education team. So there was, again, a very strong interest that people learn, but also that the project would inspire the next generation of space exploration. The project wasn’t designed for people that are already space enthusiasts or already knew a lot about space. It was really designed, at least as much or for the most part, for people that we wanted to inspire so that they would become space enthusiasts and maybe maybe take an interest in STEM or maybe even take an interest in a career in the space program. So here’s that middle part of the Venn Diagram, the intersection of a themed attraction and a museum: the Shuttle Atlantis Experience is educational, and it deals with a set of historical events. But it heavily relies on some of the principles of themed attractions to get the point across. Fundamentally, I see themed attractions as engineered to create a specific emotional response in visitors — and through that, they offer an escape from the real world. They are a chance for us to enter a fictional world. “Frontierland”, an “old west”-themed land in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, never actually existed, but clever trick is to make it feel like a lived-in space that has a history. When I am in a fictional world, even the smallest thing that reminds me of the real world takes me out of the illusion. And hilariously, sometimes a theme park will go so far as to put up up fake historical markers and even museums that describe people and events that never happened, but nevertheless lead to what the environment looks like today. But when learning about the real world, I’m not so sure the same strategies apply. The real world is messy, and the study of history, for example, is not fun, and not amusing. In episode 17 of Museum Archipelago, I cover the spectacular failure of a Disney theme park concept called Disney’s America in the early nineties. Disney’s misguided idea would have put a park showcasing [quote] “the sweep of American History” — including the institution of Slavery and the Civil War — within a fun theme park environment just outside Washington, DC. Courtland Milloy, writing in a series of Washington Post editorials about the then planned Disney’s America around 1993, brought out the inherent contradiction of the project merging a fun day out with a view into American history. He writes, “Against a backdrop of a continuing distortion of African American history, which includes awful textbooks and self-induced amnesia about the legacy of slavery, a slave exhibit by Disney doesn’t even sound right.” By contrast the U.S. space program happens to an example of a much less problematic history that, as a result, works displayed in a themed attraction setting -- and one on US. Government property not at Disney World. Being a shuttle astronaut was extremely risky -- of the five shuttle orbiters that have gone to space -- only three of them are still around to display in museums. But nobody become a shuttle astronaut by accident. And since the failed Disney’s America concept, the big theme parks have stayed out of attractions based on real-life histories, or at least relatively recent real life histories. Instead, they have blurred the lines between various destination types by switching modes. Both Owen and Lochner see a world where competition for visitors leads museums to focus more on creating that specific emotional response you find in themed attractions. Diane Lochner: I think that museums are beginning to investigate other attractions relative to continuing to capture more visitors, at least certainly the ones that we're talking to in the most recent projects. They are really beginning to understand that they might have to do some things that are a little more out of their norm relative to appealing to visitors because they still want to make sure that obviously they are achieving their goals relative to educational standards and things like that. But certainly the competition for time has really increased. And so I think, in general, museums are starting to think about different ways of curating the experience for individuals and really beginning to connect to visitors' emotions in different ways. Tom Owen: And even though the objective of Disney may not be for visitors to come and learn something, or at least not to be able to go down a list of facts that they learned about a certain topic, which some of the museum might say is their objective. I think people learn things going to theme parks. For example, if a kid is at a certain age where they've been fearful of roller coasters but they get brave and they decide to get on a roller coaster. They're learning something important about themselves and the fact that they're put into an experience that's really special and over the top and different from their everyday experience, it inspires them and it opens up their world of thinking.
April 29, 2019
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.” This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed 00:00: Intro 00:15: This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania 00:47: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) 01:05: Museum Archipelago on ABC Radio Hobart 01:30: The Way MONA Shapes the Island 01:44: MONA’s Architecture is Designed to Make You Feel Lost 02:42: Bianca Blackhall 03:05: David Walsh 03:50: “A Subversive Adult Disneyland” 04:08: The Holy Virgin Mary 04:13: On the road to heaven the highway to hell 04:29: Cloaca Professional, 2010 04:55: MONA’s Lack of Labels 05:33: “Art Wank” 06:20: Pride in MONA 06:50: “Sauron's Eye of Tourism” 08:20: A Monument to Joyful Secularism 08:43: Join Club Archipelago More ➡️ The Making of MONA by Adrian Franklin Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 63. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town. This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Today we visit the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It’s known as MONA, and it is by far the largest museum in Tasmania… not only by square footage (it’s the largest privately owned art museum in the southern hemisphere), but also by its influence. Helen Shield: If you were hosting an international podcast about museums, where would you spend your precious travel dollars to record? That’s Helen Shield, host of a terrestrial broadcast radio program in Tasmania. Helen Shield: There’s one obvious answer, isn’t there? She’s a Hobart local and she interviewed me about this series. Listen to how she describes the way that MONA shapes the island. Helen Shield: It wouldn’t be a trip to Tasmania without stopping in a museum that has singlehandledled changed tourism and probably the international reputation of this island, stopping in at MONA. MONA, often called the museum of sex and death, opened in Berriedale, a suburb of Hobart in 2011. The building, an enormous bunker out on a peninsula overlooking a river, sneaks up on you as you approach. Once you’re inside -- though a rather small entrance that whisks you underground, the architecture is designed to make you feel lost. There are no signs or directions, so you have to choose your own route. The maze-like paths split in two, with no indication which way you should take, other than which one might seem more attractive to you. Tunnels and stairs -- which don’t always move you up or down by one story -- are not an escape from the disorienting experience -- instead, they might lead you to a tight closterphoic chamber, a lovely cafe overlooking the water, or another massive, previously undiscovered subterranean open space. Bianca Blackhall: I don't think people expected it to have such an impact. It's kind of like a layer. It's very villainous. This is Bianca Blackhall, a Hobart-based musician who has watched MONA reshape the creative community and art landscape of the island. Bianca Blackhall: Hello, my name is Bianca Blackhall. I live in Tasmania. I'm 27 and I'm a musician among other things. The museum is the product of Tasmanian millionaire and art collector David Walsh. Walsh made his fortune by gambling, and Blackhall says that he is a much-talked about figure in Hobart. Bianca Blackhall: He'd be an interesting guest at the dinner table cause he's quite unusual in his manner and that he'd made his money through gambling and he was good with numbers. In his introductions to one of MONA’s past exhibits, Walsh recalled of spending a lot of time in Hobart’s museums as a teenager. Bianca Blackhall: And apparently he used to get dropped off by his parents in town at the museums. And he used to just walk around them all day as a kid and then they'd pick him up again at the night. They’d be like, “come home”. Cause maybe he was, you know, annoying them or whatever at home as a kid. With a name like the Museum of Old And New Art, MONA could pretty much include any type of art. But looking at the collection, it’s clear that David Walsh has a fascination with sex and death -- and bets that the rest of us do too. And, turns out, he’s right. Social animals like us, love thinking about fucking and dying -- and excretion and rot. Walsh himself calls MONA a “subversive adult Disneyland.” There’s The Holy Virgin Mary, a painting created in part with elephant dung. There’s On the road to heaven the highway to hell, in which the remains of a suicide bomber are cast in dark chocolate. There are dead horses and rotting, festering wounds with swarming bugs encased in acrylic. There’s audioanamatornic skeletons fucking. There’s a digestive machine at turns food into feces and stinks up an entire gallery. The art tries to punch you in the gut, and it mostly succeeds in part because there aren’t any descriptive plaques telling you what’s important about the art or how to feel about it. Ian Elsner (on ABC RADIO HOBART): I have to say, I’ve never seen anything like it. Helen Shield: And this from someone who works in, and spends his free time exploring museums. Ian Elsner (on ABC RADIO HOBART): So often we are in the museum world very stressed out by the labeling. We spend hours and hours thinking about what the labels and placards look like next to a piece of art, and so it was it was really refreshing to just go into the museum and see no labels at all. Bianca Blackhall: The wording in normal museums is more clinical, like these two people are it's a copulating and they’re enjoying it. They’re always removing feeling from the equation like, oh, objectively this is this, but moving on. Your only guide to the museum is its inhouse app, called the O. The O will provide some interpretation of the art, but the interpretation is hidden away in a little tab called ARTWANK, which has the icon of a penis. It’s delightful to see art off the pedestal, but Blackhall says that the levity and approach might also be easier for the artists. Bianca Blackhall: I think it's a very uncomfortable thing to be asked to explain. Please explain. You know, that's Pauline Hanson says, and it's like more, how do I say this stuff without being a twit? It's almost like they've made the unconventional the every day, you know, and sometimes, you know, you wander around there and then there'll be people in smocks getting about and you're like, why are they, well, you know, these are these arts smocks. I'm not sure you know what's happening, but it's, so it's like now it's a part of your every day. Do you think for Tasmanians there's a certain amount of pride that it's here? Bianca Blackhall: Definitely, yeah. People have welcomed it with open arms almost. The way people talk about it, they say things like, “MONA, Yup, Yup. Very good.” You know, like in a kind of very, you know, gruff way but like, “oh yeah. Very good. Yup. Going to go down to the big bonfire. With the kids. And it’s good.” MONA has also been well-received by art critics and by tourists visiting from outside Tasmania. As a new destination on the global art tourism circuit, there’s no doubt that the museums has changed Hobart, a city of a quarter million people. Bianca Blackhall: I feel like it partially began with MONA, this Sauron's Eye of tourism. I feel like we’re in the eye. It’s watching us. The world is going, “that little island there”. And it really in in the last year or two, you can feel the new foot traffic. You can really feel it. It’s a little bit… I don't know if we're actually quite got the infrastructure for the amount that we have tourists that we now have. Luckily, MONA I think took responsibility for itself but yeah you can definitely feel… we have cruise ships now coming in and that, I don't know if they even go to minor, but we've had the cruise ships coming in and out. Sometimes there are cruise ship traffic jams where they have to wait out in the bay for the other one to leave before they come in. And yeah, it's changed rapidly in a very short space of time. It's quite shocking.
April 15, 2019
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. This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania 00:46 Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum 01:56 Dave Mangenner Gough 02:53 “To Keep” 03:00 A Brief History and the Importance of Understanding the Past 0438 Tour of the Museum 06:00 Protecting Sites 07:15 Educating the Public About ‘Middens’ 09:20 “A Collection of Hoop-Jumpers” 10:30 Optimism for the Future of Tiagarra 11:35 Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country 12:40 Connecting with Members of First Nations Around the World 13:28 Join Club Archipelago 14:10 Outro Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 62. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town. This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. Over the course of three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Today, we visit Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum in Davenport, Tasmania, Australia. The museum is situated on Mersey Bluff, a traditional Aboriginal sacred site, that now hosts a nature trail and a caravan park. The museum was built in 1976 to promote Aboriginal culture and cultural tourism. But the displays were put together by non-indigenous citizens and scientists. David Gough, of the local Devonport/Latrobe Aboriginal community, remembers visiting the museum when he was younger and seeing offensive words on the plaques and on the walls. David Gough: When we were younger and looking at this stuff and thinking, wow, you know, there's words…. really inappropriate words. Talk about about us as no longer a race of people. People have been writing my family and our stories and writing in a way that suited them. They wrote us as savages and nomadic and all these things. They wrote things like we didn't how to make fire, that we were really limited people. But we lived through two ice ages. Today, Gough is the chairperson of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation and the manager of Tiagarra. One of the first things he did as manager was put masking tape over those words. David Gough: As soon I got the keys to the door back, I put masking tape over words, this sticky tape there… I put masking tape over really inappropriate words. I’ve written over them like, “beautiful people,” rather than some of the words that were under those and said now we can put ourselves in here, rather than… this place told stories… left us as we don’t exist anymore, because we don’t have our stories in here. Offensive racial 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. David Gough: Hello, my name is Dave Mangenner Gough. Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum Davenport, Tasmania. Tiagarra is an Aboriginal name that means “to keep”. This site is a significant site. Where the caravan park is, just there, was where there was huts and a village. Aboriginal Tasmanians lived in Tasmania for at least 60,000 years: often completely isolated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels. European colonization of the island, and a violent guerrilla war between British colonists and Aboriginal Tasmanians from the mid-1820s to 1832 known as the Tasmanian War, was devastating to Aboriginal Tasmanians. For much of the 20th century, including when TIAGARRA was constructed, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people were widely, and erroneously, thought of as being an extinct cultural and ethnic group. David Gough: There was a roundup of our people and a mass attempted genocide of our people. The impacts of colonization and displacement has meant our families had to chop wood in order to survive and cultures changed and shifted. Growing up in schools, some of the kids go, "Aboriginal, what does that mean?” They don't really grow up knowing a lot about what their ancestors did or what happened to their families because it’s been pretty… well especially here, our families went through great trauma, and that still affects us, so we’re seeing young kids growing up, and there’s just this traumatic patterns that happen. Through a series of careful museum upgrades, teaching Aboriginal cultural to as wide an audience as possible, and activism, Gough plans to change this. David Gough: It's important for, for our own families, it's important for the the other kids in the areas as well. Then I think that that's why I go to the schools is to help work with our kids, but also the other kids. And then it builds this mutual respect and an understanding about who we all are. And I think understanding where our past, we'll give them hopefully a way forwards. Gough took me through the museum as it is today. Except for the masking tape and some ochre handprints, the museum looks almost exactly as it did in 1976. We enter through the front door -- a fake cave that opens to a description of the land bridges across the Bass Strait, which today separates Tasmania from the rest of Australia. David Gough: Yes. We enter with a cave. We actually have some money to make some changes to this session, but we're very mindful that now this place is a time capsule and it's actually becoming a museum of museums. So I'm, I'm really cautious about making changes to it, but there will be some changes. David Gough: This panel here talks about 12,000 years apart, two ice ages where we were connected to Australia and how that allowed what people would say migration and people and animals. We know this actually came up close to here and this is a great lake. People lived around this lake; it wasn't just people walking backwards and forwards. And we've got a lot of aboriginal heritage sites in rock shelters are underneath. David Gough: When I bring kids through here and spend an hour with them or talk about living sites. We used caves as living sites and we have several different caves in our country that are, some are living in caves and some are ceremonial caves and the ceremonial caves, we try to keep quiet from most of the public because they get vandalized. David Gough: I have visited a lot of our sites cause I was on the Aboriginal Heritage Council for quite a few years and I’ve been very heavily involved in protecting our heritage around the country. What happens is when someone comes across in damages something that we're saying, oh, they didn't realize what it was. So then it would get thrown back at you saying, well, if I had of known, I wouldn't have done that. That's why I went on the council already focused on changing that act, about protecting our heritage to take out that the ignorance clause and to put some due diligence around process so people understand so if they're going to dig somewhere or they're going to do something in an area they need to contact heritage and find out if there's if there is something there that they would damage. The gallery continues through detailed dioramas. Gough says visitors, specifically school groups of children that come through, are fascinated by them. But he says that without proper interpretation -- without stories being told in the voice of Aboriginal Tasmanians -- the dioramas’ true meaning is lost and the lasting impact is lessened. David Gough: What we keep in here is stone tools and artifacts and there's dioramas about how are our people live through two ice ages. It's very important as an education tool but without us being here, it's kind of pointless. David Gough: And this over here talks about what they call middens, which I don't like the word meetings. And a lot of us is as we growing up were, were cause I think it might be a Latin name for rubbish, you know, um, and it's because that's what they saw it as. David Gough: But people drive up and with four wheel-drives and, and are destroying them. And we constantly trying to make, get protection. We're trying to get world heritage listing of these areas because some of these are about four times as high as this building. So when you're standing there and you're looking at abalone shells on, on that and you see the hight, you know, that they were feeding, eating, people, eating, that's how old these places are. Many thousands of years old. And right there we have rock Petroglyphs, rock markings in those areas too, which are probably five times older than the Sphinx. David Gough: There's a lot of ceremony that happens around these, these living sites. Babies are born and the elders have passed away and they're buried there or cremated there as well. So for us, these not rubbish tips, they’re hospital, the church there, everything, there are graves there, everything, and our family members have had to go up to where they've four wheel drives and rebury people. So in other exposing people's remains. It's really, really sad when you're up there and you're trying to stop people that they're now saying it's their culture to four wheel drive on these areas. Gough sees the public education as crucial not only to protect the sites, but also protect the stories. David Gough: So this place going through this with kids and that and getting to understand, maybe change some concepts and understanding about what's around them and what a landscape actually means. When you see something like this, you can turn around to someone else and say, do you know what this is? Then you become the educator and then you can pass on that, the reasons about why you would look after it, because once it's removed, the story can go. The museum is currently closed -- only open for pre-arranged tours consisting mostly of schoolkids and the occasional podcaster. Even the ownership of the museum has been contentious up until recently -- the Devonport City Council rescinded the lease from the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation in 2014 and did not hand back the keys until 2015. Sammy Howard, fellow board member of the Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation, explains that the museum has been hampered by red tape every step of the way. Sammy Howard: Really, as Tiagarra, we’ve struggled for years to try and keep the doors open. It's the only museum keeping place in Australia that’s not federally or state funded. I'm just sick to this of watching air governments set us up for failure. They didn't give us the training and the things that we needed. I’m starting to think that we've become a collection of hoop jumpers. Because every time we get through one hope, there's another one put in front of us, hurdle jumpers, whatever. They just seem to, we'll let you go this far, but hang on a minute. You can't go too far. You can't succeed. The white governments have got to be seen as with falling bulk amount of money at this and it's not working. David Gough: When you’re trying to deal with these things, what people kept trying to talk about in meetings was Return on Investment. And it's a difficult space when you're talking about sharing and your culture and having a place for your community to be. This place means a lot to our families in this area. But both Howard and Gough are optimistic about the future of Tiagarra. The Corporation hopes to bring some higher-tech exhibits like touch screens into the museum and build the resources to maintain opening hours with staff and guides from the community, all while centering their own story. A number of factors contribute to their optimism. The museum can now apply for specific funding sources. From other Tasmanians, there is an increased interest in understanding the land and its people, and a greater understanding of British colonization of the island. David Gough: We've sort of feeling that this is our year where we will get this place open again. You know, more than just bringing school groups through. With this business plan, what we're doing is to get out to spend some, some of this money and upgrade some of the exhibits in here and put ourselves and our stories into this space. This is really important. That could be an option of having a self guided tour with people walking around it here. And as they come to different sections getting told that story is that where we're wanting to tell. But everything costs money. And it is not just upgrading the museum. All over Australia, and indeed all over the world, the practices of welcome to country and acknowledgement of country are slowly becoming more common as a way to open events, school assemblies, and conferences. David Gough: There’s a difference: there's an acknowledgement to country and they can be done by anyone. It is to acknowledge the land and the traditional people of the land. And that can be done by anyone. And it should be done by people to say. Before you do a speech or a forum or a function is firstly to say, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. If you know, the name of them is to mention the name of them and to say that, you know, to acknowledge the land we made on is is their land and you know, those sort of things. David Gough: Welcome to country is done by someone who is from that country. It's basically welcoming people onto our land and for people to understand where they are. And I feel it's very positive and people get to understand, I learned a bit about who we are or what land they're on and learn a bit about the traditional people and custodianship or other than ownership. Gough describes visiting Native American nations in the US state of Arizona and realizing that the challenge that members of First Nations face all around the world -- including developing museums that simultaneously serve their own people and the wider public, are similar. And so a are some of the solutions. David Gough: So I do believe they're doing that and more I can see that with my friends and Arizona that there's some acknowledgements coming up around the universities are where they see it. Yeah. And that's, um, that's, that's a great thing. David Gough: You know. So when we're doing things here, I'm getting things in support from my friends on the other side of the world that have been going through similar things. So it was a conversation on there [Facebook] last week, which was around acknowledgements. Those people know what we do is, so I was able to comment on that and then people backwards and forwards. So there is some support in that, which is really, really positive. Hi, it’s Ian again. Since you’ve listened all the way to the end, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re a fan of Museum Archipelago. Join other fans by subscribing to Club Archipelago. It’s a not-so-secret club that gives you access to special bonus features like longer versions of some of my interviews, my take on the museum industry, and insider tours of museums around the world, all with the same humor and quality you’ve come to expect from Museum Archipelago. Join today for $2 a month at Pateron.com/museumarchipelago, and get Museum Archipelago Logo stickers mailed straight to your door. That’s pateron.com/museumarchiepalgo. This has been Museum Archipelago. [Outro]
April 1, 2019
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. This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. For the next three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 This Month, Museum Archipelago is Taking You To Tasmania 00:46 Cascades Female Factory 01:00 The Male and Female Convict Experience 02:26 Dr. Jody Steele 02:48 Why It’s Called The Female Factory 04:30 Being A “Respectable” Women In Colonial Society 06:10 Interpreting the Site 07:05 The Lack of Artifacts at the Site 08:50 Australia's Changing Attitudes Towards Convict Ancestors 09:38 History and Interpretation Center Design Competition 11:12 Female Convicts Research Centre 12:15 The Reminders of Convict Labor in Hobart 13:20 Join Club Archipelago 14:00 Outro Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 61. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Museums on the Australian island of Tasmania are a microcosm of museums all around the world. They struggle with properly interpreting their colonial past, the exclusion of First People from telling their stories in major museums, and having a large, privately owned art museum reshape a small town. This month on Museum Archipelago, we’re taking you to Tasmania. For the next three episodes, we’re conducting a survey of museums on the island, and exploring how each of them relates to the wider landscape of museums. Today, we begin with the Cascades Female Factory in the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart. It’s at the center of a shift in how Australians think of the role that convicts played in the colonization of the island. Jody Steele: The male convict story is the story that everyone’s heard about and everyone wants to discover something about it. So I think it’s odd that the female story is equally as fascinating and as intricate as the male story, and yet until recently nobody’s really shown that much of an interest in it with the exception of family researchers or people who have a specific connection. The site tells the story of European colonization of Van Diemen’s Land, the original European name for the island, from the female perspective. Jody Steele: The whole penal transportation to Australia and subsequently Van Diemen’s Land started as a result of prisons in England. Post industrial revolution, and people turning to crime without all the industries that they were used to, machines taking their jobs, the prisons just started to literally overflow. So they needed a mechanism to get the people out of those spaces, stop the overcrowding, and the colonization of Australia was an attempt to get that population out of Britain, and essentially far far away. Over 170,000 men women and children were transported during the transportation phase, which started in New South Wales in the late 1700s and in Van Diemen’s Land in 1803. The only museum in Tasmania that represents the female convict story is the Cascades Female Factory, where Dr. Jody Steele works as the heritage interpretation manager. Jody Steele: Hi. My name is Jody Steele. I am the heritage interpretation manager for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, and we are lucky enough to be the portfolio managers of three world heritage sites with form part of the Austrian convict sites world heritage nomination. And the Female Factory fall under our portfolio. Understanding why the site is called the Female Factory means understanding how the female convicts were seen as resources to the early colonists. Jody Steele: Moving men out here as a labor force was something that seemed to make a lot of sense to the early Brits, to be able to pack up men and move them across the fall trees and to gather all the materials necessary for building, as in literally building a new colony. And then of course, if you want that population to grow, that can’t be done with men alone. So in the early 1800s, the first vessels with women on board came. Those women in the first days as convicts were usually assigned directly out to the early Hobart population. As your servants, housemaids, that sort of thing. As soon as anyone in that situation needed to be reprimanded for anything that they’ve done, they needed an establishment to do that. And so, as a result of that, the Cascades Female Factory was established. Right here. Jody Steele: Right here. So the female convicts were an amazing resource to that particular set of colonials. They could have female convicts coming in and care for their children. Witnesses educators and a lot of these women weren’t just petty criminals you know they were quite skilled at a number of trades. So you had two seamstresses and all of the trades that the men didn’t lend their hands to. You needed somebody to do laundry for the colony. And so having a prison filled with women who you wanted to put under hard labour to punish them. Laundry was one of the greatest ways to do that. You could well if the military presence could have their their uniforms laundered here and washed and ironed so it gave the colony a massive resource of trades that the men weren’t doing. Which is why it got its name as the Female Factory. The system operated under a strict series of punishments, that was nevertheless at the discretion of the guards. It was managed by a hierarchy of those incarcerated and was encouraged by attitudes towards what it meant to be a respectable women in the colonial society. Jody Steele: A lot of the women who were assigned out were assigned out to people. Some of them to people that they knew. Some of them even to their husbands which is quite curious and I think in those instances there is an absurdity to the system where these women were assigned to people that they were genuinely in love with. They wanted to have families with. They got pregnant. Pregnancy while you were under sentence was considered a crime which meant that those women ultimately would be removed from their assignment brought back here to have child they would spend time with the child when it was a baby. They would be usually weaned quite quickly from their mother. And sometimes you know within within months that mother would then be back under sentence being punished separated from her child with the child being left in the care of other convict women in the nursery usually by sort of three years of age. The child would then be removed from this location the nursery here and removed into an orphan school. You may never see your child again. Now as somebody who wanted to have that baby with the person they were with. That must have been horrific. And then there is the flip side to that story when you could be assigned out to an individual master. He may have had absolutely no choice in falling pregnant and yet you were the one who gets punished for that occurring. You would come back in here and quite often that into that individual who you were assigned to originally would simply just get a new female convict servant and you know you’re left under punishment for something that was clearly not your fault it must have been horrific. Steele says the biggest interpretation challenge is that is so easy for visitors to see the entire population of incarcerated people rather than individuals with vastly different, often contradictory, experiences. Jody Steele: I think the biggest challenge when interpreting a site like this is people come with an understanding of a mass population. They think of a convict population. And unless they happen to be descended from an individual convict, they find it really hard to think about the individual within the system. And with over 7,000 women passing through these few yards alone, it tends to be the mass mentally that we try to break down here, which from my perspective is the most fun part of what I get to do, is to find the odd individual who has this amazing story, whether it be a tragic tale or a tale of resilience and strength. Telling the stories of odd individuals is complicated by the fact that not many artifacts remain. The site itself is made up of three yards, surrounded by sandstone walls with only markings on the ground indicating the size of prison cells or nurseries. Jody Steele: The challenge here, unlike a lot of our convict site museums is that the artifactual material associated with female convicts just isn’t there. Even our state museums, don’t have a lot of artifacts associated with female convicts. There isn’t the material history surrounding them that has been maintained for them men. Jody Steele: Probably one of the hardest things to deal with is the fact that most of the convict population didn’t have access to the time or the inclination to sit down and write a daily journal, and for most of them the literacy wasn’t particularly high usually when they arrived, but part of the convict system was actually educating a lot of these people, so a lot of them left with a much better education when they got in, but the time they could have started writing a journal, they were most likely off getting married, building businesses. So there’s a massive gap, and we really do rely heavily on what is the administrator’s view of these individuals, right down to the way they described them when they got off the ships. And then, we rely heavily on their descendants, who have all those stories and the oral histories of how these families built up from these individual women. Dr. Steele talks about a massive cultural shift in Australian attitudes towards ancestors who may have been incarcerated. Because the family memory of the Female Factory goes back just two or three generations, it’s an opportunity for the museum to better interpret and educate by becoming a hub for these stories. Jody Steele: For a very long time, having a convict ancestor was considered something to be ashamed of. And that has probably only shifted in the past 20 years of having a sense of pride of being descended from a convict when they became aware that even through they may have been criminals, some of them quite serious, some of them petty, that they were responsible for building the new colony of Australia. And that’s been a real shift of people being real proud of it now, and because genealogical research is now enormous, we’ve got access to things that aren’t that oppressive record. Business records, and images of shopfronts where these people built businesses. Massive massive change in attitude. The Female Factory is in the middle of a design process to open a brand new History and Interpretation Centre on the site. The process began with an architectural design competition judged by an all-female panel. Jody Steele: It’s really important when we’re working on this site that we recognise the contribution of women to society. I mean that is that is why this place is is recognised and part of that process when we we put the call out for the architectural design competition was that we really wanted women to contribute to this project we had over 50 original people who came in who put their hand up to get involved in the competition and we pulled together a team of amazing women mostly architects and the chair of our board Sharon Sullivan who oversaw the process and did all of the review of all of the nominations. Looking for things like female contribution of course looking at the Heritage impacts and how the building would would sit in in the landscape and what stories the building itself might tell the new building that they were hoping to put in this space will be clearly identifiable as a brand spanking new building that is that is part of our intention but it will also hopefully be aside from being a beautiful architectural structure. We’re hoping that it will recede and then the individual stories will come out as you’re inside the building. The building will be located over the cellblock location so I guess you know in a lineal form it will represent part of the historic landscape. But outside of that most of our storytelling will have to be in a very different format and we’ll have to get really creative. We work really closely with a group of people called that are called the female convict Research Center that’s started as as a bunch of women female researchers who I think they would forgive me for saying they’re totally obsessed with female convict history and they have built up a an amazing database of all of the female convict women. And so we have access to that database and it would I mean what an amazing thing to be able to know that you have a female convict ancestor to be able to come here to tap into that find out how long they were here exactly what space they were living in working in even being punished in to be able to go to that space you know and stand essentially in the footprints of your ancestor would be an amazing thing. You can see the winning design in the show notes for the episode. The architects call for a beautiful but solum building with plenty of play between the open spaces of the yards as they are today, and confined spaces of cells as they used to exist. Hobart is a city partially built with convict labor, but the reminders — the type of stone on a building for example — are subtle, and you have to know what you’re looking for. A structure like the one proposed removes the sublty, and makes it harder to forget. Jody Steele: I would I would love you know the female convict history to be the first thing that people engage with and then to flow on into into the story of the men. I want people to walk away even if they don’t have a better understanding of convict female convict history. I want them to walk away asking questions and I think that’s what we all want when we build these places we want them to start questioning what they believe what they think what they knew before they walked in the door. I don’t necessarily I mean subliminally I’d love to educate everyone who walks through the door but quite often those people are on holidays and they probably don’t want me lecturing to them for an hour and a half about convict history. But I want them to walk away questioning you know what this place meant to Tasmania or you know what the women at least felt or went through to try and get some kind of gut reaction from them and to that experience that these people went through to create the place that we live in working today. Do you like the podcasts I make? Club Archipelago is the best way to support me. It gives you access to a special bonus podcast that’s an even deeper dive into the museum landscape — kind of like the director’s commentary to the main show. There are longer versions of some of my interviews, commentary on the industry as a whole, and insider tours of various museums from past guests, all with the same humor and quality you’ve come to expect from Museum Archipelago. Join today for as little as $2 at Pateron.com/museumarchipelago, and get Museum Archipelago Logo stickers mailed straight to your door. That’s pateron.com/museumarchiepalgo. [Outro] Jody Steele: I can admit, I like you am a total museum junke and wherever I go I drag anyone who I’m traveling with to every possible museum to every possible museum in every possible place to wherever I travel around the globe. I’m the person who reads the sign and then taps on it to figure out what it is made out of, and whether I like the font. You’re there, you’re there with me, you do it in every museum you walk into.
March 18, 2019
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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00 Intro 00:15 The Ongoing Fight for Racial Diversity in Museums 01:52 Stephanie Cunningham 02:26 The Founding of Museum Hue 03:05 Hueseum Tours 03:52 “Authentic Participation” and Jobs 06:29 Museum Hue’s Membership Model 07:05 Knock On Effects of Resistance to Change 08:56 A Story of the Museum Exhibition Design Company 10:10 The Unchecked Cultural Power of Museums 11:05 Black Visuality 11:25 Museum Hue’s Memberships 12:07 Arts Targeted By Oppressive Forces 13:55 Outro/Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 60. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Stephanie Cunningham: People of color, especially people of African descent, have been fighting for museums to be more inclusive over 50 years ago. It's the reason why institutions like the studio museum in Harlem was created. It's the reason why MOC, the Museum of Chinese in America, El Museo del Barrio, all these institutions came up because of the lack of inclusivity within these institutions. What we've seen today is not actually a shift in inclusion in a white mainstream museum, but a two-tiered museum, which is still the white mainstream museums and the development of these culturally specific institutions that I mentioned. It's important for us to realize that there has been need for institution building for people of color, but also these white mainstream institutions that hold a lot of our cultural heritage have to also include us into the scope and the framework of their institution and become more inclusive as well. A 2018 survey by the Mellon Foundation found that 88% of people in museum leadership positions are white. This imbalance continues though museum visitorship numbers, even though many museums are within communities of color or within states that have high populations of people of color. 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.” And that’s one of the reasons why she co-founded Museum Hue. Stephanie Cunningham: Hello, my name is Stephanie Cunningham. I am the co-founder and creative director of Museum Hue, an arts organization that works to increase the visibility of people of color working in arts and culture and museums in particular. It's really important that we begin to think more critically on how to change this, how to shift this and make museums more innovative and inviting that will attract more people of color and also be very honest about their history and their conflicting provenances as well within the institution. Stephanie Cunningham co-founded Museum Hue with strategic director Monica Montgomery in 2015. The organization began in New York City as a collective of people of color working in museums and other cultural spaces. Stephanie Cunningham: We realized that we really needed a safe space, a space where we can have psychological safety, where we can be ourselves and talk about our experiences working within cultural institutions, whether it be microaggression, macro aggression or racism and talking about perhaps some best practices of the things that were also going well for people within institutions as well. Museum Hue began infiltrating spaces with programs like Hueseum Tours, which the organization leads in art museums and other performance venues. The tours started in New York City but have since branched out to different parts of the country. Stephanie Cunningham: We'll have a conversation focusing on staff and artists of color and also narratives of color as well, because what we also realize is that a lot of the narratives within museums and cultural institutions don't reflect people of color, and so we invoke and incorporate those within our own tours and presentations within these spaces. The Huesuem Tours are one example of Museum Hue’s focus on authentic participation within the arts world. Another is jobs, particularly jobs in creative and leadership roles. At the heart of the issue is not a lack of qualified creatives of color, but instead that the doors of museums and the surrounding ecosystem are largely closed off to people of color. Through extending Museum Hue’s network, and by pipelining people of color in the museum and cultural field, Cunningham has seen how a mostly-white cultural institution’s desire to be more inclusive is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to actual inclusion. And that’s why, last year, Museum Hue became a membership-based organization. Stephanie Cunningham: We decided to become a membership based institution. This came out of our fellowship at Race Forward Racial Equity in the Arts organization. About 50 or so institutions throughout New York City were invited to participate, and we all had our own platform and ideas, but the basis was for all of us to create racial equity framework, and so we decided with the Museum Hue membership that we can focus on institutions that are willing and wanting to work with us in changing the framework of their institution, making it more inclusive of people of color. We've been able to facilitate a lot of opportunities, a lot of jobs for people of color within these museums and also work with them in trainings on cultural competency, but mostly working on real action based because we know that these conversations, although well intentioned, they can fall short, and so we need institutions to take action steps. Action steps look like creating real policy and also procedures in ways that we are accepting or they are accepting people of color and allowing them to have a seat at the table in a real way, looking at their board, making it more diverse, and so looking at real ways that we can begin to focus on the framework of the institution and working on them from the inside out. In episode 48 of Museum Archipelago, The Whitest Cube podcast co-host Ariana Lee makes the point that many museums can claim diverse workforces if you take into account people of color working in museum’s janitorial services department, but less so in seats of power. To that end, Museum Hue created an internal survey that any cultural or museum-related institution can use to develop an assessment of their current staff and institutional attitudes towards inclusion and diversity. Stephanie Cunningham: This isn't a change that happens overnight because you've hired people of color. We want it to be a core part of the foundation and the structure of the institution. In order to do that, we have to encourage them and support them and thinking about this more critically, and so because we've moved in this new vein, it's been a real blessing that so many institutions around the country have wanted to sign on with It's about over 80 at this point, and so we're looking at different ways to support them in creating the toolkits and creating more tours, and not just focusing again on our institutional members but also mostly on people of color in the field as well. Cunningham’s focus on museums and other cultural institutions comes in part because museums can be more resistant to change than some other parts of society--and in the case of museums, that resistance has knockon effects. Stephanie Cunningham: Many people of color have the needed qualifications and some factors in many of our fields but yet don't see them represented, and so we have to realize that there's a real epidemic that have people of color are not represented in leadership or given opportunities for leadership or different spaces and different industries. For me, tackling museums, number one for me is my focus because I have a degree in art history and cultural heritage preservation. I also think that museums, for whatever reason, within the grand scheme of society that's been changing isn't seen as a place of importance for the there to be racial diversity. I think it's needed in all industries, but especially in museums when we're talking about cultural heritage or talking about artistic freedoms of expression, it's incredibly important that we begin to look at museums first because museums create the narratives that we see throughout our landscape. It's important that people begin to see people of color represented in history, in art because that then opens up a new lens for people and of appreciation and recognition of cultural contribution that people of color do not get in this country. For me, museums have to begin to create a lane that is really much more inclusive than they actually are. For Museum Hue, increasing the number of people of color at museum leadership levels begins to shift the framework of not just that institution, but of entire museum ecosystem, like museum exhibit design companies. Stephanie Cunningham: There is a very prominent, I won't say the name, exhibition design company that works with so many museums throughout the country. They went to meet with a museum that they were speaking with to begin to work with on an exhibition design. During the meeting, they were asked by the person that they were working with, a person represented by the museum who was a person of color asked them, "Do you have people of color on your staff?" They, for whatever reason, had not even thought about this. They're like, "We're doing exhibition design. Why does this matter?" But it does matter because perspectives and cultural differences and understandings are also needed as well, and so they reached out to Museum Hue because they were like, "Do you know of anyone in exhibition design that can possibly work with us?" People of color are also going to begin to ask these questions of companies that they're working with as well, and having companies think about this issue as well because it's going to affect their bottom line. Museums have incredible cultural power, and most of it is unchecked. Cunningham’s point is that it, without serious change, that cultural power won’t last forever. Stephanie Cunningham: Museum Hue is just working to change that and to utilize our collective power and our voices to call out these issues and help usher in a change that is constant, not a change that is dependent upon the funding that an institution gets for diversity and inclusion, but something that is a core part of museums and other cultural institutions, because I honestly believe if museums do not change and become more inclusive, expect obsolescence, expect museums shutting down, expect museums continuously become irrelevant for the greater public. Cunningham also hosts an excellent podcast called Black Visuality. Past guests have included Blake Bradford, who is also featured on episode 43 of Museum Archipelago. As the director of Lincoln University’s Museum Studies program, Bradford also sees a pipeline of Black students, exposing them to career paths that are largely closed off to people of color. Museum Hue has three different membership types. Once is an institutional membership, for organizations to align their diversity + equity efforts with Museum Hue, and also advertise job openings. Another is the Huers membership, for people of color interested in the Museum Hue platform. And finally, the Allies membership, for those looking to support Museum Hue’s mission. You can listen to Black Visuality and learn more about Cunningham at stephanieacunningham.com. You can find more information about Museum Hue by going to museumhue.com. Stephanie Cunningham: My work really if you look at all the things that I've been doing falls under two parts. It's really just looking at ways to support people of color to increase our visibility, to facilitate our employment and get us more entrenched in the creative economy and also on the other part, call out and challenge and address the barriers and the hierarchies and issues that relate to specifically racism and lack of opportunity in the field for people of color. That's what I'm continuously doing is just working on ways to shift this field and move it into where we can see much more equity, much more diversity, much more ... There's another word that I'm looking for. Much more parity as well in the field is incredibly important to me. This has been Museum Archipelago. [Outro]
March 4, 2019
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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Quest for Scientific Legitimacy 01:06: Julie Garcia 02:25: Garcia's Thesis 03:50: Visiting Creation Museums 04:45: Using Dinosaurs to Attract Children To Creation Museums 07:00: Why Build A Museum? 10:51: Creationists Going Directly To Their Audience 11:17: “Biblically Correct” Tours 11:48: The Two Model Approach 13:00: Outro/Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 59. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript 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, most of them in the US. 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. Julie Garcia: A museum lets creationists speak directly to the people in an unfiltered and unchallenged way. Just being able to put all this inside something that’s called a museum and using the trappings of science, it gives creationism that additional feel of the legitimacy and credibility that it might not otherwise have. This is Julie Garcia, and her interest in both evolution and the people who vehemently deny it, led her to explore why museums are a particularly well-suited medium for creationist ideas. Julie Garcia: My name is Julie Garcia. I was formally known as Julie Duncan at the time I wrote my senior thesis, which was called “Faith Displayed As Science: The Role of The Creation Museum in the Modern American Creationist Movement”. Garcia grew up in Kentucky, and as an undergrad at Harvard, she decided to become a History and Science major. Julie Garcia: At other colleges that’s known as History and Philosophy of Science which is basically just the study of what science is and why we trust it and what are different ways of knowing the world. For me, part of the reason to go into it is because I loved evolution so much and had always just had a fascination with the whole process and had also had a corresponding fascination with why so many people so vehemently didn’t like evolution, and why so many people, to the point of 30, 40, sometimes 50% percent in certain polls, believe in creationism. So I was prompted to write this thesis when in 2006, I heard that in my backyard, in Boone Country Kentucky, Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization, was going to be building the largest Creation Museum in the world, known as the The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, a 27 million dollar facility, over many 20 acres, about 10 minutes from my house.” The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, also known as just The Creation Museum opened in 2007. In its first year, it reported 400,000 visitors. Julie Garcia: I eventually decided, coming into the summer of 2008, before my senior year, that I would spend that summer traveling back home to Kentucky to visit the creation museum there, and three other creation museums around the US. The Creation Evidence Museum in Glenrose, TX, Dinosaur Adventureland and the related creation museum in Pensacola, FL, and the Institute for Creation Research which is near San Diego, CA. That’s kind of how it all started, and I spent the summer visiting and learning about the four different museums.” Garcia chose these four museums for their stylistic differences and for their geographical diversity. At each one, she viewed the exhibits, and talked to the founders and staff, then analyzed and highlighted the messages and methods common to all of the museums. Julie Garcia: There was some trepidation before I went because I was worried that by disclosing that I was not a creationist they would assume I was going to write a smear piece on their museums, which honestly when I read my thesis now I feel there are certain things that I would phrase differently that came off snarkier than I think I would write them now. But everyone was very kind to me and they were all very eager to show me everything that they had built and they were very proud of it. I came away thinking these are very nice people with whom I just disagree, but that’s what stuck in my mind the most: everyone I talk to was very faithful and believe completely in everything that was shown in the museums. I did feel uncomfortable to seeing all the children there because it’s one thing obviously for adults to decide what they believe, and feel very strongly about them and teach them to others. It was just a little troubling to me to see young children learning things that were contrary to mainstream science. But of course, that’s kind of the purpose of these museums. All four museums heavily feature dinosaurs — either in audio animatronic form or as fossils. This is not just because of time compression of geological ages present in young-Earth creationism — it is also because dinosaurs attract the pubic, particularly children, to these museums. The founder of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, Ken Ham, calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards” for their attention-getting power. Julie Garcia: Dr. Hovan from Dinosaur Adventure Land in Florida and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis very explicitly say the purpose of using things like dinosaurs is to attract the children and to bring them in. Then again, with distance now I can acknowledge that is true for secular museums as well because we all know that dinosaurs sell, but at the same time, given the counter narrative being told at these museums about dinosaurs and humans living together, yes, I did feel some discomfort seeing kids being explicitly told that these dinosaurs were alive 6,000 years ago and that people were riding them. In Answers in Genesis, they actually have a triceratops towards the end of the museum and they actually have a saddle on it. And you can sit on it and take a pictures. And it’s not a joke: it’s a representation of what the museum says would have been a typical pre-Flood diorama, where humans were living together with dinosaurs. So why build a museum? Garcia argues that there are three significant and interrelated reasons for the creationist movement. The first: museums are seen as credible. Museums really have a long history in the US as places of scientific research and public education. In the 20th century, they were sometimes referred to as “Cathedrals of Science,” this idea that they were buildings where we set forth the best of human endeavor and everything that the collective knowledge of our species was placed in these buildings. So simply by attaching that word, museum, it gives the building a sheen of credibility that it otherwise wouldn’t have if it were called a theme park or a bible center or something like that. The second reason also relates to the focus on dinosaurs: museums are more entertaining than school, bible study, or bible school. Julie Garcia: That is something that is like a theme park, but at the same time, it’s a kind of entertaining that a lot of teachers are going to like and a lot of parents are going to like in the way that a lot of parents and teachers want an educational experience for kids. A lot of parents who might want to spend the money on what they feel like is a frivolous day at a theme park, can get behind the idea of taking them to a museum where they’re going to be learning about science and they’re going to learning wholesome things and bettering themselves. And going along with that, the entertainment value is a decent amount of money. There is money to be made from offshoots from these museums. The final reason: going directly to the people. Julie Garcia: Number three is the most important of them, which is that a museum lets creationists speak directly to the people in an unfiltered and unchallenged way. So a creator of a museum has total control over the experience that visitors have. They can control exactly where you walk and what you read at what time, and what you take away from the exhibits. I think this is part of a larger movement, away from what creationists had been doing, which was bringing these challenges in the court system: in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s a string of defeats in federal courts for violating the establishment clause. A court, when things go right, a legal proceeding is designed to get to the truth, and part of getting to the truth is subjecting assertions to rigorous cross-examination. And you have someone sitting up there, the judge who makes rulings about what is a good argument and what’s not. And can keep certain evidence out, and can rule on who qualifies an expert. And those were things that weren’t going well for creationists. So after they lost a number of these cases, they started moving more toward this museum model. I think that is because there is no cross-examination in a museum. In fact, there is no opposite point of view if you don’t want to give it. There’s no requirement that you describe how other people see evidence or that you respond to criticisms to how you are presenting your point of view. So by switching over to these museum, a lot of creationists have switched strategies from trying to impose creationism on public school districts, or impose these laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution and instead to try to change people's hearts and minds on a more local and individual level in the hope that those people will have their minds changed and will go out and teach their kids at home creationists ideas or be part of a groundswell pushing again for the teaching of these creationist ideas in schools. Being able to go directly to your audience without a middleman is one of the main ways the media landscape more broadly has changed. As institutions that used to be arbiters of truth are called into question, there is more space for viewpoints that used to be far outside the mainstream to directly attract their own audience. And it doesn't have to be on the level of a single institution either. Garcia talks about guides to scientifically informed museums, zoos, and aquariums for sale in the Creation Museum's gift shop, meant to be used at these other institutions for alternative, biblically correct interpretations of their displays. Julie Garcia: I know that in addition to those printouts you can purchase, there are also some organization that provide some of these tours, such as a group called “Biblically Correct Tours” that does tours of Natural History Museums, and my understanding of how this works is it is an offshoot of the two model approach: which is the idea that evolution and creationism is two competing philosophies and that they look at the same evidence and that they just draw different conclusions. And so by having a Biblically Correct tour of the museum, this organization explains how creationism is not opposed to science in their view because they know that Americans for the most part like science. Nobody wants to be anti-science. So if anyone disagrees about things like climate change or evolution, usually the way that it is phrased is not “well I don’t like science, and I reject science”, it’s more “well I take a more different view of the science and there are two sides of this story and I follow this interpretation.” That is exactly the type of thing that we’re seeing with tours like this, and that you also see in the Answers in Genesis Creation museum: they present things that could be in a secular museum, such as an image of a dinosaur skeleton obscured by a mudslide, and you can look at it in two different ways… It’s not just that museum-goers like science: Garcia points out that audiences tend to trust information more if it is presented in a high-tech style. In her conclusion, Garcia writes that “It seems very probable that the years to come will see the construction of more museums, most likely in the high-tech style of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, which has proven quite lucrative.” Julie Garcia: Now, it’s easier for people through mediums like Twitter and through buildings like their own Creation Museums, to claim the same kind of authority and to have an impact that they otherwise might not have in the past where they wouldn’t have had that ability get their message out.
February 11, 2019
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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Sponsor: Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, GW University This show is brought to you by the Museum Studies Graduate Program at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University. With a graduate degree in Museum Studies, you will be equipped to respond to the evolving museum profession by engaging in hands-on training in the heart of the nation’s museum capital. To learn more, click here. Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Joseph Galliano 00:35: 50th anniversary of the Partial Decriminalization of Homosexuality in England and Wales 01:55: Legislation from the 'Buggery' Act to Today 02:58: Legislation Focusing on Male Homosexuality 04:00: "Rightful Place" 04:43: The Word Queer 05:28: The Plan for Queer Britain 06:20: Dan Vo at the V&A 07:25: Virtually Queer 08:45: Museums Asking Questions 10:40: Fundraising and Partnerships 12:09: Sponsor: Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, GW University 13:18: Outro | Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 58. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Joe Galliano: Turns out, in order to launch a museum, it’s a long, complicated, expensive process. Who knew? This is Joe Galliano, one of the co-founders of the Queer Britain Museum. Joe Galliano: Hello, my name is Joe Galliano, the co-founder and CEO of Queer Britain, the national LGBTQ+ museum for the UK. Galliano came up with the idea for a national LGBTQ+ museum in 2017, during the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexual acts in the UK, an anniversary commemorated by cultural and heritage institutions across the country. Joe Galliano: I felt slightly conflicted because it’s an anniversary that’s focused around men. It’s an anniversary that was focused around criminality and victimhood. Some of the fairly familiar tropes that we get rolled out that we get when we start talking about gay men, largely, and it’s not very inclusive. We’re living in a world, thankfully, where there’s a rich and wildly diverse set of sexulaitlies and gender identities and it left me slightly sad that it wasn’t entirely recognized. And also the fact that it was hung on an anniversary, and I didn’t wanted it to be another 50 years before there was something major happening again and I wanted to make sure that we build on the momentum that was being gathered around that anniversary and that it didn’t just fizzle away: it turned into something with real lasting value. The emphasis on an anniversary of legislation could have come from the context of a long history of formal, legal repression of male homosexuality the UK, going all the way back to the Buggery Act of 1533. Joe Galliano: We had the Buggery Act, which was introduced under Henry VIII, which was very much around male sexuality, male same-sex attraction and policing that. And this all stayed on the books in various forms until 1967 when there was partial decriminalization. With partial decriminalization, the age of consent was set at 21, where it was 16 for everybody else. At that point, as well, prosecutions absolutely rocketed. As soon as there was some allowance for people to behave naturally, it then became a bigger stick to beat people with. The legislation only focused on male homosexuality, which is, of course, telling. Joe Galliano: It’s interesting that those laws were always about men. Women with same sex desire were almost rendered invisible to public life and the law. Yeah, I think there’s also, if we’re talking about that kind of legislation, there actually have been a prejudice, a lot of it is about patriarchy, about male views of sexualty and sex, who has an active sexuality, who has a passive sexuality. I think through a large portion of history, women’s sexuality was seen as in service to male sexuality, and so would you legislate against that? There are also some stories. When some of the later bills will brought to Queen Victoria, they were too embarrased to talk about lesbianisim or anything like that. How much truth there is in that, I don’t know. Of course, the focus of Queer Britain will not be legislation. But as Galliano says, the laws previously on the books, and the increasing number of violent homophobic and transphobic attacks in the UK today have distorted the country’s understanding of itself — and tie directly into the mission of the museum. Joe Galliano: We’re talking about a central hub that will visible globally and within the mainstream that will give a message that here is a catalytic space that will collect our stories and here’s a way of helping progress Britain’s understanding of itself by giving Queer stories their rightful place. So that means rightful place within the culture. And also a rightful place. A place that can be their own. The word ‘Queer’ has a complicated history. It wassynonymous with ‘strange’ or ‘weird’, and a common slur thrown at LGBT people. Activists in the 1980s reclaimed the word and used it as an umbrella term for a wide range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Today, 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. Galliano and the Queer Britain Museum use the term as a proud self-identifier and as an intentional move away from using the word ‘gay’, and male homosexuality in general, as a stand-in for all identities. The plan is for Queer Britain to have a physical space in London, opening sometime in the next few years. Although the UK is full of museums, some of which are have Queer artifacts and Queer stories, Galliano is conscious of how backsliding can happen. In legislation and culture, the laws and norms of today don’t guarantee that the future will look the same. Institutions like museums are a part of maintaining today’s momentum — and can give people who have had their stories told by others a chance to narrate their own history. Joe Galliano: I think there’s fantastic movement within the museum communities now to Queer those spaces, to make sure they are unearthing those stories and seeing how they can weave them through the main of their collections. Are they there yet? No. Some places have gotten further than others. Some aren’t doing anything. But there’s some really really good work. I would look at a volunteer like Dan Vo at the V&A who is conducting really good museum tours, LGBT museum tours and is a great volunteer activist. I think that part of my fear is that much of the movement forward relies on activist curators and really excited volunteers and it doesn’t take too many people to leave the sector, and that’s lost. The other thing I think is really important is that there’s such a rich and wildly diverse set of stories to tell. That those museums are never going to be able to tell all of those stories. Whereas what we have the ability to do is to create a catalytic space, where we can pour all of those stories in and where we can keep telling different stories and we can change the exhibitions all the time. And that LGBT people can be in control of telling their own stories as well. Over history, so often, it has been other people who have told our stories. When these other people and institutions tell the Queer community’s stories, they often become the de facto intergenerational gatekeepers — if they decide to keep and organize the information at all. This can have devastating consequences. Galliano is acutely aware that stories are being lost every day. Joe Galliano: That’s about making sure that we’ve gathered the stories of people who are with us now. They can add their voices into the archives and become part of that. It’s important really that we gather the stories now while people can actually talk to us. In terms of understanding where we’re gonna be headed with the archive to start with is that we are designing a national survey of museums around the country, which we’re doing with the assistance of the National Archives. What we really want to do is just get a proper sense of what is the nation’s holding of material that we would think of as LGBT focused. That will mean that it will give us steer as to where are the important gaps. How do we fill those gaps? That’s going to kind of give us a sense of where to focus our collecting activity. When a museum is still an idea, what the word museum means is still flexible. In addition to educational exhibits about Queer history and culture, the proposed museum is also a place for people to upload their own stories and The Whole projects serves as an antidote to the psychological damage of homophobic and transphobic attacks and oppression. Joe Galliano: Museum’s an interesting word, isn’t it, because it comes with all sorts of baggage. And actually, we’re talking about something very much broader than just a museum in the traditional sense. They show inherently show what a culture values and they’re a really good way of understanding what we are now, understand how we got there, and then take that understanding and use them to imagine the best of all possible futures. They ask questions. Who are we? How did we get here? Who do we want to be? It should be different every time you come to the museum when the physical space itself opens. Which we’re a few years off yet. What we’re looking at is a series of guest curators, a rolling series of guest curators so that each time we bring somebody in we’re like, “What is the story that you need to tell? What is the story that hasn’t been told? What’s the material that sits unexplored in other museums’ archives that we’re able to shine a light on?” Sometimes it’ll be about the blockbuster exhibition. What’s the exhibition that’s going to be bringing lines ‘round the block? Which of the exhibitions will there be telling community stories that haven’t been told? For example, it could be everything from - and I’m talking off the top of my head right this moment - It could be everything from, “What is Elton John’s stage costumes?” through to “What is the queer Bangladeshi experience of Birmingham in the 1950s?” It will be a space to tell a vast, endless set of experiences. Creating a new museum is no small task, but Galliano is ready for the challenge. As he goes through the process of collecting and fundraising, he’s also focused on building partnerships. His route to creating a robust institution begins with acknowledging that it’s a project bigger than just one person or one identity. Joe Galliano: There’s as many challenges as you want to look at and they’re all fascinating and exciting to step up to. I think the other thing is how do you carry the responsibility to make sure that something that there is such a need for and such a desire, certainly within the LGBTQ+ communities, how do you carry the weight and the responsibility of having said that you’re gonna this thing and making sure that you’ve delivered for those people. I want to create an organization that if I step away from it, we’ve got the right … There’s another person that will be able to take over that mantle. So that the organization isn’t about one person, but we’ve created a robust organization that will be able to delivery fabulously. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever worked on because it’s the thing that I’m most … I’ve never worked from something I feel so passionately is important. I’ve never picked up a project as brilliantly challenging as this in it’s scale, in the scope of all the different stakeholders we need to make sure are brought close and are doing the right things. And that we keep a laser focus on the strategy to make sure that it happens. [Sponsor] This has been Museum Archipelago [Outro]
January 28, 2019
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 cofounders and co-directors, Jim Casey and Gabrielle Foreman are joined by Project 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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today on Patreon to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Colored Conventions Movement 01:23: Gabrielle Foreman And Jim Casey 02:00: Colored Conventions Project 02:21: Denise Burgher 03:34: Data As A Form Of Protest 06:25: Terms Of Use For CCP’s Data 07:20: “To Respect, Not Just Collect” 09:20: “Celebratory History Of American Progress” 10:23: The Understudy Of The Colored Conventions Movement 11:25: Women's Centrality To The Movement 12:30: Getting People Involved 12:54: Douglass Day 14:15: Museums And Digital Spaces 15:00: Announcing Museum Archipelago Stickers Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 57. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript 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. GABRIELLE FOREMAN: "The Colored Convention movement was Black-lead and Black organizers came together across so many of the states. Beginning in 1830 folks began to gather in Philadelphia, and there were both state and national conventions that discussed labor rights, educational rights, voting rights, violence against Black communities, the expulsion of people who were not considered residence and citizens.” JIM CASEY: “The Conventions Movement was not just a single thing, where there was one issue that they were really dedicated to solving or figuring out. Conventions were held in at least 35 states. And keep in mind that this was the 19 century, so there weren’t 50 states even back then. That we really think there is a way, through this history, to rethink everything that begins far long before the Civil War and leads up into the 20th century. GABRIELLE FOREMAN And JIM CASEY are two co-founders and two co-directors of the Colored Conventions Project, a Black digital humanities initiative focused on researching and teaching the Colored Conventions Movement. GABRIELLE FOREMAN: "Hi, my name is GABRIELLE FOREMAN, and I teach at the University of Delaware, and I am one of the cofounders of the Colored Conventions Project, and the founding faculty director of that project. JIM CASEY: “Hello, I’m JIM CASEY. I’m a researcher at the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University, and I am also one of the cofounders of the Colored Conventions Project, and also one of the co-directors. The Colored Conventions project or (CCP) is dedicated to identifying, collecting, and curating all of the documents produced by the Colored Conventions movement, which started in 1830 and lasted until the 1890s. The project is much bigger than just Forman or Casey, and it includes graduate fellow DENISE BURGHER. DENISE BURGHER: Hello, my name is DENISE BURGHER, and I am a team member of the Colored Convention Project housed at the University of Delaware. The significance of this collection is that none of these documents have been collected in the same place. It is a scattered archive, and so not even when the Conventions were going on were the proceedings and the minutes and the calls and the memorials all in one place for anyone to actually look at and see. So this is actually the first time that this archive will be collected. It allows us to see not only the issues that were facing African Americans but in particular, how to make more complex how we think the African American community and the civic, social, political activity that were taken up, not just in the United States, but across the diaspora. So what we’re getting is a more complete idea of not only what took place then, but how these activists were able to influence, shape, and create contemporary civil rights, political action, and social justice organizations in our current moment.” By studying the organizing principles of the Colored Conventions Movement, the Project reveals how data can be a form of protest. JIM CASEY: “One of the things that we see in the Conventions most often is that they are responding to a lack of information about who they are, who their communities are, and what they’re doing. This is about a kind of form of protest where we are trying to combat against things like ignorance. And so many of these conventions would have formalized ways of gathering information, distilling them, and then preparing them to get published in all kinds of different ways.” GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “And the conventions themselves have a longer life and a longer reach because the proceedings often appear in Black newspapers and in the antislavery press. But if you look for coverage of these conventions, then you understand this structural and strategized reach to make sure we get beyond the people who were actually in the meeting rooms themselves. That’s one of the things that the project has made central. To think not just about the podium. And not just about the podium and the pews, but to think through the ways in which Black infrastructure was built around Black convention organizing. JIM CASEY: So I’ll give you and example. In the California convention, we have this very small, quickly growing group. And they get together for conventions a couple of times in the 1850s on into the 1860s, and what they do is they ask everyone to ask around, to do what effectively amounts to a census. And they want to gather information about who the population is that is being left out of the official records, that’s being left out of the government reports. We have all kinds of things happening in California where folks are being denied the right to testify in a court of law for example, where you’re not physically able to account for yourself. And so the Conventions compile all of these statistics, and they track everything that they can, with the idea that they’re providing a set of useful information for the writers in their ranks, but also the local politicians to know that the community is not just a couple of people living out in gold rush country, but stretches across a lot of territory and a lot of people. And then when they go to publish it, and this is an important part: is that they prepare some reports that go out to the people of the United States or the people of Canada, they mean the broad general public. And then, in many of the conventions, prepare more reports that are addressed to the People of Color in the state or in the country. And oftentimes, they are putting out the same message or the same set of ideas, but really gearing and prioritizing different kinds of arguments in different places. And so, when thinking about the conventions as a place to learn about recording keeping, it’s full of so many of these great examples of folks who were thinking in multiple directions at the same time. And the co-founders of the Project purposely structured the initiative to mirror the energy and collective commitments of the Colored Conventions themselves. One of the first thing that struck me when I visited the project website was the terms of use for the project’s data: the data are freely accessible, but when you go to download, the site asks you to commit to the following principles: GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “I honor CCP’s commitment to a use of data that humanizes and acknowledges the Black people whose collective organizational histories are assembled here. Although the subjects of datasets are often reduced to abstract data points, I will contextualize and narrate the conditions of the people who appear as “data” and to name them when possible.” As Forman explains, principles like these reflect the wholeness of Black communities and is an example of one of the ways that the project intentionally, and in practice, continues the principles of the Colored Convention Movement itself: to respect, not just collect. GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “Whenever possible, we try to intervene in the ways in which Black people are represented in academic language, in academic spaces, in ways that do honor the ways in which the delegates and the conventions were intervening about the ways in which Black people were represented in the larger press, in the Law, and in the exclusionary politics that try to erase them. Big data sets call things items. Black people show up on ledgers as items. We have a whole history of being turned into objects, and objects and items are the nomenclature in libraries and in museums in ways that we talk about things that we curate. So we want to in all moments testify and witness to the humanity and the narratives of named people whose histories have been disremembered, and who can be turned to datasets in ways that are extraordinarily comfortable considering the history of objectification and ownership that is the legacy of Black people’s existence in these United States over the last 400 years. So that’s I think what we’re trying to make sure does not happen: that people come to the use of data which is collected in a group of people who want to respect, not just collect the work of people who came before us and largely make our existence and study possible, and we want to do that in a way that’s humanizing not just to them, but to us.” And as BURGHER points out, part of the Project’s purpose is to change the overall narrative of the most-often told version of Black American history in the 19th century. DENISE BURGHER: “We have a very fleshed out and detailed notation of abolition in this country, but we don’t understand that the majority of Abolitionists were African American, nor do we then understand the ways that African American activism shaped contemporary quote unquote American notions of civil rights, of who gets to vote and why, of who gets to stand in the juror box. This erasure, this imbalance allows one story to dominate, but we lose the ability to actually see what happen and we lose the ability to understand what happens. And it also then leads us, I think, to create a kind of celebratory history of American progress and American race neutrality, what we call post-racal, that the truth belies. We’re much more interested in learning what African Americans are saying about African Americans who are involved in creating this movement.” GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “And that’s one of the reasons that the understudy of the Conventions Movement is a particularly egregious disremembrance because the Movement speaks to the continuous targeting of Communities of Color in this country that has gone pretty much uninterrupted and documents a much longer history of organized protest and formal petitioning of fair and equal treatment of those communities.” The Colored Convention Project’s is also studying the social network of the convention goers: when you list out who attended which conference, you begin to see patterns, not only of prolific delegates, but also the infrastructure around the conventions. The project has even organized records like reviews of boarding houses the conference-goers stayed in. Another key principle of the Project is a commitment to resurrecting women’s centrality to the movement, records of which might not be as widely published. GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “It took a great deal of energy to host these conventions. Those Conventions had hundreds and hundreds of people attending and that those people were men and woman and that women were responsible for the boarding houses and the feeding and the housing of the delegates and that so many conversations and political strategy sessions we know also happened in those informal places. So the Project has been committed to resurrecting women’s centrality in the history that they have been erased from or anonymized in in terms of the records themselves, but we know they were central in the actual historical moment. And we have strategies and protocols to make sure as we resurrect that history, that women are included in the history that they help to create. CASEY makes the point that the original convention-goers were really good at getting lots of people involved in the movement, and this presents yet another opportunity for the Project to mirror the Movement. JIM CASEY: “We know that if we do just enough to help get folks up and running and participating in different kinds of ways, then we can really expand the numbers of who can participate and preserve in creating access to this history. To that idea, we’ve created this annual holiday to celebrate the birthday of Frederick Douglass. And what we do every year is we get birthday cakes and we sing happy birthday and we get together with groups and we give out organizing kits to help folks at other locations and schools organize their own events. Together, all in one afternoon, we log online and we transcribe documents together with the idea that we are both celebrating something and we’re inviting folks to participate in building parts of the history that we’re talking about. Douglass Day wasn’t created by the Colored Conventions Project, but is another example of resurrecting something that already existed before. The Read-A-Thons take place on Frederick Douglass's chosen birthday, February 14, and in 2019 will be held at University of Delaware Morris Library and the African American Museum of Philadelphia. They will be live-streamed over the internet. I think the best way to describe the Colored Convention Project is as an open research framework with a very strong set of principles. It’s remarkable for me to see organizing tools that I think of as modern, or at least native to the internet, have their roots in this understudied movement of 19th century Black activism. It’s also interesting to think how other projects and institutions can contribute and follow some of the same organizational principles. GABRIELLE FOREMAN: “There is a place for storytelling in the midst of all this data and in fact, that’s what tends to connect with people, and in fact, that’s something that’s shared between museum and digital spaces. Some of the very questions about accessibility, and participation that museums are attempting to grapple with finally at this stage, we’re also engaging as a project that creates digital content and digital stories about this incredible group of delegates and participates and hosts who made this movement possible. You can learn more about the Colored Conventions Project by visiting coloredconventions.org.
January 7, 2019
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, consulting work, and even her photographs. 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 Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast for free to never miss an episode. Sponsor: The Museums, Heritage, and Public History program at the University of Missouri at St. Louis This episode of Museum Archipelago is sponsored by The Museums, Heritage, and Public History program at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. The program is currently accepting applications for the Fall 2019 semester. They offer an MA degree as well as a Graduate Certificate. Their programs address pressing needs of museums and heritage institutions in the 21st century and prepare students for professional careers in museums, historic sites and societies, cultural agencies, and related organizations. Financial support is available for a limited number of students and applications are due on February 1st. For more information, please call 314-516-4805 or visit their website. Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Croatia 00:40: Over-Tourism in Dubrovnik, Croatia 01:14: Lana Pajdas and the Fun Museums Blog 02:39: Disney’s America on Museum Archipelago 03:15: Vukovar Municipal Museum on the Battle of Vukovar 05:12: “Museum Procrastination” 06:14: Sustainable Tourism 07:59: Possible Solutions to Over-Tourism 09:08: FunMuseums.eu 09:18: Sponsor: The Museums, Heritage, and Public History program at the University of Missouri at St. Louis 10:11: Outro | Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 56. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Lana Pajdas is from Croatia. Lana Pajdas: We are a small country, and we have fewer inhabitants that some US cities. We don’t have as many fields of industry or strong economy or whatever, and tourism is maybe the most important field we have. But in recent years, the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, due in part to being a prominent filming location of the TV series Game of Thrones, has experienced dramatic overcrowding. Lana Pajdas: I was there last time, and it was pretty much terrible to see that people were waiting in lines to enter inside the old town, inside the walls. There were so many agencies selling Game of Thrones tours and taking people to some specific areas where it’s kind of difficult to have so many people in the same place, even for safety reasons. Pajdas is the founder of Fun Museums, a heritage and culture travel blog. Lana Pajdas: Okay, my name is Lana Pajdas, My blog is called Fun Museums because I like to say that visiting museums is fun above all. Visiting museums is a fun experience, and people shouldn’t think that museums are something cold, elegant, smart, intelectual. It’s just, people can have that experience in their leisure time. Pajdas is also a museum marker and consultant. Her overall theme is that museums are fun. It is a radical idea — and it influences everything, from her philosophy on museum marketing to a way to approach overcrowding in museums and heritage sites. Lana Pajdas: Exactly, that is my guiding principle. The way I write my articles it to say the most cool, funky stuff about each museums I visit. Sometimes museum professionals don’t like this at all, that’s why some people from museums, museum curators for instance, museum marketing professionals or education professionals, they send me messages: “could you stop saying things that way because it is in contrast to our professional values.” But then I said, okay, but that’s what people like to know. That’s what people like to hear. If you think it should be more intellectual, you have to understand that most people can’t read it that way, understand the way you want to present it to them. But there is a real tension, because the axis isn’t just between what’s fun and what’s intellectual. In episode 17 of Museum Archipelago, I cover the spectacular failure of a Disney theme park concept called Disney's America in 1994. The park, which would open in Virginia not far from Washington DC, would showcase [quote] “the sweep of American History” within a fun theme park environment. It is particularly notable to witness the confidence and enthusiasm Disney executives had for a tightrope between entertainment and American history. Lana Pajdas: An example is a town on the east of Croatia, its name is Vukovar. This town was heavily destroyed in the most recent war in this part of Europe in 1991 when it was occupied. Almost all the buildings were destroyed, most of the people have to go away from there, and it was one of the most terrible stories that happened in Europe after the Second World War. And now the city has been quite well restored some people went back to live there, and the museum was completely renovated. And obviously, the visit to that museum is a nice and pleasant experience, but in recent history you really need to deal with some awful stuff that happened less than 30 years ago. It’s difficult for a person from Western Europe to understand what happened in ex-Yugoslavia. Even sometimes too complicated for people from this areas. It’s not as simple as some books like to present or some journalists like to present and there are many different opinions. So I think that museums sometimes need to take certain sides, even if some will disagree. Museums that deal with that stories needs to first of all show those emotions and to collaborate with people who suffered those emotions. Of course some emotional intelligence is very important for people who create that storytelling, who transmit emotions of certain people or people who will be just visitors, or maybe have nothing to with those areas or stories. No matter what kind of museum you’re about to walk into, you have a sense of what you might find inside. And since that sense is partially informed by a museum’s marketing, Pajdas has made a habit of noting how people react to museums before they go. Lana Pajdas: In most cases, it happens that people procrastinate their decisions to go to a museum. That happens more often than not. Next time I would really like to visit that museum, but today I feel a bit tired. I’m hungry, I want to go to eat to drink, I prefer to stay at home, watch a movie, I would really love to go the museum, but maybe one day. When my friends go to Paris, for instance, they say, I want to visit Louvre, I know there are other museums, but maybe another time. Because Louvre is already enough for me for these three days. This tendency to choose the most popular museum to the exclusion of less frequently-visited ones is part of Pajdas’s interest in sustainable tourism. Lana Pajdas: I’m parallel interested in sustainable travel and the museum thing, and these are the two areas I mentioned as my primary focus and interest. So museums and sustainable travel. Sustainability has so many faces, I’m quite interested in seeing about energy efficiency and waste management. But overtorusiim being one of my focus areas even though I don’t really pretend to know what could be a solution to that. Some attractions like the Alhombre Castle in Spain introduced online booking and you can’t just come in, buy a ticket and enter, but you have to book your spot in advance online and sometimes you can’t get a ticket if you just remember a week before you go. These are some of the solutions. I do wonder how much of this heavily concentrated overcrowding has to do with the nature social media itself -- there’s a network effect of a geotagged photo, not just a particular heritage site, but at particular spot within that heritage site that presents the best angle for a photo or looks exactly the way it did on Game of Thrones. Of course, there are many other factors that lead to overcrowding — the cheap flights, the increasing ability of people to travel, and the dynamic of travel as a product. And if the Acropolis is at already capacity every single day, what it is going to look like 10 or 20 years from now? And to go back to Disney, tourism as a product already has an answer — just raise the prices. But heritage for the rich isn’t heritage anymore. Lana Pajdas: Heritage should be accessible. Obviously, for many people around the world, it’s not really affordable to go to some places. What I want to be avoided is it becomes too expensive that only wealthy people can afford visiting those attractions. That’s what I would like to be avoided. And another thing, I would really like to encourage more people who really like to travel to visit secondary attractions, not go necessarily to the most famous places, but to visit some places around that usually also need visitors and more local people could make money for living, if they get visitors on those particular places, because more people could be employed in those places and businesses could flourish. That’s the basic thing. And this is what ties all aspects of Pajdas (pydash)’s work together — to use the social media network effect to share the secondary attractions of a city, balancing the pressure on the most popular heritage site. To read Pajdas (pydash)’s blog, and to learn about her consulting work, visit Funmuseums.eu. Her twitter handle is @LanaPajdas.
December 3, 2018
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. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Barbara Hicks-Collins 00:42: Robert “Bob” Hicks 01:28: “Why Not A Museum?" 02:54: The City of Bogalusa, Louisiana 03:45: “The Civil Rights House" 04:11: The Events of February 1, 1965 05:04: The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement 06:28: Daily Life Under Threat 07:20: Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum 09:35: The Process 11:18: "It's Not Easy But It's Possible" 12:16: Learn More | Donate to the Museum 14:05: Outro | Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 55. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Barbara Hicks-Collins can describe the exact moment an idea for a civil rights museum in Bogalusa, Louisiana entered her mind. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “After Hurricane Katrina, our homes were devastated so I had to move back to Bogalusa, I was able to help my mom take care of my father, his health was failing.” Barbara Hicks-Collins’s father is the late Robert “Bob” Hicks, a civil rights leader and founder of the first chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were an armed African-American self-defense force operating in the segregated — and violently hostile towards integration — city of Bogalusa and other towns across the American south in the 1960s. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “I spent about five years with him and every waking hour we could talk, he talked to me about what he loved to talk about: the civil rights movement. When my father died, I realized that a lot of things are not permanent. And that meant to me that a lot of the history that I felt would always be here because we experienced history and it was so important for people to know why they are where they are today, and history makers — they were dying off sooner than I had expected.” Barbara Hicks-Collins: “But I was thinking of a way — how could we preserve the history permanently — and the idea of a dream came up: why not a museum? Where you can start preserving the history, talking to some of the decedents and make a civil rights museum so this generation and generations forever would know about that.” Today, Barbara Hicks-Collins is the director of the museum, and she joins me to talk about the process, progress, and challenges of the Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum project. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Greetings from Bogalusa, Louisiana! I’m Barbara Hicks-Collins. I’m the museum director of the future museum which is going to be the civil rights museum in Bogalusa and I’m also one of the founders and executive director of a non-profit organization named after my father, The Robert Bob Hicks Foundation. And how are you today?” I’m doing well! Before we start talking about the museum, we have to talk about the town of Bogalusa and the life of Robert “Bob” Hicks. Barbara Hicks-Collins: The Goodyears came from New York and they started the paper mill here in Bogalusa and they brought in people from all over the country when they heard there was going to be a mill here. They brought them in. Then they built homes for the people to love in. And since this was 1906, of course, they are separated. So in Bogalusa, it's separated where you have the blacks and you have the whites. They build churches for blacks and churches for white. So that's how they tried to do, they said it was equal if you did it that way. Everything, so you know that story. In the 1960s, Robert “Bob” Hicks worked and labor organized at the paper mill and lived with his wife Jackie Hicks and their children in a house in the black neighborhood of Bogalusa. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Since our family house was known as the civil rights house because we were a civil rights family and all the civil rights workers. Anyone who came into Bogalusa, just everybody. Civil rights lawyers, they would always come to the house. On February 1st 1965, after a series of meetings at the Bogalusa Voters League, Bob and Jackie hicks invited two white civil rights workers, William Yates and Steve Miller into their home, aware that they would not be safe in a nearby hotel because of local Ku Klux Klan activity. Robert and Jackie Hicks sat down for dinner that night with their children, including Barbara, and their guests Yates and Miller. When they finished eating, they retired to the living room to watch television and talk over the day’s events. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Robert Hicks opened it and found the Bogalusa Police Chief standing in the doorway. He had bad news: a mob of whites had gathered nearby and they were prepared to murder the entire family and burn the house to the ground if the Hicks didn't put the white activists out. The officer added that they should expect no help from law enforcement. As Lance Hill writes in The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, “Bob and Jackie Hicks were levelheaded activists and they mobilized quickly; Jackie promptly called several friends for assistance. When it became known that the Hicks family needed protection, the black men of Bogalusa responded swiftly. The police officers watched line of black men — armed with shotguns and rifles—rapidly file into the Hicks house. The mob never materialized. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “We were just an ordinary family, but we were placed here to do extraordinary things and that was to, as my daddy say, to be the voice for the voiceless. To be the person who would stand up for people who were afraid to stand up for themselves. And so that's what he did and that's what we, as a family, began to do. That's when we reached out ... well, he reached out and the leader, and they start the spirit and so men who had never stood up before began to stand up and say no to the injustice. ” A few weeks later, after more violence in Bogalusa and on the day of Malcolm X's assassination, Robert “Bob” Hicks and fellow activists founded the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, headquartered in Hicks' home and made up of many of the same foot soldiers who had come forward with their guns to protect the family on February 1. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “In our breakfast room was the radio, so when people called in the communication radio, we could hear that all over the house. People called we would hear all of that. Some people were calling in for distressed. We would hear all of that. My brother was refused medical service because he shouldn’t have been at the public park which is all white.” In this way, the house served as not only the communication headquarters, but as but a safe house and a medical triage station for injured activists denied medical services at the state hospital. And now the house has one final use: as the future Bogalusa Civil Rights museum. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “It was my family house. I mean, that's where I grew up. That's where all the civil rights activity took place so when I walk in the house I see the family standing in the living room on Sunday morning with my father giving the Sunday morning prayer before we go to church. I see that and I see our bedrooms and I see mom in the kitchen and all of that. Then on the other hand, I see the fear, I see the struggle, I see where we had the men from the Deacons for Defense and Justice with guns all around to protect the civil rights workers who stayed at our house and to protect my father wherever he went, to protect the family. So, seeing the house in two different points of view or feeling two different ways. Based on that, I want to show in the museum what we went through as a part of the movement and then maybe they can understand how difficult it was. That this way of life was not the way it should have been for any American.” This future museum, this house made into a museum, will interpret what happened inside and outside against the wallpaper of a domestic scene. For Barbara Hicks-Collins and her family, a closed front door didn’t close out the world around her. The radio -- which was necessary because the city would monitor and occasionally shut off the phone lines -- could come on at any moment. For all the other interpretations that the museum will present, the Klan’s threat to daily life is maybe the most powerful. So what’s the process of getting from here to there? For Hicks-Collins, it started with making small, periment changes to Bogalusa landscape that will pave the way for the museum. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “From the idea of having a museum with the history preserved, then I started going through the process. I think the first thing that I did was to go to the zoning commission to make sure that it was zoned for a Civil Rights Museum. That was a little complicated. You have to know Bogalusa. I had people to come in to support the idea and finally they approved the area for a Civil Rights Museum. So the second thing was to rename the street where the Hicks family lived. To rename that street Robert “Bob” Hicks Street. That took some doing. Eventually, it happened and so the entire street is named after my father. By this time, we had the Robert Bob Hicks Foundation, made it a 501(c)(3) organization. And from that point we were able to move to getting a land marker and by the way, the land marker is right in front of the Hick's house. What's interesting about that is that they never had a land marker for an African American in Washington Parrish. Never. This was the first one. So we thought that was a great success. The Robert Bob Hicks Foundation is building support through fundraisers, a small grant through the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, and volunteer efforts to physically prepare the house for the museum. Hicks-Collins also recently secured a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services to record interviews with members of the Deacons, civil rights lawyers, and others. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “But the whole thing that I want to say to you about this whole process and having a dream and staying on courses though is something you have to believe in because it's not easy but it's possible. It's definitely possible. It's not going to occur overnight. Just like the struggle for equality in all these little, small, country towns and in America as a whole, it didn't come overnight. So you have to be committed and you have to stay the course even though some people may not be with you, you still have to stay the course because you know the end result. You know you're going to give this generation and generations to follow something that was so valuable. If you don't go about it with that mindset, you'll lose it. Hicks-Collins is working build the museum in time so that the few civil rights workers and foot soldiers who are still living, will be on site, giving tours and answering questions. The museum project is entering what Hicks-Collins calls phase II: restoring the house to make it suitable for a museum: rewiring the stolen electrical system with updated codes, installing a security system, and building the Legend Gallery with surround seats in the carpark. You can find out more information about Robert Hicks and the status of the museum by visiting roberthicksfoundation.squarespace.com and you can donate to the foundation at roberthicksfoundation.squarespace.com/donate. Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Let me tell you this. On Martin Luther King's birthday we have the ROTC students to come in and they help do the volunteer work. I started explaining to them before they started doing any work that this is going to be whose house it was and this is going to be a museum, the whole spiel there. I asked this girl, I said ... teenagers, junior, sophomore at the time, I said, "What museums have you been to?" And she said, "None." I said, "No. I mean, have you been out of Bogalusa to go to a museum anywhere? Not just in Bogalusa. And she said, "No. I haven't been. I've never been to a museum." It was ... how could that be? She was a junior. How could that be a thing, a junior, almost a senior, never been to a museum? And she worked harder than anybody else and so I just hugged her say, "So you're one of the people that I'm working for. I'm working so you can have a museum and you can let your children know that you were a part of this." That gives me more courage to come in. We need to make sure that their stories always, already, always here and what better there other than a museum? This has been Museum Archipelago. [Outro]
November 19, 2018
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 use Muthaliff’s thesis as a guide as we go in-depth on what a museum means and discuss the best path forward for this building and for Bulgaria. Image: Rendering from R.E.D | Reconstruction in an Era of Dilapidation: A Proposal for the Revitalization of the Former House of the Communist Party by Brian Muthaliff Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00: Intro 00:15: Buzludzha Monument 00:45: Brief History 01:45: Brian Muthaliff 02:30: The Buzludzha Project 03:18: "Buildings Turned Into Artifacts" 03:50: Reconstruction in an Era of Dilapidation 05:16: Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia 05:33: Participatory Architecture 05:50: Buzludzha as Winery 06:45: Buzludzha as Democratic Platform 08:11: Bulgarian Horo 08:50: Museum or no museum? 11:32: Muthaliff's Thesis Defense 12:14: The Future 13:10: Read Muthaliff's Thesis Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 54. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Ever since I visited earlier this year, I can't stop thinking about Buzludzha. Buzludzha, an enormous disk of concrete perched on a mountaintop in the middle of Bulgaria, celebrates the grandeur of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Rising out of the back of the disk is a tower, 70 meters high, and flanked by two red stars. The building was designed to look like a giant wreath and flag. During its construction, the top of the peak was blown away with dynamite to make way for the building. Today, it's hard not to see a giant UFO. Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova says that the building's daring design was, of course, intentional. Dora Ivanova: It was built to impress. It was built as part of the political propaganda and education as they called it during this time. Its shape looks like a UFO, actually. This is also on purpose because it had to show how the socialist idea is contemporary, it’s the future. The building is deteriorating, making its futuristic design all the more striking. Buzludzha was completed in 1981, but just 10 years later, the Communist party collapsed. As the regime changed and Bulgaria headed towards a democratic form of government, Buzludzha just sat there. Parts of the structure became exposed to the elements. On the top of the mountain, the building was whipped by strong winds and frozen by temperatures as low as -25 °C. Today, the building has been a ruin way longer than it was a functional building. Brian Muthaliff: The interiors were everything that I had imagined while approaching it from the exterior, in this kind of derelict state. When on the interior, it was completely dark when we got there. Our flashlights couldn't even get very far, and we were kind of all holding hands, you know, taking the next step carefully. You could see chunks of concrete falling off in certain places. This is Brian Muthaliff, a Canadian architect who first visited Buzludzha with his Bulgarian fiancée. Brian Muthaliff: All right. Hi. My name is Brian Muthaliff. I am an architect in Ontario, Canada, who has his master's thesis focused on the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria, and the re-adaption of it. Buzludzha is deteriorating. The question is: what should we do about it? Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova has a plan to turn it into a museum. We highlighted her work, called The Buzludzha Project, in episode 47 of this program. The Buzludzha Project aims to repair and preserve the building and interpret what it means. Bulgaria lacks an interpretive museum about the decades of communist rule under the thumb of the Soviet Union. What better place to put that museum but inside Buzludzha? Ivanova is under no illusions that a painstaking restoration of the building to its original form could give the impression of celebrating the the building’s original ideologies. She thinks that adapting or repurposing the monument would be forgetting or disguising its original intention. But Brian Muthaliff respectfully disagrees. He wants the building to evolve along with Bulgaria. Brian Muthaliff: There are two types of museums, I think, that occur in the contemporary world. One, the museum that's built anew to house artifacts. And the second is when buildings get turned into museums as artifacts. Both of them are appropriate in certain circumstances. This is not the case. I think this building speaks to a much broader question than just mere artifact. Muthaliff also could not stop thinking about Buzludzha after he visited for the first time. He focused his master’s thesis on changing the meaning of the building and what it could be used for in the future -- a process he calls “reprogramming.” Brian Muthaliff: The moment we left that building there was this kind of lingering thought about this particular monument. It felt like there was a real potential for the building, and faced with the project of figuring out a thesis, this building stayed in mind. And it wouldn't leave me. So, I decided to make it the focus of the thesis. I think the scope's expanded beyond the building at that point, it became a conversation about the culture in Bulgaria, and this building as a reflection of that culture, and how I could tie the two things together. The thesis became about reprogramming the building as a means of reconciling with their past. And beyond that it became about what type of program, then, is appropriate for this project? What type of program could maybe speak to the Bulgarian history, which is centuries long, I think it's almost 5000 years, and communism makes up a very small fraction of that piece. So when we're talking about the nation's identity, what is that identity? And how can a program, and a building, reconciled, represent that, the nation? This is the good stuff. This is what Museum Archipelago is all about. Should this building become a museum, or something else all together? Bulgaria has plenty of communist era monuments -- listen to episode 25 about the Museum of Socialist Art for a fascinating discussion of a museum where statues of Lenin decorate a slightly overgrown field -- but Buzledga is the only monument that you can occupy. For Muthaliff, this is an invitation for people to participate with the architecture. Brian Muthaliff: I wanted it to be something that people can still participate in, without having to kind of mentally prepare before visiting the building that actually they are going there to learn, in the very traditional way of learning, which is just kind of, you know, reading or being distanced from the object. And the means of participation? A winery, of course. Brian Muthaliff: So the building, in my view in the thesis, ends up being this winery that's open to the public. It cultivates the land. The metaphor there is that it's a productive tool, and production is a kind of means of creating the future. So it's not something that kind of stops, it's not something that you're distanced from, it's not something that you read or that you look at. It's something that you participate in. And through participation, through action, you kind of reconcile your histories. Programmatically, the winery needed to be the thing that draws, that makes the building productive, and then it holds up this kind of shield for the people to sort of celebrate it. Part of what the redesign accomplishes is subverting the original intention of the building. The building is designed with one entrance underneath to the main dome, which focuses the visitor experience into the grandeur of the building and, by extension, the Bulgarian communist party. Muthaliff calls for terraforming the peak so it reaches back to its original height before it was levelved off, leaving some of the building underground. What is now a series of enormous windows high around the dome, providing views of the entire county, become entrances, inviting people in from all corners of Bulgaria. Brian Muthaliff: It meant to remove the type of procession that was intended from the beginning, which is you kind of ascend in to this halo-ed space. And use the kind of elongated windows that band the circumference of the building as entrance points, as this kind of democratic platform that would invite everybody from around the entire country. And that's, by virtue of the way they placed it in the country, dead center … And then these windows in a circle so kind of have a view to every point of the country, and I thought, they are all portals in to the building. And so if we terraform the mountain top to be what it was, to meet that level, so that people could approach it and enter that space publicly, that again was a kind of subversive move to the architecture political agenda of the building, which is this one kind of procession through this space. Now it would be multiple kind of entries, multiple ways of experiencing the wreath. And then finally hitting or ending up in this kind of celebratory space. Which is at the top of the mountain. I can’t help but be delighted at subverting the original intention of the building. Muthaliff notes that his proposal reminds him of a traditional Bulgarian dance called the horo: it’s a circular dance that starts off with just a few people. As the dance goes on, the dancers develop a kind of gravity, pulling in people from every which way, and then all of a sudden it's this massive circle, and then it's a spiral, and then it's a kind of a crowd of people all circulring. It’s something a Bulgarian grandmother would approve of. And speaking of Bulgarian grandmothers, Muthaliff’s thesis does leave room for a single museum-like space. In this case, he describes it as another subversive tool. Brian Muthaliff: Post the fall, post-1989, there was an initiative to collect letters, and memoirs, and autobiographies, and photographs, of people throughout Bulgaria during the communist period. How great is it as a kind of subversive tool to describe this particular history during this time, through the eyes of the people in this building that was designed kind of from top down? And in the ring that they used as a gallery space to block out the sun, to kind of create the halo of the sickle and hammer, like it all just kind of makes sense as an architectural move that would both pull in the sense of life during communism, so it's in a way directly speaking about communism in this communist building, but about things that I think are far more profound than the kind of political agenda of the communist period. In some of the stories it would talk about grandmothers, I guess, that are grandmothers now but they weren't at the time, where they got their food, and I thought these histories were far more compelling than perhaps talking about how the building was built. So these are the kind of things and threads that I wanted to pull on, rather than a kind of topical history of communism. And so I think it made for such a great program as the only type of traditional museum piece in the building. I think in my mind, and again the program of the winery, perhaps there's more appropriate programs that could affect the building, but in my mind, it has always been a gathering space. I’m mesmerised by Muthaliff’s thesis. As Buzludzha continues to deteriorate, both Dora Ivanova and Brian Muthaliff agree that now is the time to act. Brian Muthaliff: Dora's approach to moving the project forward is absolutely what the country needs. A lot of people are saying, you know, this is the moment now. This is the time we need to take action and we need to do something, 'cause if the country's not moving, then either people are moving out of it or something, or nothing's happening and things are dying. Everything's always dying, right, and we have to kind of maintain our lives to kind of keep the energy going. And so the energy that Dora's putting in to it is absolutely fabulous, and it's exactly what we need for the building. As a Bulgarian citizen who is too young to remember the period of communism, I am constantly frustrated by the generall cultural unwillingness to talk about that period. The physical remains of that era and ideology are scattered around the country, but most people I talk to in Bulgaria seem content to quickly move on. Brian Muthaliff: On an kind of end note, when I presented the thesis to the university, a note that my thesis advisor brought up was that, because I did have an architect on my panel that was critiquing the thesis, that was Romanian. And he was absolutely appalled that anybody would even touch the project. He was more in line with building a glass box beside the building and sipping wine while watching it decay. He carried all these emotions with him, and something that was brought up, there was a young Bulgarian there and then there was this old Romanian architect, and the young architect mentioned that there's been this massive gap, and people, or the country really needs change, and the only people who are gonna do or affect change are us, are the ones responsible now. I think it all comes down to what we make of museums. Museums shouldn’t be the places where we sip wine and watch objects in glass decay. An interpretive museum could be just as subversive to the original architecture even as it restores it. And there’s no reason why museums can’t be gathering spaces just as engaging as wineries or dance halls. So if I had a say in the decision, I think I would prefer to build an interpretive museum in the space along the lines of what Dora Ivanova’s Buzludzha Project proposes. But we should take Muthaliff’s thesis, and critique of architecture frozen in time, to heart. The debate about what to do with Buzludzha continues, and I’m happy to say progress is being made. Just recently a team of experts from the European heritage organisation Europa Nostra conducted a survey of the building. I hope, in my own way, to work on whatever the building becomes. Muthaliff’s complete thesis, called Reconstruction in an Era of Dilapidation, is available in the show notes. It’s full of fascinating diagrams, well-thought out readings, and intricate renderings. Give it a read. [Outro]
November 5, 2018
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. Quenton 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. In this episode, the THPO team talks about the process of teaching the students how to use geospatial software, the Story Maps that the students created, and how the students reacted to seeing their work in the museum gallery. Image: Lacee Cofer, Juan Cancel & Quenton Cypress presenting thier project at the Esri User Conference in San Diego in 2018. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! 00:00: Intro 00:15: The Big Cypress Reservation & Quenton Cypress 01:05: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki on Episode 16 of Museum Archipelago 01:48: The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office 03:00: Lacee Cofer 03:30: Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps 03:58: Juan Cancel 04:50: “But how does that serve the tribal community?” 07:09: The Topics Students Choose 08:58: Students Seeing Their Work at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki 10:32: Why Mapping? 11:46: Outro / Watch Making-Of For Free on Patreon Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast for free to never miss an episode. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 53. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript To get to the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum inside it, you drive an hour into the Florida Everglades. By the time you arrive, you’re isolated from almost everything else. Quenton Cypress: Here in Big Cypress, it's just us. There's a convenience store that's open till 11 o'clock at night. There's no Walmart, no Publix, no Walgreens. Anytime we need just some toilet paper, we have to drive an hour. And we have to make sure we get everything. This is Quenton Cypress, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Quenton Cypress: My name is Quenton Cypress, and I'm the Community Engagement Coordinator. And I'm actually a tribe member. I'm from this reservation that we work on. My job is to make sure the community works with us. The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office, or THPO, where Quentin works, is separate form the The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum. We’ve talked about the museum before: on episode 16 of Museum Archipelago, I interviewed Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, about the high percentage of museum visitors from outside the U.S. Through these visitation trends, the museum serves as the public face of the tribe to the outside world. But the museum, more importantly, serves the tribal community. Quenton and the THPO work to preserve his culture, and ensure it is not exploited. And this means a strong connection between the museum and tribal members. Quenton Cypress: There are a lot of things that we can give out to the public, but there are certain things that we can't. It was actually our chairman at the time, James Billy, who wanted to build the museum to talk to the tourists and different folks that came around to tell them more about the Seminole history. So it started off very community involved. And we had several community members that were running the museum. And just over time different things happened and they started working somewhere else. And then the museum became more non tribal populated. And that connection between the museum and tribal members, it just kind of fell apart in a way. Not so much in a bad way. They just didn't have no more tribe members working here to full connect us with the museum. Sometimes tribal members don't feel comfortable coming and talking to a non tribal. And telling them their history, their family's history, and different legends and things we have from our culture. And so in more recent times, I've seen a lot more involvement with the community again. And we got different tribal interns. The tribe offers working programs. So we've got some tribal member kids coming to us, and working for us, through that program. And we got different kids coming to us to fill their community hours for school to graduate.. Lacee Cofer: For a long time they didn't really associate with each other or work together very much. And in recent years that's really changed. This is Lacee Cofer, who also works for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Lacee Koffer: Yes. My name's Lacee Cofer, and I am the Geospatial Analyst for the THPO. Both the museum and THPO have the goal of cultural preservation. So we perform very different roles, and do it in very different ways. But we still have that common goal to preserve the culture, and to work for and with the community. Today, both the THPO and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum share a campus -- their buildings are connected via a boardwalk. Both offices have been working on finding new projects that serve their common goal. One of these projects is called Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps, which is collaboration of the THPO, the museum, and Ahfachkee school, which is the school on the Big Cypress Reservation. Both Quenton and Lacee created the project with Juan Cancel. Juan Cancel: Hello. My name is Juan Cancel. I'm the Chief Data Analyst at the Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office. I manage the archaeometry section. With my team Quenton and Lacee. Pretty much we manage all the mapping, GIS work that goes on in the office. The project involved teaching the Ahfachkee School’s 11th grade students the GIS mapping software, having the students develop and create their own maps about a Seminole or Native American issue, and finally, presenting those maps in a gallery at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. It started as a way to encourage young tribal members to get involved in the community. For Juan, that meant starting by thinking about how Quenton, a young tribal member, and Lacee, who was becoming skilled in GIS, could get even more involved at the museum. Juan Cancel: And what they both do and represent for me at least, is breaking that mold. Together we've been working on developing GIS. Developing mapping to track our information a little bit better. Tracking our information more, location and data and put it all together. But that's good well and all for our office, but how does that serve the tribal community? What we saw a couple of, maybe nine years ago, we went to a mapping conference. It was a international conference. And one of the most impactful presentations we ever saw was, this gentlemen went out into the Amazon, and was mapping with the community out there. With the indigenous tribes out there. But he was doing it with them. He was having them point to a map or explaining what this is. And they together came up with that. And that's where this idea of participatory mapping came about. And it's not a hard idea, it's something they did and we're like, that's genius. But we just took it as well. We're like, you know what? We're gonna apply this here. To create the program, the team had to create lesson plans for the 11th graders. Lacee thought that students would have a harder time learning how to use the GIS mapping software than writing a research paper. Lacee Cofer: And it was the complete opposite. So teaching them our GIS online, they caught onto it so quickly. And choosing symbology and uploading images. And just navigating the whole interface was so easy for them. But them I'm like, "All right, we're going to cite our sources using APA," and they're like "What are you talking about?" So it really threw us for a loop. But then the more I think about it I'm like, duh. They use this stuff all the time. They're on their computers and their smartphones and their iPads literally all the time. So I don't know why this surprised me. But it really reinforced the idea that getting to them using technology is a super effective way to do it with teenagers. So it just bridged the gap and really helped us teach them the important of place and topics. And using the science to preserve their culture. And since it was technological and something they used all the time, it just clicked. So it was helpful. And it was good. The students could choose topics that interested them, as long as it touched on a Seminole or Native American issue. The team helped the students figure out a geographic aspect to their topics and present it all in a story map. Juan Cancel: It could be any subject, so Lacee prepared a list with Quentin and I on what we want to hit on and some examples of like history, historical figures, sports, fashion, politics. I think they kind of chose the things, I guess ... It's funny they found things that they were really interested in. Lacee Cofer: Yeah. We had one who is really into hip-hop music, and so he created a story map that talks about different Native American musicians and it was really cool and he was really passionate about that topic and I learned about a lot of musicians that are Native American I didn't know about, and then something that's really important to the tribe is the cattle industry and one of our students discussed the cattle industry and how it played such a pivotal role in the current economic state of the Seminole tribe, and then we had another girl who at the time was participating in the Seminole Princess Pageant, and so she did her story map on Seminole princesses of the past and talked about the pageant and how it got started and how it was important to the community. Quenton Cypress: All year long, whenever we were talking to these kids and doing this project, we would always tell them, "Hey, this map that you're creating is a chance to tell our history, our culture, and you're gonna be telling it to people all over the world." They couldn't really quite grasp that concept because we're here at the museum an hour into the Everglades by ourselves. So, whenever we were trying to explain it to them all year long, they just kinda gave us a smirk. Finally, after a semester of work, the students got to see their projects in the gallery at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum. As Quintin explains, this shift in medium changed the way the students saw their projects. Quenton Cypress: It wasn't until that reception day that they walked in and seeing all this work we here at the museum put together to present their story maps to the public. It wasn't 'til that day that they walked in there and seeing the iPads up on the wall and their stories on those iPads. They were fully engaged into those iPads. They were smiling, talking, laughing, and a couple of them were like, "Man, I feel bad that I didn't add on more stuff that I could have added on now." You know, along the way, there was a couple of students that didn't get to get their work to us and they felt guilty that day. It's bad, but it's good at the same time because now they get to see, "Hey, we were being serious. This is gonna be in the museum. This is gonna be on display for the world to see." One of the kids. He was really quiet the whole year, barely talked to us. I think he talked to us maybe like three words and he would never smile, and that opening day, that day we did the reception, he could not stop smiling. He was smiling the whole time. He was laughing. He was talking about the exhibit. to see him acting like that was a really big deal for us, and then for the rest of the high school to see their work on display, we hope that's more encouraging for them, so now they get to see the end result of the whole project and all of the work that goes into it. So if we get to do this project again in the future, we're hoping they're more motivated and they now know that, yeah, their work is gonna be on display. It is gonna be open for the world to see. The team presented this project in front of other GIS professionals and educators at the 2018 Esri User Conference in San Diego. For all the improvements in mapping technology over the last 20 years, it’s the democratization of the tools of map-making that is the most relevant to museums. There is not one canonical map in the way there is one canonical planet. Juan Cancel: There's a tribal understanding of the land. The community understands this area. They've been here forever. They've always been in Florida. We don't see mapping the same way. So if I call a road, like, oh did you go down the C130 canal or something like that. Quenton, he's like, "Oh, you mean the fishing spot, down the road near my uncle's house?" So it's a very different perspective. The project has been a success. The gallery with the student’s maps will remain open in the museum until January 8th, 2019, and the team plans to continue the project with other students in the Big Cypress reservation in coming years. Juan Cancel: And I think story mapping was the Ideal vehicle, so to say, that transitioned both current technology, online technology, accessibility to the tribal youth. And an avenue to get them started to understand what we do a lot better.
October 15, 2018
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. On this episode, Santos describes her thoughts about the relationship between cultural institutions and the communities they identify as “underserved,” gives examples on how institutions can cede power, and explains how the idea for her podcast came out of a cultural worker discussion collective she was a part of in New York City. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00 Intro 00:15 Paula Santos 00:53 Cultural Institutions and Communities 04:14: Cultura Conscious 05:27: The Idea for the Show 06:55: Nuts and Bolts of Museum Work 07:58: Subscribe to Cultura Conscious 09:50: Outro & Club Archipelago Museum Archipelago is a fortnightly museum podcast guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums and surrounding culture. Subscribe to the podcast for free to never miss an episode. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 52. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Paula Santos and I have some things in common. We both work in the museum world during the day, and by night, we both host podcasts about museums. We even describe our day jobs in the same way: we are programmers. I am a computer programmer, writing the code that runs interactive media displays in museums. And Santos, as Community Engagement Manager at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a museum programmer, managing programs and events. Paula Santos: Hello, I’m Paula Santos, I’m a podcaster, museum educator, and community organizing learner. Over the past year or so, Santos has been thinking about the assumptions cultural institutions make about the communities they identify as “underserved.” Paula Santos: We don’t always have to lead with our audiences need x, y, z, these people are underserved for x, y, z reasons. Our communities have social capital, they have art, they have their own resources, that us as institutions can absolutely build with, and that understanding that it isn't just a top down effect, where here we have a huge grant, and now we're going to fly a helicopter over this community and throw art supplies around. When we spoke, Santos was a day away from presenting a culminating event of a show, and acknowledged that not just helicoptering in made a lot of people, including herself, nervous. Paula Santos: We as an institution can build with a community and that means also ceding our power. And that makes a lot of people very nervous at a granular level. As a programer, it does make me nervous. For example, I have this program tomorrow where I really try to the best of my ability to cede the floor to an organization of young queer people to put on a culminating event for a show that we have at one of our satellite spaces. I'm nervous. I'm nervous not because I don't believe in them, I totally believe in their vision, and they will be there, and they’re going to follow through, but I'm nervous because I ceded that control and I don't know how the institution will respond in the long run. When it's actually happening, that is totally relinquishing of control, as much as I can give.] Santos’s nervousness is part of her conscious effort not to take the easy route in her work. Her critique is that many institutions, when attempting to serve as many people as possible, take the easy route -- and helicoptering in is easier than actually ceding control. Paula Santos: We make a lot of choices in who we serve, why we do what we do, what kind of money do we pursue for our programs, where we are going to bend for funders, and we are entirely part of the larger machine of what makes things unjust and oppressive. So I feel like that's where I stand. It's not so much, we have a civic duty of justice, but more like we are members of society and how can we do cultural work in a way where we can truly work with all aspects of society, and not just the ones that are most convenient or the ones that are most privileged, or the ones that are easiest. A lot of the decisions when we think about justice and all those sorts of things, it isn’t so much that people are making ideological decisions a lot of times they’re making decisions based on time. Santos is particularly interested in how the work we do in museums, non-profits or other cultural organizations intersects and is informed by larger questions of race and inequity in society. The work that Santos does, and her honesty discussing it, is what makes her podcast so compelling. Paula Santos: My podcast is called Cultura Conscious, where I interview cultural workers on their work in community, on their work with justice and equity. Santos chose a title that gave her enough room to explore many types of topics with many cultural producers. Paula Santos: I think that I wanted to show a little bit of the fact that I'm bilingual, that I'm a woman of color, and that this was going to be really thoughtful about culture. I was like, Culture Conscious and I was like ugh, does that sound like an after-school special? So then just putting it in Spanish finally landed in a place where I was like this is not super heavy as a name, it’s not like I’m toeing around a name that’s like, oh my god, I have deep cultural knowledge, but maybe could allow me to explore many types of topics. The idea for the show came from a cultural worker discussion collective which Santos was a part of when she lived in New York. Paula Santos: Talk about a really formative experience. A group of colleagues, really spearheaded by Kiana Hendricks, who was my first guest, she started a collective of cultural workers in New York. All of us had kind of overlapped at the Brooklyn museum in some way or another. This group really helped me figure out what I really had to say and contribute about cultural work in general and also even just realizing that I did have something to contribute, period. Essentially what we we were doing was a collective of professional development. It would be anything from marketing and branding to talking about critical race theory or whatever it may be. Now that I think about it, thinking about grassroots and community work — we have each other and we build together, that we don’t have to wait for institutions or wait for other people to deem us worthy of granting us some form of knowledge. We can build that ourselves. And my conversations with collective members were so fruitful and so insightful. I was like I want to start this podcast, and everyone was so supportive.] Cultura Conscious just celebrated its year anniversary. Santos says that she wanted make sure that all her guests for the first year were people of color, a trend which will for at least the next few episodes. The podcast comes directly out of her interest in what she calls the nuts and bolts of museum work -- where she sees the justice work museums and individuals need happening. Paula Santos: All this nitty gritty stuff that you wouldn’t find in a journal article, or on a blog post about a culminating thing about a program, but just the day to day. There are people who are doing everyday, nuts and bolts work that are very invested in justice work, and they’re not the people who are leading the national conferences or the keynotes. I’m far more interested in that nuts and bolts aspect, which is probably why my interviews are so long. That is why Santos and I only have some things in common. Cultura Conscious is an excellent podcast, and you should subscribe and listen at culturaconscious.com. There’s a theme to Santos’s work: we don’t have to wait for institutions or wait for other people to deem us worthy. The whole structure of podcasting is an exercise in not waiting for permission from someone else. And crucially, it’s a reminder to those working within institutions that arts and culture creators don’t wait for permission either. Paula Santos: The power of what happens when people come together that excites me so much, and I’m trying to reconcile that with being at a major institution, certain decisions that have to be made because of the way things are run, that make it very difficult at times to really keep up the momentum of community work, and many times even just be responsive to community in that moment in time. So I'm really grappling with this conflict of yes, community work! Let's do it! But then also releasing the churn of nonprofits and institutions. What I will say is that my work, I hope I can create programs, create collaborations, create partnerships where we really open ourselves up as institutions. And like I said in the beginning, really cede the floor cede our power, let community show us what they create and make the focal point of our work.
October 1, 2018
The Jewish Museum of History in Sofia, Bulgaria is housed on the second floor of the Sofia Synagogue in the center of Bulgaria's capital, just steps away from an Orthodox Church, and Sofia's Mosque. This clustering of places of worship — it's hard to find another example of this in Europe — is part of the unique story of Jewish people in Bulgaria. While the museum tells the full story of the Jewish people in Bulgaria from ancient Roman times to today, Yulina Mihaylova of the Jewish Museum of History says that the culmination of the story is the rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria from deportation to Nazi death camps during the Second World War. The museum takes on the complexities of this story, including the fact that not all Jews in Bulgarian-controlled territories were saved from deportation, and uses it to challenge young visitors. Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00 Intro 00:14 Jewish Museum of History in Sofia, Bulgaria 01:10 Yulina Mihaylova 01:50 The Sofia Synagogue 02:10 Jews in Bulgaria in the Early 20th Century 04:00 Jews in Bulgaria During World War Two 04:50 The Holocaust and the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria 09:44 Jews in Bulgaria During Communist Times 10:45 Educational Programming Moral Message 12:05 Outro / Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 51. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Sometimes in the Museum Archipelago, museums are isolated from other institutions by vast bodies of water, and sometimes, points of interest are clustered in dense island chains. The Jewish Museum of History in Sofia, Bulgaria is one of the latter. The museum is housed on the second floor of the Sofia Synagogue in the center of Bulgaria's capital, just steps away from an Orthodox Church, and Sofia's main Mosque. This clustering of places of worship -- it's hard to find another example of this in Europe or the rest of the world -- is part of the unique story of Jewish people in Bulgaria. Yulina Mihaylova: It's very unique because it makes this triangle of the three religions. The combination and interaction between the ethnic groups together shows this very rich historical past when the Jews live among the others. It's also part of our unique narrative which we try to say in the museum itself.” This is Yulina Mihaylova. Yulina Mihaylova: Hello my name is Yulina Mihaylova, and I'm working for the Jewish Historical Museum in Sofia for the past 15 years. My job combines working with visitors and. Our main task is to represent the history of the Bulgarian Jews back 2000 years. It’s just not the story of the Jewish people. It’s more than it because we try to say the story of the interaction of the Jewish people and the Bulgarians also. The Sofia Synagogue is the third largest in Europe. This particular Synagogue, built on the site of earlier Jewish prayer houses, opened in 1909, with a ceremony that included Sofia's political and religious elite. The opening ceremony took place 31 years after Bulgaria's liberation, which guaranteed equal civil rights to minority religious groups. Yulina Mihaylova: We speak about the early time of the early 20th century, and just to make comparison to what happened at that time in Europe, mainly in Eastern Europe, in Russia with the persecution of Jews there, and on the same time we have in Bulgaria quite a good relation between the regime and the Jewish community. I mean, not everything was so idealistic of course. But in general we can say that the Jews, after the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turkish domination, gained equal rights with other minority groups who lived in Bulgaria, which was guaranteed by the Bulgarian constitution. Means that it actually gave push to the development of the Jewish communities in Bulgaria, on a new ground. The fact that we have communities and synagogues in almost every Bulgarian city, and there was almost 30 communities all around Bulgaria. So the opening ceremony was a remarkable event. The fact that actually, the political elite was invited to [participate] in the ceremony, was a very important sign for the connection between the officials at the time and Bulgarian Jewish community. While the opening of the Sofia Synagogue represents the high water mark of the relationship between Jews living in Bulgaria and the rulers of Bulgaria, one of the main tasks of the museum is to represent the historical trace of Jewish people on the Balkan peninsula from ancient Roman period, to the present day. In the museum, this is achieved through a permanent exhibit called Jewish Communities in Bulgaria. A section of the exhibit is an ethnographic display which shows the daily life of the Jews from the late 19th to early 20th centuries and ritual artifacts from synagogues across Bulgaria. The other permanent exhibition is about Bulgarian Jews during World War II, the topic that Mihaylova says is at the front of mind of most visitors. For a summary of Bulgaria’s early 20th century political history up to World War II, listen to episode 49 of this program, about the Bulgarian Museum of Military History, but here are the important section for this story: Anti-semitism notably increased across eastern Europe after the introduction of the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany in 1935, and by the late 1930s, anti-Jewish propaganda gradually intensified within Bulgaria with Bulgaria's rising economic and political dependence on Nazi Germany. The exhibition itself is called The Holocaust and the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria, and, as Mihaylova explains, this title is overly simplistic. Yulina Mihaylova: The story of what happened during the years 1941 and 1943. This is the culmination of the story, of the long existence between both two people. The first time when the Jews were tried to be divided from the rest part of society came during the World War II, when Bulgaria connected to Nazi Germany and it began to be connected to Nazi policy. What happened in brief: during the war, it was official policy with special legislation passed by the Bulgarian government after 1941. We treated Jews in a different way on economic, social, culture and political range, with a limitation of their rights, and this law became even more severe in 1942 when already there was an institution which was arranged for trying to organize the life of the Jews and confiscated Jewish property and also starting the organization of the deportation of Bulgarian Jews, which in 1943 started already with the Jews from the so-called new territories of Macedonia and Trace. This part of the story is not easy to explain, because usually it is good to think about the bright side of the story, and to neglect this part. It's important on one hand because this was part of the official policy of the Bulgarian government and this territories was part of the administrative territories of the Bulgarian at that time. Unfortunately, almost 12,000 Jews were deported from the territories of Macedonia and Trace, only to be the first stage, which had to continue with the Jews from Bulgaria, also. The Jews from the territories of Macedonia and Trace were sent to Treblinka extermination camp in Poland. But these deportations, intended to be the first of many, would be the last. No other Jews were deported from Bulgaria or Bulgarian-controlled territories. Yulina Mihaylova: But what is important is that when it came to Bulgaria we saw something very unique. Already, when they started discussions of law in 1940, it became clear that it wasn’t going to pass in peace, because there began to be very strong civil opposition against it from the many different circles of the Bulgarian society. It already give a clear sign that the Bulgarian society in general, it was not ready to accept this sort of policy against their Jewish fellows in Bulgaria. We see in 1943 when the plan for deportation started to be clear, even in Bulgaria, it actually faced a very strong opposition, even from the right and from the left and we see this opposition even in the circles of the Bulgarian political majority. On top of it was the vice-chairman of the Bulgarian government, Dimetre Patechiv, who organized this opposition and also managed to put pressure on the government between the crucial time. All this civil pressure made the government have to postpone, ultimately indefinitely, the deportations to Nazi extermination camps. While Bulgarian officials remained differential to their German contacts, internally, they delayed and delayed, citing the need for Bulgarian Jews to remain in Bulgaria to work on Bulgarian infrastructure projects. Yulina Mihaylova: Bulgarian example is very unique, and sometimes they try to compare this to the Danish Jews, the Jews there were saved by the locals. But Bulgarian example is the Bulgarian example. It’s a combination of facts. There was the one hand there was policy against Jewish minority, but on the other hand we have full mobilization of civil power in 1943 which became one of the major factors of saving the live of the entire Jewish community who live within the Bulgarian borders during the war. That's very important to say. It's good example and good lesson for us to understand what we can understand from this is what we can learn from this, is that it's actually a very good idea to raise your voice, even when you think that it's actually desperate. The Holocaust and the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria is an example of an exhibit about a topic that can’t be neatly summarized -- and any attempt to tell a positive story without including the deportation of the Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories of Macedonia and Trace is wrong. To resist the simple story, or the comfortable narrative, is what we rely on museums for. Towards the end of the war, the synagogue roof was badly damaged by an American bombing raid on Sofia and the building remained in bad condition for many years. After the war ended Bulgaria was under control of a Socialist government, and many Bulgarian Jews, in fact the vast majority, immigrated to Israel. Yulina Mihaylova: More than 90% of the 50,000 Jews who live in Bulgaria immigrated to Israel after the war, and most of the artifacts from the other synagogues were replaced to Sofia, and are exposed to our museum also so this is part of our story to tell, the entire story of Jews in Bulgaria not just from Sofia. During the communist time, the community shrunk to some very crucial number of several thousand people, but it's very important to say that it's not true that everything stopped after the war. Although, of course, the communist regime didn't encourage so much the religious activity,but still there was a small flame which keep the Jews who remained in Bulgaria, but they actually gave the push, after the collapse of the communist regime to try to revive the Jewish life. Today, the Synagogue is fully active, and the museum on the second floor presents the sweep of Jewish history in Bulgaria. But the museum also offers a strong moral message to visitors through its educational programing. Yulina Mihaylova: I try to say to my audience, which is on one hand tourists from many different countries, mainly from Israel, from the US, from Europe who are guests in Sofia, but on the other we have many students from Jewish high schools, from universities who are actually interested in the topic. For me, the great challenge is to speak before young people and try not just to tell them the story but to ask them questions and try to challenge them to think about the story, if they were on this place and how they could react in this moment. It's not an easy task. Sometimes because we are a small museum, our programs are not so well developed, but we are very limited in staff, but I think this is the only place in Bulgaria where you can hear the full story of the Jewish presence in Bulgaria, with the story of the Bulgarian Jewish [experience] in World War II and till present days.
September 17, 2018
When the American Writers Museum opened in Chicago in 2017, it became the first museum in the US to celebrate all genres of writing. Early in the planning phase, founder Malcolm O’Hagan made a couple of key decisions: no artifacts and no single curator. In this episode, the museum’s programs director Allison Sansone explains how these decisions continue to shape the museum, from a timeline of 100 significant authors of fiction and nonfiction to galleries honoring the craft of writing. This episode was recorded at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, IL, USA on September 2nd, 2018. This episode was released in tandem with Club Archipelago 5. 50th Episode Extravaganza 🎉. Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today for $2 to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00 Intro 00:15 Museum Archipelago's 50th Episode 🎉 01:50 The American Writers Museum 02:00 Programs Director Allison Sansone 02:15 Museum Founder Malcolm O’Hagan 02:50 Early Decisions 03:45 American Voices Exhibit 05:30 The Mind of a Writer Gallery 06:45 Story of the Day Exhibit 08:20 The Craft of Writing the Museum 09:11 Outro Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 50. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Well, not quite. This is the 50th episode of Museum Archipelago, and I’m celebrating by compiling this message, from listeners like you. [Message from Museum Archipelago listeners] Thanks so much for being a listener for these first 50 episodes. It really means a lot. If you can’t sill get enough, support the show directly by becoming a member of Club Archipelago on Patreon. You get access to a bonus podcast feed, where I just posed a retrospective on the first 50 episodes of the show, and how the podcast media and museum media landscape have changed since the first episode. Now, onto the next 50. Let’s really get started. Allison Sansone: The idea is to highlight the impact that writing can have on the culture and in our daily lives. My Name is Allison Sansone, I’m the programs director here at the American Writers Museum. The American Writers Museum opened in May of 2017 on the second floor of a stately but nondescript building on Michigan Ave. But the story of the museum begins decades ago, when the founder of the museum, Malcolm O’Hagan, immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Allison Sansone: He is a lover of literature and a fan of American writing, and after a visit back home to Ireland, to the Irish writers museum in Dublin, he came back to DC and asked around about where the American Writers Museum might be. Hearing that we didn’t have one, he said, I’ll fix that, and 10 years later, here we are. Those 10 years were filled with decisions about what to include in the museum — and what to leave out. Allison Sansone: Malcolm made a couple of decisions that are very important in the design of the museum. The first is we are not to make this an artifact-based space. Malcolm tells this great story: he’s a docent at the Library of Congress and he’ll take people over to see the Gutenberg bible. It’s in a glass case, so you can’t touch it. It’s in German, so you can’t read it. People absorb a snippet of information about it, they take a selfie with it, and they leave. He really wanted this to be a place where people could really dive into the writers and their works and learn something. The other decision that was made really early on was to not have a single curator. We had more than 40 subject matter experts from all across the country, all different literary and ethnic backgrounds from all different traditions, who over the course of 7 years, met and discussed and argued and debated over who should be in this museum and what the themes should the museum address. You can see the work of these subject matter experts in the museum’s largest exhibit, a long chronological timeline of 100 “significant” authors of fiction and nonfiction called “American Voices.” Allison Sansone: They’re not the 100 best or the 100 most important, but they are 100 people who have moved American literary traditions forward, so they were important in the development in what we think of as the American identity and the American voice. You have writers in that timeline from pre-colonial exploratory narratives all the way to almost the present day. Throughout it all, there are names you would expect to see there. Mark Twain is there, Hemingway is there, Laura Engel Wilder is there, so is Sophia Alice Callahan, the Native American novelist who is a contemporary of hers. And it begins in Spanish and it ends in Spanish. Because it starts with DeVacca who’s a Spanish explorer and wrote a narrative of very, very early North America and it ends in Spanish with the great novelist Oscar Hijuelos, who wrote “The Mambo Kings [Play] Songs of Love.” One of the thorny questions they had to settle on what who was an American writer? Do you have to be born here? Do you have to have written in English? Do you have to have lived here your whole life? There are writers in this museum who don’t fit that criteria. So what makes them American? Well, what makes them American is that they say that they are.They claim us, so we claim them right back. It was incredibly critical that this museum look like America, and it not be either an academic vision or a popular vision, that we not have that box. It’s clear that the focus of the museum is on the words themselves — it’s not the American Book Museum or the American Authors Museum. Aside from the American Voices gallery, much of the rest of the museum is focused on the craft of writing and reading. There’s a gallery called The Mind of A Writer, where visitors, mostly through interactives, scroll through insights into how writers think. Allison Sansone: Our Mind of a Writer Gallery really focuses on the process of writing and how you write. It’s important to us to honor not just individual achievement, but also the work that went into that. It’s important to point out to people, especially to aspiring writers, that these writers achievements were not things that happened because they sprang full-form from their heads. Jack Kerouac typed “On the Road.” On a digital scroll we have here in the museum, you can see the entire manuscript, but you can also see his editing marks where he crossed things out, where he changed his mind, he moved things around. The writers had to work at this, and we wanted to be able to honor that work. I’m tickled about the focus on words and the process of writing. The gallery manages to honor the craft of writing, while not putting it out of reach to a museum visitor. There’s an exhibit called Story of the day, which is made up of typewriters, chairs, and at the beginning of the day a single opening line. Visitors are instructed to write the next line, then the next throughout the day. Allison Sansone: Story of the day, our typewriter exhibit where people can continue other people’s stories, that initially had started out as a giant scroll of paper on which people wrote in pencil suspended from the ceiling. It obviously looks very different now. Part of the joy of that interactivity is that it takes activities that are very solitary, reading and writing, we think of the author alone in his garret and his quill pen, working by himself. And you see the reader alone with her book. What our Story of the Day exhibit allows us to do, what our featured works and our Wordplay tables allow us to do is to make reading and writing about community, to enjoy words together. This is how we encounter each other in the world, we read and we write now more than we ever have. We don’t think about it a lot because it is done on something like this, it does on a device or its done on a tablet, but that’s writing. And that’s reading. And to be able to use that to connect with each other is a very powerful thing about that gallery. Some modern museums go out of their way to present as little text as possible with the assumption that visitors won’t read it. At the American Writers Museum, believe it or not, there’s a lot of text. Allison Sansone: There is a lot of text. If you’re the type of person who reads every word on the wall of a museum, you’re going to be here a while. But we think that’s a good thing.The craft of actually writing the museum was something that took a great deal of time. We approached it with a lot of respect for the writer’s work: we didn’t want to trivialize. We figured early on that this museum would attract readers, that it would attract people who loved words, so we weren’t afraid to challenge visitors with maybe a little bit more information than they might be getting from their typical museum visit. And, with the American Writers Museum’s broad definition of writing, there’s not reason that the gallery text itself couldn’t be featured in a future edition of the museum. And that’s kind of neat. [Outro]
September 3, 2018
The campus of the Bulgarian National Museum of Military History in Sofia is defended on all sides by a garden of missiles and tanks. But as Director of Public Relations Deyana Kostova points out, many of the exhibits inside focus on the consequences of war rather than the tools of warfare. One of these exhibits, called 'The Little Man in the Great War', explores the Bulgarian World War I experience through overarching emotions. In this episode, Kostova gives a tour of the exhibit, explains how the museum contextualizes Bulgarian and world history, and describes the mission of the museum to present history from multiple points of view. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today for $2 a month to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00: Intro 00:40: Diana Kostova, Director of Public Relations 01:40: Bulgaria in World War I 02:05: 'The Little Man in the Great War' 05:28: Vasil Levski's Hair 06:34: Bulgaria in World War II 08:00: Lopsided History During The Period Of Socialist Rule 08:25: The Mission of the Museum To Present History From Multiple Points of View 09:09: Museum Archipelago’s 50th Episode: Submit Your Audio This episode was recorded at the National Museum of Military History in Sofia, Bulgaria on June 8th, 2018. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 49. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. [Intro] I don’t really know how I’m supposed to feel at a military museum, particularly those that have gardens of comically oversized missiles and tanks. The Bulgarian National Museum of Military History is one of these museums, but Bulgaria is a country that has spent much of its recent military history buffeted and whiplashed by bigger powers. And that makes for a different experience wandering through these giant tools of war. Deyana Kostova: Hello, my name is Diana Kostova, and I am director of museum marketing, public relations [at the] National Museum of Military History. The museum was established in 1916, in the course of the first world war. So the first exhibitions that came to the museum were directed straight from the front line to the museum. The first one was probably not so interesting, it is a document, but the fifth one was a crashed airplane, actually, and it is displayed in our permanent exhibition even nowadays and it can been seen as a way to remember these horrific days of the war. The time frame of museum’s modern galleries, a campus of buildings in the middle of that garden of military hardware, actually begins much earlier than World War I, in the 4th millennium BCE. The museum displays the sweep of Bulgarian history since then, in which the Balkans have played host to a dizzying array of battles, conquests, rebellion, and centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire. By 1914, Bulgaria, liberated from Ottoman rule, had recently fought in the Second Balkan war and was about to enter World War I. Deyana Kostova: Here we entered the First World War. It turned out that we entered on the wrong side, because at this moment Germany was telling us that choosing Germany would be the thing that would give us justice and will give us these territories that we lost in the Second Balkan War. Instead of displaying the sweep of the events World War I, an exhibit called the Little Man in the Great War divides the Bulgarian First World War experience into four overarching emotions: hope, what you hold onto, self-preservation, and collapse. Deyana Kostova: So this is our previously-launched exhibition. It is called the Little Man in the Great War. And the idea was to show the fate of the ordinary people, the small people who actually make the army, because the army is not the commanders in chief, it is not the generals, it is the numerous people without names, who actually perished at the battlefields, and they all had families, and they all had hopes, and the idea was to show the emotions during the war. So here we begin, with the very first emotion when the war was declared: it was the hope. The hope that this war was not going to be a long one. The hope that choosing Germany will bring justice, the hope that at the end, we will be victorious, we will have what is supposed to be ours, we will go back to our homes alive at the end. This was probably the most important. The next emotion is hard to translate into English. Deyana Kostova: There isn’t an equivalent in English. When I try to explain it, it means the things that you hold to. We wanted to show that even though it was a war, the life didn’t stop. There were weddings during the wartime. People were writing letters to their loved ones. Then comes self-preservation. Deyana Kostova: It was all the ways the soldiers had to keep themselves sane. The friendship that formed in the front lines. They tried to do these very temporary houses to resemble their homes, they were planting flowers, here you have watermelon at the front line, some of them had pets, like this small dog. They were making theaters at the front line, just to keep the spirit of the soldiers a bit higher. And finally, collapse. Deyana Kostova: We finish with the collapse: the collapse of all illusions, the collapse of all hope, the entire cynicism of the war. Here is a young beautiful boy. In our permanent exhibition you might see him again. There he is displayed as a symbol of the Bulgarian heroism, a symbol that even the youngest wanted to carry guns and to defend what was right for Bulgaria. But here we try to show it in a different perspective. To say okay, but this is a boy, this is a child. It is in the front line. It is not how it is supposed to be. We have all these eyes that are looking at us with some kind of a blame, that we as a humanity made this happen. It’s not a happy exhibition. The Little Man in the Great War is really effective at telling a historical narrative through emotions. It works because you as the visitor are experiencing the emotions in chronological order, the order that ordinary Bulgarians would have felt them during the war. It’s a powerful contrast to the very inhuman tanks and missiles just outside Other galleries in the museum also highlight the sentimental and emotional in the middle of conflict. Bulgaria fought for its liberation in the 19th century against the Ottoman Empire. One of the chief strategists (and martyrs) of the Bulgarian revolution is a man named, Vassil Levski, widely considered to be a national hero. Deyana Kostova: Our museum displays his hair, which is kind of strange probably from a foreign perspective, but he was a monk, and it was him who cut off his hair when he decided that he doesn’t want to serve to god anymore, he wants to serve his people, to their freedom. So he cut off his hair and gave it to his mother and said, “you should keep my hair because one day probably I wouldn’t have a grave, and you may need to bury my hair.” And it is what actually happened. She didn’t know where he was buried, but she gave his hair to the county. And now there are so many little children who come to the museum and paying respect to this item. Other galleries deal with more recent history, like the Bulgarian experience in World War II, which Kostova describes in similar language to World War I. Deyana Kostova: And once again we chose Germany. We didn’t actually have choice. We made this exhibition three years ago now about the Second World War and we named it the War That We Could Not Avoid. The idea was that this was the war that we never had the chance to choose whether to participate or not in. Because at the moment we signed our participation in the tripartite pact, German troops were already marching inside Bulgaria. So it was either “with us or under us.” This Second World War turned out to be the point that changed everything in our history, because only three years later in 1944 another army was at our border. It was the Soviet army. Once again we didn’t have the choice. We were trying to declare neutrality again but it wasn’t an option at the end of the war, and we didn’t want to declare war to Germany because many many Bulgarians soldiers were surrounded by Germans, and the Soviets were marching on our streets three years after the Germans. At this moment, the political situation changed as well. And it changed the political regime to communist one, later on to socialistic one. It’s important to remember that the official narratives of Bulgaria’s entire military history were pretty lopsided during the socialist period, up until the political collapse about thirty years ago. Since then, the country, and the museum, has had much more room for nuance in describing the motives of historical actors. The missiles and other pieces of military hardware are still there, but so are more emotional historical narratives. Deyana Kostova: Our main mission in the museum nowadays is to try to tell the story with all the versions that are possible to be displayed. When you learn when you are young that there are different points of view of history, it is much easier when you grow up. These days, especially young people don’t have an idea of what war is, they think it is something cool that it is done for the right causes, and if you do it for the right cause, which is your right cause of course, then you’re a hero, you’re very brave. They are missing all of this, and we just wanted to show it. In just two weeks, Museum Archipelago will reach 50 episodes. To celebrate, I’d love to hear from you! To get on the 50th episode of the show, record yourself saying where you listen to Museum Archipelago and why you keep listening. You can say something funny, or, if you insist, something heartfelt. Then send me a link to your recording using the contact forum at museumarchipelago.com. If you’d prefer to leave a written comment, that’s great – I’d love it if you wrote a review on Apple Podcasts. It feels good to get to 50, and it’s all thanks to your support. So thank you. [Outro]
August 20, 2018
Ariana Lee and Palace Shaw create The Whitest Cube, an excellent new museum podcast about people of color and their experiences with art institutions as artists, visitors, workers, activists, or casual admirers. The podcast interrogates the city of Boston and its museums through the lens of race. In this episode, Lee and Shaw talk about the reasons for starting the podcast, what diversity in museums really means, and how to pressure cultural institutions to change. If you’re interested in museums, you should subscribe to the Whitest Cube on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, or Instagram. You can support their work directly on Patreon. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00: Intro 00:15: “Supposedly, These Institutions Are Trying To Diversify” 00:36: Palace Shaw & Ariana Lee Create The Whitest Cube Podcast 01:14: The White Cube Display Method 01:59: The City of Boston As A Case Study For Talking About Museums And Race 04:09: Palace Shaw’s Experiences Working At Art Institutions 07:17: Art Museums And Other Museums 08:11: “People Believe That Museums Tell The Truth” 09:20: There Are Not Enough Voices Challenging Museums 10:00: Subscribe To The Whitest Cube 10:20: Why We Need An Active Effort To Shift The Culture 11:05: Museum Archipelago’s 50th Episode: Submit Your Audio This episode was recorded at the PRX Podcast Garage in Allston, MA, USA on August 13th, 2018. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 48. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. [Intro] Ariana Lee: Supposedly these institutions are pushing to diversify. What does it mean to diversify? You could say that if you take stock of all of the museum’s employees it is a very diverse workforce because you may very well have many people of color working in your janitorial services. But they are not at any kind of seat of power. This is Ariana Lee. Together with her co-host Palace Shaw, she founded the Whitest Cube, an excellent podcast about people of color and their experiences with art institutions as artists, visitors, workers, activists, or simply casual admirers. Ariana Lee: Hello I’m Ariana Lee, and I’m a cohost of The Whitest Cube podcast. Palace Shaw: Hello, I’m Palace Shaw and I’m the other host of The Whitest Cube. Each episode we unpack different things we’ve been thinking through, so the first episode is about access to museums from the perspective of race and class and our second episode is about… Ariana Lee: Beyoncé and Jay-Z and their music video for Apeshit in the Louvre and also their relationship to museums. The name the Whitest Cube comes from a common art museum display method called the White Cube. It’s a clever name for a podcast that works on multiple levels — and their explanation of the name on the first episode was what got me instantly hooked on the show. Podcast Excerpt: The method is as simple as it sounds: four white walls and good lighting to act as the void in which we situate art. Prior to the White Cube, museums displayed all of their artwork, not just a select few pieces for your consideration. This created the esteemed position of the curator: the person whose job it was to decide what remained in storage and what was seen by the public. The White Cube display method was first introduced at art museums in the city Boston. Lee and Shaw live in Boston, and so do I. As hosts of the Whitest Cube, Lee and Shaw interrogate the city’s cultural institutions through the lens of race. Palace Shaw: We try to bring in Boston as a case study because it is kind of the perfect city to be having this conversation [in] because Boston is a city that is really controlled by its institutions, whether that’s hospitals, universities, whether that’s museums. Ariana Lee: It’s also a really amazing place to be having a conversation about race because I think that Boston is somewhere where people say Boston is just an incredibly white city. But Palace actually pointed to me early on in this process that actually there are more people of color in Boston than there are white people which actually speaks to some of the structural violence that’s going on in institutions. Palace Shaw: And how segregated this entire city is. Lee and Shaw realized that podcasting was a way to broaden their conversations about museums without having to go through any of Boston’s institutions. Palace Shaw: I was like, okay cool. I’m not feeling museums right now, but I am feeling the conversations we’re having about them. A podcast was a natural medium to have these conversations in, especially because it is conversational. At least when we come up with ideas. Maybe when it comes to actual episodes it is a bit more constructed, but it was mostly like we’re having a conversation that needs to be heard. Ariana Lee: In terms of audience, I think that’s something that’s really interesting in having a podcast that’s about race and art institutions and being people who have been in the role of not feeling powerful in their ability to communicate about these things. It’s almost what you wish you could say It makes me feel when you see a docent do x, y, or z and expressing that to people who may not be willing to hear that or may have defensive first reactions, right? Palace Shaw: Or respond to it as if it is an emotion issue rather than an issue of systemic racism, which is not a personal problem, it’s a much larger issue. Palace Shaw has worked at art institutions in the city of Boston. Her experience with these institutions, particularly how sensitive museums are to criticism, comes through in the episodes. One of the tag lines of The Whitest Cube is “Museums are really sensitive to critique. We decided we don’t care.” Palace Shaw: This is the field that people are working in where you can’t criticize the institutions that you work for. Which I think is pretty dangerous for institutions that are meant to educate and that are meant to be spaces for open dialogue. And if your staff doesn’t have the ability to talk about these things in a really real way and there’s no space for some of the emotional harm that can happen in these environments… I think that these conversations are being had, but I feel like they are being had in a way that is not considering what the institution actually is and the space that museums occupy. I’ll give an example. In one of my meetings, people had said they were having a really hard time talking about a particular piece and that piece depicted a mutilated black body. Very hard to talk about, especially for young white folks who may not have the language to navigate something like that — totally understandable. We had a meeting about this specific piece, and we had almost the entire meeting without naming that this was what was making them uncomfortable. This meeting was called to have a difficult conversation about this specific work, but it when it came down to it, I literally said, “is everybody looking at the same thing that I’m looking at? Do you see a body there? Can you understand that this is a black body?” And everyone was like, “yes.” And I’m like, “Okay, now we’re talking about what is really hard to parse through.” And I strongly feel like that shouldn’t have been my responsibility to bring up. I feel like if you’re going to call a meeting about something that is really hard to talk about, it’s your role as the facilitator to get into the hard stuff. Ariana Lee: The difficulty is that as a facilitator in that situation, you want to create a setting in which someone’s situated knowledge, the knowledge that they have from just being who they are, in the world, being affected by the social structures that they are affected by, where they can use that and be an asset to the workplace. But saying the reason we are all uncomfortable is because there’s a mutilated black body here, which is something everyone can see with there eyes, is not an example of using your situated knowledge. Palace Shaw: Yes, I was not saying because of my personal experience, I can tell you this is a black mutilated body, I’m literally talking about material and form and language that we all have to talk about art in this specific educational context. It did end up falling to me. Art museums are the focus of The Whitest Cube podcast. Both Lee and Shaw came into museums first with a passion for art, contemporary art specifically. But of course, the entire archipelago of museums institutions, children's, science, art, expanding to museum education, museum conferences, all have structural similarities. Palace Shaw: We do use museums really generally, we’re not always really saying art museums, which is sometimes an oversight, but also not untrue that museums outside of art museums have this similar structure. Because it is about the function of a museum. And what is the function of a museum but to educate the masses and who is in the position to do that? As a whole, when we were interviewing people about museums, we just were like why are museums important? And what we got from that is that it is a widely held belief that museums tell the truth, that they are a direct shot from the heavens. This is exactly how it is. I think there is a lack of acknowledgment that there are people that are actually controlling the narrative of what you’re learning and that maybe the full truth isn’t being shown. Isn't it funny how that sense museums tell the truth is true even today, when almost everything else is not widely considered to tell the truth? People don’t trust newspapers, and yet if you put something in a gallery… the medium just does something to you. I don’t know how long this is going to last. Palace Shaw: I’m really glad you bought it up because definitely when I think of the Whitest Cube and I’m thinking about how museums are one of the last media institutions, because it is a media institution that people trust without question. I don’t think there are enough voices challenging that. I think that what we are trying to do is bump up against that fragility, and bump up against something that hasn’t been challenged. Ariana Lee: There’s sort of this lack of connection between what feels unjust in the setting of museum politics, and quote unquote the real world. There’s a divorce between the museum and the real world I think in many people's minds, certainly in mine before I was working on this project to some extent. Where’s that pressure going to come from? If you’re at all interested in museums, and I think you might be if you’ve made it this far, you really should subscribe to the Whitest Cube. It’s on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and instagram at whitestcube. There are links in the show notes. Where is that pressure going to come from? Well, I would argue, independent podcasts like The Whitest Cube. Palace Shaw: Something we return to again and again is what is the value of the museum? And who determines that value? I think returning to that questions is really important, because I don’t think it gets considered enough, especially with regards to changing the field. I feel like there’s a lot of really shallow attempts at figuring all of this out. I think there’s a lot of acknowledgement that needs to happen, in terms of what museums are and what they have been historically and the fact that there needs to be an active effort in shifting the culture. In just a month, Museum Archipelago will reach 50 episodes. To celebrate, I’d love to hear from you! To get on the 50th episode of the show, record yourself saying where you listen to Museum Archipelago and why you keep listening. You can say something funny, or, if you insist, something heartfelt. Then send me a link to your recording using the contact forum at museumarchipelago.com. Send those files to me in the next three weeks, by September 10th to get on the show. It feels good to get to 50, and it’s all thanks to your support. [Outro]
July 23, 2018
High in the Bulgarian mountains, Buzludzha monument is deteriorating. Commemorating early Bulgarian Marxists, it was 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. Some people want to destroy it, some people want to restore it to its former glory, but Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova has a better idea.Ivanova wants to turn it into a museum, and she founded the Buzludzha Project Foundation to do exactly that. In this episode, Ivanova describes how the city of Berlin inspired her plan for the preservation of Buzludzha, how to preserve the past without glorifying it, and the next steps to making her plan a reality. Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed00:00 Intro00:15 Buzludzha's Opening Ceremony01:04 Buzludzha Today01:38 Buzludzha As Propaganda02:00 Dora Ivanova02:20 "The Cathedral of Socialism"02:45 Ian's Buzludzha Visit03:30 Ivanova on Perserving Buzludzha04:22 What To Do With Old Monuments04:59 Ivanova's Museum Proposal06:20 Tower Elevator07:05 Next Steps07:56 Inspiration From The City of Berlin09:22 The Buzludzha Project Foundation09:37 Outro - Join Club Archipelago Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 47. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] In 1981, on top of a mountain in the middle of Bulgaria, high-ranking members of the Bulgarian communist party gathered to celebrate the opening of a new monument. The monument, called Buzludzha Memorial House, was erected here to commemorate the 90 year anniversary of the first illegal meeting of Bulgarian Marxists. The communist dictator of Bulgaria, Todor Zhivkov, dedicated the monument. [Audio of Zhivkov’s speech in Bulgarian] “Let the pathways leading here, never fall into disrepair,” he said. Of course, it did fall into disrepair. Eight years after opening, Todor Zhivkov was deposed from office by his own party, and soon after the rule of the Bulgarian Communist Party crumbled. Buzludzha is in an eerie state of decay. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s mostly in the shape of a flying saucer — an enormous round disc of concrete. If a particular alien culture had a fetish for brutalism, this would be their spaceport. Rising out of the back of the saucer is a tower, 230 ft high, and flanked by two red stars. The communist party claimed that the red stars, illuminated at night by spotlights, could be seen from as far away as the Romanian border in the north, and the Greek border to the south. Dora Ivanova: It was on purpose built like this. It was built to impress. It was built as part of the political propaganda and education as they called it during this time. It’s shape looks like a UFO, actually. This is also on purpose because it had to show how the socialist idea is contemporary, it’s the future. This is Dora Ivanova. Dora Ivanova: Hello, my name is Dora Ivanova, and I am the founder of the Buzledzha Project Foundation, which aims to preserve the Buzludzha monument. The first time I visited Buzledga was in 2014. I was amazed. It’s a really powerful place. It felt like being in a cathedral. The cathedral of socialism, I’ll call it. I found that it is in not that bad condition, that it can still be saved. I was thinking that it is defiantly worth saving. But later, with my next visits, I got more sad and sadder about the condition. Seeing every time that the condition of the construction is worse and worse, it is really hard for me. I visited Buzledzha in the summer of 2018. The glass is gone from its windows, the red stars have been shot at and smashed, and there are worrying holes in the concrete structure. The monument has been left to decay — mostly sitting in limbo as the Bulgarian socialist party and the Bulgarian government argue over what to do with it. The only new development was that in January of 2018, a guard has been posted at the site to prevent people from entering and seeing the atrium or the crumbling socialist mosaics inside. He said he was not allowed to do an interview. Both Ivanova and I are too young to have lived under Socialism in Bulgaria directly. My association with that period of time has been almost exclusively with the old monuments scattered around the country. Dora Ivanova: In my opinion, the building should be preserved in its present condition. It defiantly should not be restored. To restore it would restore its meaning, and for many people it means to restore the glory of the socialist party. And this is defiantly something we don’t want to do. Many other people want it to turn into something different or imagine having a different function. But I think Buzledzha is interesting with what it is, what it stands for, and what it has already. I don’t think we need to put additional meaning or function to it. If we explain what is already there, if we explain the history which is behind this structure, this is the most powerful and meaningful solution. Museum Archipelago has explored the theme of what to do with these old monuments before, particularly monuments that are symbols of repressive ideologies. Episodes 5 and 35, about Stalinworld in Lithuania and The Museum of Socialist Art in the Bulgaria deal with these issues directly. But Buzledza is such an extreme example, and the debate around it, as far as I have heard, ether centers around completely destroying it or returning it to its former glory. Ivanova has a different idea. After visiting for the first time, she knew that she wanted to devote her Master’s thesis to an in-depth proposal to transform the site into a museum. Dora Ivanova: My proposal is to explain the ideology in a very powerful way. To explain all the mosaics, and they are different images. If they are all presented in a very objective and critical way, this will give an understanding of the whole period. And there are aspects like the culture and the role of the women in this period that can be explained to the public. In the underground levels, they can be a gallery that explains the history of the monument itself. Starting with the history of the place, the planning process, the construction, which was amazing achievement. Also how the building was used, why it was abandoned, how it was destroyed, and hopefully, how it was preserved. The proposal works for me because it uses the space as it is. The building was built as a gathering space — and in addition to the interpretive elements, Ivanova envisions that the interior atrium, which seats about 400 people, can still be used for cultural and scientific events. Dora Ivanova: The only thing I would like to add to this building is a glass outside elevator that can bring the visitors to the top of the tower. There is a 70 meters tower on the top of the mountain and there is a wonderful view from there. This is the only addition. I really strive to keep it intact. This is a proposal to add an observation deck to the top of the spire. From there, people could enjoy the wonderful view.] The Project which began as Ivanova’s master’s thesis seems to be gaining steam. Ivanova says that she has come to the conclusion that the best way to save Buzludzha is to harness the interest of the site that comes from outside Bulgaria. Just recently, the site has been recognized by Europa Nostra – Europe’s leading heritage preservation organization, as one of the seven most endangered heritage sites in europe. Dora Ivanova: And with this, it’s a win, actually. A rescue mission of European experts that will come to Bulgaria and will make a report and expertise us about the building and how it can be preserved. It is very important is to do a structural survey and a business plan and we need finances for that. But of course, all of this is at a very high political level and it is a political decision and I really hope it can be resolved soon. The site is truly amazing, even as a ruin. But I really want to visit the Buzludzha that Ivonva proposed. Bulgaria doesn’t have an intertrprive museum that explains the year of Socialism. I can think of no better place to put it than in one of that periods most daring symbols right in the heart of the country. Dora Ivanova: I guess I was inspired by Berlin, which is the city of dark history, the city of division and of the Second World War and the cold war. We have all the evidences here. What if Berlin decides to demolish all that and to say it never happened? I think that is not a good solution. I am very inspired by the way they present that for education and how people are first knowing their past and second presenting it to the others. And this attracts so many tourists and this makes Berlin what it is now. I really would like to take this attitude of knowing, understanding, educating, and try to implement such a project in Bulgaria where, it is a difficult past, and it is traumatic for many people, it is still memory and not history, but now is the time to action before the evidence is demolished and until people still remember it and still can write history from a personal view. Buzludzha can be this place. It is already the place that shows the problem. It think and I hope that it can become the place that shows the solution of the problem. You can find more about the Buzludzha Project Foundation, and see the pictures of what it is now, and renderings of what it might look like, at buzludzha-monument.com/project. [Outro]
July 9, 2018
There were no children’s museums in the Balkans before Muzeiko opened in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2015. Days before Muzeiko’s historic opening, I interviewed Vessela Gercheva, the museum’s Programs and Exhibits Director. Gercheva talked about the challenges of opening the museum, not the least of which was how few people actually knew what a children’s museum was.Today, almost three years later, Gercheva says things have changed. Muzeiko is packed with kids, careening through exhibits designed just for them. Gercheva and Muzeiko are at the forefront of a shifting attitude towards children's education in Bulgaria. This episode was recorded on May 28, 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, or even email to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! This episode pairs with Club Archipelago episode 4, which features a behind-the-scenes tour of Muzeiko with Vessela Gercheva. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 46. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Vessela Gerchva: Hello, my name is Vessela Gerchva and I’m the exhibits director for Muszeko. Muzeiko, which means little museum in Bulgarian, is the first children’s museum in the Balkans. Before it opened in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia in 2015, all museums in the country where of the artifacts-behind-glass variety. I first interviewed Gercheva in 2015, just before Muzeiko opened. In that interview, she said that the concept of a children’s museum was still new to Bulgarians. Vessela Gerchva: Nobody knows here what a children’s science center does. It is a very abstract concept. What does it do? Does it display children? What does it do? Today, almost three years after opening, Gercheva said that initial confusion — that nobody knew what a children’s museum was — has been resolved. Vessela Gerchva: It has been crossed. The barrier now is more of what should we do inside if we don’t have to look at objects behind glass? We have been doing a lot of explaining about the importance of play about the importance of time together between children and parents. I assume this will continue at least some time because this is very new. Gervecha says that the main reason why it has taken so long to build a children’s museum in Bulgaria was because of the style of learning during decades of Communism in Bulgaria, a style that focused on memorization and heavily deemphasized playful learning. I remember visiting Bulgarian museums when I was a kid the ‘90s. They were cool for a young museum nerd like me, but they were certainly not for kids. Most of the signs said not to touch anything. And I vividly remember being the only one there, adult or child. Now things have changed. Vessela Gerchva: First of all we opened. There was a big change. It was received in several ways, I can’t describe in one word. First of all in numbers, it was received pretty well. In the beginning especially we had days where we had a lot a lot of visitors. We were making the organization of the days so that we could close for a while — then we would open for the others to come In terms of how people feel about it, there are several different layers. First of all there is a group of parents, teachers, — people who even before we opened were extremely interested in providing new environment for children. So naturally, these people came even before we opened. There is a second kind of circle that it is a little more distant. These are teachers that are interest to get new experience to kids, but find it very difficult in the current educational environment in Bulgaria which is quite restricting. Gets teachers in a lot of administrative work so it is really challenging to get kids outside of the school and to get them interested in science. So in many ways, from very exerligratering-ly received to not understanding what this, why should I bring my kid here. In this range, all the emotions, we have had them all. Gercheva has a good answer to “why should I bring my kids here”? Muzekio’s exhibits, like the exhibits of many children’s science centers in the United States, are based on the theory of learning through play and applied activities. Vessela Gerchva: We have exhibits where we invite the visitor to be in first person, to imagine themselves as an archeologist or as a geologist. But there are also exhibits in which we invite play which is thematic. Because we believe — it’s not only our belief — that playing itself excites children and makes them want to learn more, even if they are very small. We see this for example in the Toddler’s Days. It is still early of course to say if our toddlers are becoming astronomers, fingers crossed for that and if this happens it will not just be Muzeko to blame. But in the Toddler’s Days we have very young visitors — one two years old who get to play with the physical exhibits even if they are too young for the scientific concepts and any kind of information that is provided to them. The exhibits are a mix of digital and physical exhibits. The digital exhibits, which themselves are mostly new in the Bulgarian museum landscape, were made by a game studio in Sofia, and many of them have game-like elements. Many of the physical exhibits are also interactive. In an exhibit called Constructed World visitors turn cranks and pull levers that move various elements of a city model — water through pipes and traffic through roads. Vessela Gerchva: Conceptually, the digital exhibits and the physical exhibits have been planned together, so they are very closely interlinked. For example, in the geology exhibit, you would have the physical exhibit that show how tectonic plates are collide to form different reactions that we see on earth. And the digital exhibit would talk about caves, and how people inhabited caves and left traces of art, even in very distant times. Because they were planned together, they don’t stand apart. They form a part of a joint concept. In the beginning we had parents that were like, “we don’t really want the kid to be at the computer because he or she is on the computer all the time” but they very quickly understood that we’re providing content that is inseparable from the other exhibits and digital exhibits will make kids explore the physical ones and vice versa. I believe we haven’t put a big stress on digital exhibits, so that parents feel threatened by the brainwash … this quickly went away. We don’t have this concern anymore from parents. Muzeiko’s colorful and modern facade stands out in a city full of drab gray buildings. But if you stood it side by side with other children's museums around the world, it would fit right in The concepts illustrated inside would fit right into other children's science centers around the world. Even though the science presented is of course universal, there is a tie in to Bulgarian contributions. Vessela Gerchva: Actually, there is a Bulgarian point in many of the exhibits, almost all of them. It is ether a Bulgarian invention like the first computer, or the Bulgarian greenhouse that traveled to the International Space Station. Or it can be a Bulgarian scientist or cosmonaut, we try to make a Bulgarian point in almost every exhibit. It was not the point to have at all means a Bulgarian touch in the exhibit. It was the point to show that science is universal, and even if Bulgaria is a small country, there are points at which Bulgaria made a big contribution. There are others in which we have worked in teams, and in those areas we have shown something else or some other achievement. The point here to make is that science is universal and that people make achievements when they work together. The way that Gercheva talks about children's museums is very similar to the way that Margaret Middleton describes the process of making children’s museums in the United States. Middleton, an independent museum designer based in Providence, RI, USA, says that for adults, there are learning outcomes, but for kids, there are visitor outcomes. Young me would’ve LOVED Muzeiko. I think about myself as that lone kid wandering a museum full of objects behind glass, and how much I would’ve loved to touch the objects, push buttons, pull levers, and explore in a three-dimensional world. But it’s not just about my experience visiting Bulgaria as a kid. Muzeiko represents an optimism that wasn’t present in Bulgaria years ago. A successful children’s museum needs children to visit, and right after Communism fell in the late 1980s, many families left Bulgaria. People weren’t having kids, kindergartens closed, the average age kept increasing. But things have changed. Bulgaria is now a place where people want to stay and start a family. There’s a sense of hope for the future, and that’s represented in this museum for children, full of young people careening through its exhibits designed for kids. And it isn’t just Muzeko. Gercheva says that the museum is working with other museums in Bulgaria, emphasizing new pedagogical methods to help convey their message to children more clearly. Vessela Gerchva: There is a lot of knowledge in Bulgarian museums and the people who work there. These are incredibly well-prepared specialists in their areas. Just as any well prepared specialists, it is very difficult for them to limit the message and the story to one thing. Methodologically, we have been taught that we have to give a whole bunch of information and we now know, that children CAN’T get it all. For me, from the perspective of working with children, a lot more stress should be placed on the concept and on the content. I believe we should specialize more in telling stories. If you’d like to learn more about Muzieko, you can listen to my first interview with Gercheva before the museum opened in 2015 in episode 6 of this program. To hear Margaret Middleton describe working on Children’s Museums in the United States, head to episode 45. [Outro]
June 25, 2018
Margaret Middleton is an independent exhibit designer and museum consultant based in Providence, RI, USA. Middleton recently completed the design of the children's exhibits at the Discovery Museum in Acton, MA, USA. Driven by a background in industrial design and queer activism, Middleton is passionate about creating visitor-centered museum experiences, and writes and speaks about inclusion in museums. In 2014 Middleton developed the Family Inclusive Language Chart, now widely used in museums across the country.In this episode, Middleton describes what makes exhibit design for children's museums so unique and exciting and what other types of museums can learn from children's museums. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:15: Margaret Middleton, Independent Exhibit Designer and Museum Consultant00:25: Middleton’s Favorite Thing About Children’s Museums01:48: Focusing on the User/Visitor03:55: What Other Museums Can Learn From Children’s Museums06:10: Middleton’s Family Inclusive Language Chart09:10: Making Museum Conferences More Accessible10:10: Learn More10:30: Outro
June 11, 2018
The Bulgarian National Polytechnical Museum is a science museum that also tells the story of Bulgarian and world history. The building itself once housed a museum of a Bulgarian communist leader, and the technical artifacts on display, from simple machines to Bulgarian-made computers from the 1980s present both scientific concepts and the political contexts in which they were developed.In this episode, curator Vassil Macaranov describes how the increasing role of technology in our lives underscores the importance of presenting scientific and technological artifacts with their historical contexts.This episode was recorded at the Bulgarian National Polytechnical Museum in Sofia Bulgaria on June 8th, 2018. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00: Intro00:15: Vassil Makarinov, Curator00:28: Early Childhood Museums01:09: Bulgarian National Polytechnical Museum01:50: A Brief History of Bulgaria05:23: Early Bulgarian Computers07:15: Educating Bulgarian Children10:09: Technology Within Historical Contexts10:52: Outro - Made possible by listeners like you. Join Club Archipelago today.
May 28, 2018
In episode 36 of this podcast, Bill Bradberry, Chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Commission, described encountering the glaring lack of cultural diversity within and around the museum industry, particularly in leadership. He cited the new Museum Studies program at Lincoln University as an example of a program that addresses the problem directly. Blake Bradford is the director of that Museum Studies Program, a partnership between Lincoln University and the Barnes Foundation. In this episode, Bradford describes ways to change museum institutions that already consider themselves successful. He also talks about museums as public-facing institutions, inviting his students to think critically about how truth is established through museums, and what surprises him about his students. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed: 00:00: Intro 00:15: Blake Bradford 00:53: Museums Accountable to The Public 01:49: Convincing Museums to Do The Right Thing 02:24: Museum Studies Program at Lincoln University 03:20: “Safe” Diversity is Not Diversity 04:30: Critical Analysis Curriculum 07:10: Taking The Magic Out of Exhibit Production 08:36: Post-Museum Students 11:01: Outro
May 14, 2018
Until a few weeks ago, one of the only places in downtown New Orleans acknowledging the city’s slave-trading past was a marker in Congo Square, erected in 1997. The New Orleans Committee to Erect Historic Markers on the Slave Trade has since put up two new markers, one on the transatlantic slave trade along the Moonwalk and another on the domestic slave trade at the intersection of Esplanade Avenue and Chartres Street. Author and historian Freddi Williams Evans and activist Luther Gray are the two original co-chairs of the committee.In this episode, Evans and Gray describe New Orleans’s past as the center of the overlapping international and domestic slave trades. They also discuss their conservation efforts at Congo Square, the logistics of erecting the markers with a sankofa bird instead of a pelican at the top, and the Maafa ceremony, which will host the unveiling of these markers later this year.This episode was recorded on May 10, 2018 in New Orleans. Committee members mentioned in this episode are Guy Hughes, Leon Waters, Ibrahima Seck, Erin Greenwald, Joshua Rothman, Joyce Miller, and Midlo Hall. Steve Prince designed the logo for the transatlantic marker. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Guests:Freddi Williams EvansLuther Gray Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: The New Orleans Committee to Erect Historic Markers on the Slave Trade00:35: Freddi Williams Evans and Luther Gray01:13: Origins of the Committee01:45: The History of Gatherings in Congo Square03:30: The International Slave Trade and the Domestic Slave Trade in Louisiana06:20: The Lack of Documentation of African Presence in New Orleans07:00: The Preservation of Congo Square08:02: The Logistics of Setting Up Markers10:34: Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project11:11: The Maafa Ceremony12:43: Outro
April 30, 2018
View Shownotes As the oldest site of human habitation in North America, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter has a challenge: how to convey its mind-boggling timescale, spanning from prehistory to the 19th century? David Scofield, director of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, describes how the museum is designed to connect the big changes in how people lived through 16,000 years of history. The Meadowcroft Rockshelter opens for its 50th season on May 5th, 2018. It is part of the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pennsylvania. Made possible by listeners like you. Join Club Archipelago today. Guest: David Scofield Topics Discussed 00:00: Intro 00:14: David Scofield, Director of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village 01:02: What Else Was Happening 16,000 Years Ago? 01:30: Discovery 04:20: Beringia 05:44: Expressing Large Timescales in Museums 08:55: Meadowcroft’s 50 Season 09:14: Outro
April 16, 2018
View Shownotes Jenny Mathiasson and Kloe Rumsey started The C Word: The Conservators’ Podcast to broadcast their friendly and professional discussions about conservation. Each episode features a different hot topic in the conservation world, and the podcast stands out for its hosts willingness to tackle complex topics.In this episode, the hosts discuss whether photos are data or objects, the Digitized Photograph Project at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Centre, and museums asking people to bring in their own objects. For new listeners, Mathiasson and Rumsey recommend starting with S01E01: Demographics.Made possible by listeners like you. Join Club Archipelago today.Guests:Jenny MathiassonKloe RumseyTopics Discussed: 00:00: Intro00:15: Jenny Mathiasson and Kloe Rumsey00:45: The Origins of The C Word Podcast01:45: Photos As Data Or Objects04:25: Digitized Photograph Project at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial06:03: Privacy and Data08:10: Queer Britain 09:00: Best C Word Podcast Episodes to Start With?09:25: Outro
April 2, 2018
Over the course of his long life, Hans Sloane collected tens of thousands of items which became the basis for what is today the British Museum. Funded in large part by his marriage into the enslaving plantocracy of Jamaica and the Atlantic slave trade, and aided by Britain’s rising colonial power and global reach, he assembled an encyclopedic collection of specimens and objects from all around the world.James Delbourgo, professor of History of Science and Atlantic World at Rutgers University, is the author of Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum. In this episode, Delbourgo describes Sloane’s formative years in Jamaica, how his collection was an attempt to catalogue the wonders and intricacies of a divine creation, and how the British Museum, which opened in 1759, came into being as a result of the terms Sloane laid down in his will. Delbourgo also discusses how Sloane’s idea of universal public access to his collections remains radical to this day.Guest:James DelbourgoBook:Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British MuseumTopics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:15: James Delbourgo00:40: Hans Sloane02:10: Sloane in Jamaica02:58: Earliest Transcription of African Music in the Americas04:21: Sloane in London06:58: Universal Public Access at the British Museum10:40: Admission Charges at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 11:27: Recommendation: Museums in Strange Places12:00: Outro
March 19, 2018
Image: Sanchita Balachandran. Photo Credit: James Rensselaer. Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, hopes to see the field of conservation develop into more of a social process, rather than simply a technical one.From her 2016 talk at the American Institute for Conservation’s Annual Meeting, to teaching her students how to interrogate an object in person, to her Untold Stories project, Balachandran has thought critically about the role of conservators. In this epsiode, Balachandran talks about her early formative experiences in the field of conservation and how whether or not someone’s history is worth preserving is a deeply political decision. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topcis Discussed: 00:00: Intro 00:14: Sanchita Balachandran 00:30: What Does a Conservator Do? 03:10: Early Formative Experiences 03:35: The Needs of Objects 05:35: Race, Diversity and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis 10:30: Objects vs. Data 13:03: Outro
March 5, 2018
It would have been much easier to build the National Public Housing Museum from scratch instead of retrofitting it in the last remaining building of the Jane Addams Homes, the first public housing development in Chicago. But doing so would have undermined one of the core principles of the museum: that place has power. Robert J. Smith III, the associate director of the National Public Housing Museum, describes the mission of the museum as preserving, promoting, and propelling housing as a human right. In this epsiode, he describes the history of the Jane Addams Homes, how national public policy connects to the lives of public housing residents, and some ongoing decisions about what the museum will look like when it opens next year. Museum Archipelago is a fortnightly museum podcast guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums and surrounding culture. Subscribe to the podcast for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Robert J. Smith III00:24: The Mission of the Museum01:00: Preserving a Building of the Jane Addams Homes02:18: The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation03:05: Deverra Beverly04:41: Beyond Preservation06:25: Docent-Guided Tours07:00: Apartment Tours9:50: Demand the Impossible11:05: Housing as a Human Right Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 37. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Robert Smith: Good afternoon. My name is Robert Smith and I am associate director of the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago. So the mission of the museum is to preserve, promote and propel Housing is a human right, and we do that through exhibitions, public programs and by bringing arts and culture together with public policy to create, You know, we hope for creative and lasting solutions of housing in security. The National Public Housing Museum, which is not yet open, was founded in 2007 as the result of years of organizing by public housing residents. The original intent was to save the last remaining building of the Jane Adams Homes, a public housing development in Chicago, from demolition and preserve it as a museum. Robert Smith: So the Holmes is one of the first developments of public housing built in Chicago. They were opened in 1938 as part of the Public Works Administration, and the goal of the Public Works Administration was to basically spend money to stimulate the economy. Public housing, construction. Have you had a benefit? Of course? Housing, poor and working class families who were suffering in a really serious housing crisis that gripped the country and the genetics homes sort of contrary to the typical understanding of public housing is mostly served on white, working class families. Eventually, by the time it closes, it houses nearly all African American families. And really, you know, the story of race could be charted in the ways that the Jane Adams homes change over time, from a place that house mostly white immigrants to a place that houses mostly the black urban poor and the Janus Holmes is made up of rage building 52 rowhouses, all of those air demolished. But for 13 22 West Taylor Street, which is the building man, will be the National Public Housing Museum. The Jane Adams Holmes was targeted for demolition by the Chicago Housing Authorities Plan for Transformation Robert Smith: n Chicago under the second Mayor, Daley Richard J. Daley, the conventional wisdom of the state and the philanthropic sector. The private sector was to launch something called the plane for transformation, which resulted in the demolition of all of the quote unquote notorious public housing developments on 25,000 units of public housing came down. 25,000 units of public housing were supposed to be created. So much of the plane for transformation happened without the involvement. It’s your involvement of public housing residents and you know it all goes back to the public housing residents from Saul’s S O Mr Vera, Beverly Waas, a public housing residents in the opera homes of which the Jane Adams Holmes is one. And she was one of the leading activists and organizers in her community. And when the Jane Adams Holmes came down, she was one of the leading voices that one of the buildings ought to be preserved as a museum. So I would say the seat is really you know, Mr Vera, Beverly and the group of activists, mostly African Americans, mostly African American women who are really instrumental in fighting to preserve the building, who sort of organized allies and foundations and academics to do the work to preserve the building and say that The fact that they chose to preserve this one building this one address that used to be part of this particular development serves the whole message of the museum. I am the primacy of place. It’s frankly, would have been much cheaper. To build a museum from scratch on the open land that once was the Jane Adam’s homes, then to go through the trouble of saving the last remaining building, you know, getting it of its asbestos of It’s like paint on building an institution inside of it. But for us, you know, the power of places so important that was really important for folks to, you know, walk through the look and feel. Since the initial idea, the museum has evolved and this still evolving. You can tell by the mission statement that the point is not just preservation. So how does the museum figure out what to focus on and how to present to the world? Robert Smith: You know, this is a museum founded by public housing residents on Dove course, public housing residents. You ought to have a say in the way their stories air recorded and shared. So our board, about half of the people on the board either currently or have lived in public housing right now, I would say about three of 20 live in public housing right now, it’s really important to us both as a organization that’s representing and sharing the stories and objects of public housing. Residents Teo be co creators and collaborators with folks in the community, but also because they could pull this accountable off and they get to tell us what’s up. They can tell us when we, you know, make a wrong turn, but also for the connect us and the ambassadors to an incredibly diverse, enormous community where there are some kind of key institutions. But once of all the buildings are so many of the buildings came down. People are really dispersed, you know, to the four corners of the Earth and in terms of the the museum itself. You know, Mike, my boss exactly of Director Lisa Lee always says, You know, we’re building the most exciting cultural institution in America, and I think she’s totally right. Of course, there’s still some decisions are still making about what the museum will look like when you open next year. One key decision is that all of her tours will be landed by Justin’s, who are current or past public housing residents. You know, we’ve made a big commitment. Teo threw in a community benefits agreement, and you’re all over conversation actions with our public housing residents, stakeholders. Your museum is a museum of objects, but also importantly abusing. The story’s visitors will encounter the stories of public housing residents across the country on Meet Their Particular. Doesn’t you really want the apartment? Worse? The apartment tours will feature three furnished apartments made toe look like they would have looked for three specific families that lived in the complex at different times. These are the Toro It’s Family, a Russian Jewish family that moved into the complex in 1938. The reason. Family on Italian American family that lived there in the 1950s and 1960s, when the neighborhood was becoming heavily Italian. And then the Hatch family, an African American family that lived there in the 1970s. Robert Smith: and in his apartment tours, a meal encounter, objects, reproductions and vignettes that really connect the national public policies that shaped that shaped the lives of the public housing residents on everything from the Housing Act of 1937 to the policies, like the plan for transformation that brought the buildings down here in Chako eso you’ll you’ll injure thee turn. It’s the door apartment who are one of the first residents of the Jane out of this homes. And you know you’ll hear the story about the excitement of the tournament’s family to be living in apartment that had never been, you know, changed. It’d buy pork eso so the Target’s family never needed to go through the kind of exhaustive cleansing rituals, a certain kind of Judaism who requires to keep a kosher kitchen going through the hatch, merely apartment and think and talk about the kind of relationship did of the black church to the black community in Chicago and elsewhere. You know the incredible role at musicians played in public housing and dangle the incredible musicians who emerged from public housing and John out. And they all had a distinct sense of style. They all transmitted their culture through the food, they to have a decorated into the light of Jesus poster in one apartment to the missus on another to the Christmas tree, and another, you know, these were the ways that people dilts, you build a life that was both remarkable. And every day and once you could have passed through the three apartment exhibitions that connects you. National public policy, chew the lived experience of public housing residents. You’ll you’ll hear the rest of the story were, and then you’ll move into the final galleries upstairs, where you will experience and learn about. You know, what happened to the seventies eighties, the nineties, the two thousands. You know what happens at the urban crisis in the urban crisis? What happens through deindustrialization through the retreat of the state from from public services and what happens when the building’s come town. And importantly, you’ll end your museum tour experience in a room that we’re not calling demand the impossible. You know, there have been lots of court, including possible policies. You know, we might have thought about being our work day. It’s one time impossible, and we’re interested in introducing our museum audience tippling policies that might seem equally impossible today. They’re worth considering our worth putting out into a civic space and debating, you know, things like housing first policies that provide Holmes first to do home people on Dollhouse services to be wrapped around folks instead of criminalizing homeless, where things like a universal basic income or other models of ownership on DH enterprise like the worker cooperative like co operative housing like the Community Land Trust, you know different ways of thinking about the economy and knew the public housing residents have, frankly been innovating for a really long time. Robert says that the National Public Housing Museum is tentatively scheduled to open in September of 2019 with a firmer opening date to be finalized soon, he and his team see museums as the right medium. Robert Smith: Oh, yeah, I don’t think it’s that controversial to demand or argue that housing is a human right? Of course, there are so many policy approaches to that kind of question, And for me, the museum is a kind of civic space not to debate if housing is a human right, but to figure out how to get there. Oh, and we hope, as an institution that can bring people together to not necessarily agree, but to engage in a civic dialogue and, frankly, you know, with the news media as polarized as it is, um, with the published here such that it is today so fragmented. We think the museums have a particular potential, and we believe your responsibility to be places of convening to help solve the problems that are facing our society. And I think it’s really important, especially as a museum that is a national public housing museum to do that for the country, but also the one that decided in Chicago, which is where so many of the issues of segregation of racism reached their height. You know, reach their kind of ugliest conclusion. It’s really important for us to be an open door to convenience conversations in this city.
February 19, 2018
Bill Bradberry, the President and Chairman of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Commission, thinks of the entire city of Niagara Falls, NY as an open crime scene from “the crime of holding people in bondage, and the man-made crime of trying to escape.” With Canada just across the Niagara river, the Commission conducts research on the Underground Railroad as it relates to Niagara Falls and the surrounding area — for some, the last terminus in the United States.The Commission will open the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center on May 4th, 2018. Bradberry hopes that the center will show the full story, from black waiters at hotels helping enslaved people escape while serving their enslavers with duplicitous professionalism to massive brawls breaking out between abolitionists and bounty hunters.In this episode, Bradberry talks about situating previously unknown stories into our understanding of the Underground Railroad, discovering the lack of non-white faces in the museum world he has recently entered, and his plan to change that.Guest:Bill BradberryTopics Discussed: 00:00: Intro00:15: Bill Bradberry01:10: The Geography of Escape02:05: The Cataract House Hotel04:25: John Morrison05:10: Historical Research06:12: Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center Opening07:10: The Lack of Non-White Faces in the Museum World11:11: Introducing Club Archipelago Museum Archipelago is proud to announce Club Archipelago, a new, members-only podcast that reviews interactive museum exhibits. To subscribe, support the show on Patreon.
February 5, 2018
Attendants View is a blog of hand-drawn, single page cartoons that capture a slice of a museum attendant’s day. The comics show confused visitors, tourists asking the same questions over and over again, and museum board members flouting the rules.The writer and illustrator behind Attendants View has been creating comics about her experiences in museums for the past seven years. About 60% of the comics are about something that has happened to her or around her personally, and the rest come from stories colleagues and others have told her. She wants anyone to feel comfortable sharing their experiences with her; for this and other reasons, she has chosen to remain anonymous for this interview.By sharing experiences through the medium of comics, Attendants View hopes to demystify various museum jobs. In this episode, Attendants View talks about her creative process, the changes in her professional role, and voluntarism in museums. To read her excellent comics, visit the Attendants View blog here.
January 22, 2018
The Las Vegas Erotic Heritage Museum is the largest erotic museum in the world. Sex scholar Dr. Victoria Hartmann has been the museum’s director since 2014, and her mission is to create a space for people to safely explore and engage the topic of human sexuality.Dr. Hartmann thinks museums too often tell the visitor what to think. She would rather use visitors’ responses to the galleries as a starting point to further discussions.At the Erotic Heritage Museum, there is a lot to react to: a statue of Donald Trump next to a galley of political, religious, and celebrity personalities connected to sex scandals; a huge collection of erotic artifacts from around the world; and a wall full of posters from the January 21st 2017 Las Vegas Women's March.In this episode, Dr. Hartmann talks about the inherently political nature of sex, exhibit development with a diverse staff in positions of authority, and what visitors imagine when they hear the word museum. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)!
January 8, 2018
Iceland has many more museums per person than the UK and the US. The country is also in the middle of a massive tourism boom: there are several times more tourists than residents. Hannah Hethmon, an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, was interested in this abundance of museums and the nature of museum tourism in Iceland.Her Fulbright project is the podcast Museums in Strange Places, which explores these and other Icelandic museum topics. In each episode, Hannah brings listeners through a different museum through the stories of the people who work there. In this episode, Hannah talks about what the tourist boom means for Icelandic museums, what makes museums on this island unique, and what is next for her podcast.For new listeners, Hannah recommends starting with episode 3: A Writer’s Home.Guest:Hannah HethmonTopics Discussed: 00:00: Intro00:15: Hannah Hethmon & Museums in Strange Places03:25: Tourist Boom in Iceland05:40: Icelandic Museums Serving Locals and Tourists08:40: Why Podcasting?10:05: Giving the Project its Boundaries11:30: Where Should People Start with Museums in Strange Places?
December 25, 2017
Image: The Lower Half of the Apollo 17 Lunar Lander in a debris field in the Taurus–Littrow valley. This view was captured minutes after the last humans left the moon and it would look exactly the same today. What humans left behind on the moon are part of our human heritage, on par with Laetoli and Lascaux. Unlike human heritage sites on earth, the lunar landing sites are pristine, completely untouched by natural erosion or human disruption. But the lunar landing sites are also unprotected. On earth, protecting heritage sites is a national affair: countries nominate sites within their own territory to be recognized by UNESCO. Sites on the moon are technically nobody’s territory, so no country can nominate the landing sites, including the six Apollo bases.The people behind For All Moonkind are designing the legal framework to protect and preserve these human heritage sites.Today, we talk with Michelle Hanlon, a space lawyer who volunteers with For All Moonkind, about what it will take to protect these sites them for future generations -- and speculate about what a lunar museum might look like. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics and Links 00:00: Welcome to Museum Archipelago00:14: The Lunar Liftoff of Apollo 1702:10: Induction to Michelle Hanlon03:00: For All Moonkind04:10: Protecting Heritage Sites on Earth05:42: Outer Space Treaty06:50: Apollo Landing Sites Today08:45: Proposals for Lunar Museums11:30: What Story Should Lunar Museums Tell?
December 11, 2017
Habemus is a Spanish-language radio program about museum topics broadcasting out of Bahía Blanca, Argentina. Every Friday from 9 to 11pm, team members interview museum people and promote an ideology of fun and hacks in museums.The title is a play on words — linking the Spanish word “museos” with the Latin verb “we have.” Since the show is on a popular radio station, Habemus team members Romina Frontini and Christian Díaz say it’s up to them to introduce museum topics to a general audience.In this episode, Romina Frontini and Christian Díaz talk about their project and their ideologies. After listening to this podcast, you can stream their program at http://www.urbana939.com.ar.
November 6, 2017
Dr. Porchia Moore, Inclusion Catalyst at the Columbia Museum of Art, started Visitors of Color with nikhil trivedi in 2015.Visitors of Color is a Tumblr project that documents the perspectives and experiences of marginalized people in museums. It is a record of what the museum experience can be like for people who are often discussed but whose voices are rarely privileged, people that don’t feel welcome in museums, and people that don’t feel like nearby museum spaces are for them.In this episode, Dr. Moore discusses the Museum Computer Network conference where the project launched, the museum-visiting habits of freshmen at a Historically Black College, and how Visitors of Color has been received by the wider museum community.Special thanks to Dr. Moore for taking the time for the interview. Guest: Dr. Porchia MooreTopics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Dr. Porchia Moore00:36: “A Librarian Who Studies Museums”01:11: Survey of College Freshmen03:43: Visitors of Color Launch06:35: Gathering Stories for Visitors of Color07:30: Visitors of Color as a Counternarrative Project08:45: The Power of Museums as Cultural Heritage Institutions09:45: Response from Institutions Across the Country
October 23, 2017
Image: An example of a digital mapping tool, Mapbox Studio Classic. Everything happens at a time and a place. In a museum, that coordinate system can help keep a story straight, even if it is not at the forefront of a gallery. And when designing maps for museums, we should keep in mind how humanistic digital tools are — and how helpful they can be to museum visitors.We should pay close attention to mental map matching. Museum visitors have a sense of geography marked by their own lived experiences. What feels like an important city landmark to one person isn’t even on the radar for another. To account for this, museums should approach maps in the same way that an online mapping service does: by making rules about what categories of landmarks appear at different zoom levels, and then letting the software take over.  With the help of digital tools, we can work toward a map that draws on a hierarchy of categories instead of our personal experience.
October 9, 2017
Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Society Marieke Van Damme affectionately calls anyone working in the museum field “Museum People.” On her excellent podcast of the same name, she interviews museum people every episode. Many museum people are museum workers.In 2016, together with other noted museum professionals (Sarah Erdman, Claudia Ocello and Dawn Estabrooks Salerno), Marieke asked why museum workers leave the field. Last month, they published a summary of the findings titled, Leaving the Museum Field.As Marieke explains, she always knew that working in the museum field is hard. Museum workers face difficult conditions, and some of the very same things that make working in the museum field desirable (passion for the mission) contribute to the bad (discriminatory societal and economic systems, student loans, intense job competition).Marieke has had countless conversation that begin, “I love working in museums, but I don’t think I can do it anymore because of [insert reason here]”.Leaving the Museum Field is now the most-viewed article on the AAM Alliance blog since it launched a year ago.Through her research, Marieke tries to better understand the difficult conditions museum workers face. Though her projects like Joyful Museums, she provides resources and writings about creating a positive workplace culture. Guest: Marieke Van Damme Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits) by joining Club Archipelago today!
September 11, 2017
Yo, museum professionals: exhibitions aimed at kids should not include interactive screens in galleries. You're undermining your mission!— Jody Rosen (@jodyrosen) September 4, 2017 Notably missing from discussions like these is a willingness to defend the interactive screen. The defense is simple: concepts that museums are tasked with teaching aren’t tangible anymore. Today’s students learn complex concepts that kids weren’t exposed to a generation ago. Even basic knowledge of science today requires a deep understanding of systems and ecosystems and how they interact at different scales. Interactive screens provide the conceptual tools, like rescaling and simulation, that help with that understanding.In this episode, I describe how an interactive screen can teach global climate change in ways an object can’t. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)!
August 28, 2017
Image: Arab American National Museum photo by knightfoundation CC BY-SA 2.0. Before the Arab American National Museum opened in Dearborn, MI in 2005, there wasn’t a singular museum telling the Arab American story. The museum defines the Arab World as 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Southeast Michigan has the highest concentration of people from the Arab World in North America, and much of the social, religious, cultural, and commercial enterprises are centered in Dearborn. In this episode, museum director Devon Akmon describes the process of using arts and culture as a mechanism to build greater community and to share the complexities of the stories with the wider public. Devon also talks about how his institution relates to other museums on issues of equity and justice. Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an episode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today for $2 to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Guest: Devon AkmonTopics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:15: Devon Akmon, Director of the Arab American National Museum00:45: Why Dearborn, MI?02:53: Displacement in the Arab World03:30: Using Arts to Build Community04:04: Building the Museum05:07: Exhibitions and Space06:40: Feedback Mechanisms07:35: Different Audiences10:01: Talking to Other Museums
July 17, 2017
Image: An abundance of Lenins at the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia, Bulgaria After the fall of communism in Bulgaria in 1989, statues of Bulgarian communist leaders, idealized revolutionary workers, and Lenins were taken down all over the county. Some of these statues are now in the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia.Bulgaria doesn’t have a history museum that explores its communist past. The Museum of Socialist Art doesn’t fill that void, exactly: it is an extension of the Bulgarian National Gallery of Art. In this episode, museum director Nikolai Ushtavaliiski and art historian Elitsa Terzieva talk about organizing the past by focusing on art. The outdoor sculpture garden, above, is unorganized, with statues placed wherever there is room. The indoor galleries, by contrast, are organized by exhibitions exploring specific themes. Even though the museum stays as far away from politics as possible by focusing on the art, these exhibitions provide the framework to start interpreting the era. At some point, there will be a museum that explores the communist era in Bulgaria, but until then this collection of artwork gives you a lot to think about.This Episode was recorded at the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia, Bulgaria on July 6th, 2017. Special thanks to Elitsa Terzieva and Nikolai Ushtavaliiski for taking the time for the intreview. Guests: Nikolai UshtavaliiskiElitsa Terzieva
July 3, 2017
Elon Cook created the College Hill and the International Slave Trade Walking Tour in Providence after researching the crucial and massive role that Rhode Island played in the history of slavery.The walking tour covers an an area of about one square mile in and around Brown University. Here, wealth and stability were created off of the buying and selling of enslaved people in Rhode Island and elsewhere.The built landscape of Providence serves as a museum without walls, and Elon considers each of the stops on the tour to be a different mini-exhibition.In this episode, Cook talks about creating the walking tour, the glossing over of local history, and tracing her ancestors’ genealogy before the 1860s.Elon Cook is the program manager and curator for the Center for Reconciliation, a non-profit focused on educating the public about the United States’ history of slavery, slave trading and resistance.This episode was recorded immediately after a walking tour on June 22nd, 2017. Tickets to the next walking tour on July 14, 2017 can be found here. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Elon Cook, Program Director and Curator at the Center for Reconciliation 00:40: Slavery in Maryland and Local Education01:50: Learning Rhode Island’s Role in the International Slave Trade03:10: The Way Slavery is Taught05:10: The First Walking Tour06:00: Future Museum07:00: Using the Built Landscape of Providence as an Exhibition08:15: Genealogy Before the 1860s Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 24. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript [Intro] Elon Cook: My name is Elon Cook and I am the program director and curator at the Center for Reconciliation, consultant for the Robin's House African American historic site in Concord, Massachusetts. And I am the creator and lead guide and only guide at the moment for the College Hill and the International Slave Trade walking tour in Providence. So I'm originally from Maryland. Border state. Never learned that as a border state, that also meant that there had actually been slavery in the state of Maryland because I like most kids, don't learn about local history. My school just didn't teach it, but let's see. Right before I moved here, I had actually been working at the Smithsonian, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And I was working in the education department. I had been trying to get into the curatorial department, found out that the Smithsonian's pretty hierarchical and they love degrees and if you don't have certain degrees, the likelihood of you getting, you know, advancing to another level is extremely slim, unfortunately. And so I was looking for scholarships, found the John Nicholas Brown master's fellowship for the study of the public history of slavery. And I got up here and I was still trying to figure out, I still don't understand why Brown University of all the Ivies, of all the schools in New England, of any university, why do they have this fellowship for the study of slavery in Rhode Island? And it wasn't really until I got up here that I started shifting focus, because I'm a genealogist and I'd been focusing a lot on the development of racial ideologies in the Americas. So I thought everything that was happening was in the south. Like Virginia, my parents are from Georgia and Alabama. So I was trying to figure out why would I do that. Got up here and over the course of the two years, and then also learned a lot more once I graduated, realized that Rhode Island was connected to 60 to 90% of all of the American colonial and post colonial slave trading, international slave trading and just blew me away. Yeah. And all that wealth that's generated from that is just insane. Yes. That story of not really being sure about the north and like, I just moved here from North Florida and I also had the sense that in the north it just didn't feel like the history of slavery would be so acute up here. I just thought that, to even realize that there was any ... I think people up here, we do a pretty good job of hiding that. We do. But it's not just New Englanders or northerners that hide it. A lot of it I think is just the way we're taught about slavery, the American educational system. And I've now noticed that this is the pattern kind of around the world that especially for younger kids, you distill everything down into these really simplified narratives. There's good guys, there's bad guys. It's all about putting people on opposing sides of a story. And then maybe there's a unification or maybe there's a complete splitting. And you know, there's the beginning, a middle and the end. And the way I was taught about slavery was that slavery was a southern thing. It had a lot to do with Virginia and South Carolina and Georgia and Mississippi. And then there was some dude named Frederick Douglass and some lady named Harriet Tubman who tried to free some people. Never bothered to tell us that the state of Maryland where we were from, that's where Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were from. That connection was not made. And then Lincoln happened. And then everything was fine. Yeah. And then everything was cool. And then World War II and then the civil rights movement, and then everybody's equal in school. The end of the story and something about women getting to vote or whatever. So there's like a lot of glossing over a lot of things. And the way my school taught history was war by war by war. So Revolutionary War, War of 1812. A lot of things happen between the Revolution and the Civil War, but we didn't really focus on much of that, if any. And definitely not really anything that had to do with slavery. And the only thing I remember about slavery that I learned in high school was there was like a pop out box in the textbook that had black people in a field picking cotton. And like, that's all I really remember learning during that time. Right after I graduated from Brown with my masters in public history, I was struggling to find a job. It felt like no one wanted to hire someone who had spent two years studying slavery. I wonder why. And I was just having a really hard time. But the Slavery and Justice Center had a group of international visitors who were here specifically to study slavery for like, two weeks for a conference. And they asked me to walk people around, give a walking tour. They knew I did stuff like that. So they said, you know, since I had been studying this history, would I mind putting together a little walking tour of the local history of College Hill related to slavery? And about three days later, I had developed the initial version of this tour, which was only about an hour. And we didn't get to go in any of the stops cause I didn't know how to do, how to organize any of that. Through the process of doing the research, I came across a lot of these very local stories and realized that these super local stories had an impact across the state, across the region, across the country, across the world. You mentioned that the walking tour will be a part of whatever comes next. But when you're at work, when you're thinking about these kinds of things, why does a museum seemed like an appropriate way to present this information and how does kind of the walking tour fit into that? Elon Cook: So with the Center for Reconciliation, since we're in the process of developing a museum space in the Cathedral of Saint John here on North Main Street, we recognize that we are currently a museum without a ready building.We're still trying to figure out even how to use the space in there exactly. And if you look at a lot of museums, the Smithsonian, for instance, the National Museum of African American history and culture was doing exhibitions before their building was remotely, before they even broke into ground, they just had to use other spaces. So, this walking tour allows us to use the built landscape of Providence as a museum. So, I think of each of our stops as a different mini exhibition. So, we go in the John Brown house, we see the Sallie gallery. We'd go to the John Carter Brown library and we see another exhibition of original historic artifacts. We go to the Stephen Hopkins House and suddenly you're walking into a room where enslaved people lived and worked. And then you come to the Cathedral of Saint John, where at least three and slave people worshiped, along with their owners. So, it's really about using what we currently have until we have our own home. But this tour is going to keep going, even once we move into the cathedral. And that was another fascinating theme of the tour was how little we have. Yes. How little records we have to work with. And I thought you made a very effective point what records we do have are through the eyes of the owners of enslaved people. Elon Cook: That's the hard part of doing historical research unfortunately, is that, or when you're researching enslaved people and kind of researching people of color in general, it can be really hard the farther you go back. In my genealogical work, it took a long time to get over the hump from 1880 to 1870 to 1860, because then suddenly you're crossing from freedom, past the Emancipation Proclamation, into the point where nearly all of my ancestors are enslaved. And then going back further and further and further and further and still trying to figure out how do we find these people, when they suddenly go from being Tom Magby to a boy, age 10 to woman? That's it. Or, to just like a hash mark or to just a number, 20 enslaved people on a census record. It makes it so much more difficult to do that work. And it's so hard to trace anyone. So I actually, in order to do my ancestry, in order to get back after the mid 1800s or the early 1800s, actually I had to switch to the white side of my family and trace my ancestry through the owning side and then trace back down and say, oh, well now that I know who the owners are, I can find more information through their diaries, their wills, all kinds of personal documents and finally get names back. If you want to understand why we have all this violence related to race in this country, you have to go back to the history. Otherwise, none of this makes any sense. It's just crazy. It's just random violence for no reason. That's just so mysterious. And when you hear, when you learn the history of like, oh, there's links in a chain going all the way down from these individuals in the 1700s or the 1600s all the way down to right now. This has been Museum Archipelago. [Outro]
June 5, 2017
Image: An early rendering of the Serdika station in Sofia, Bulgaria, displaying Roman ruins on the first level underneath the street. During the planning stages for the Sofia Metro in Bulgaria, ruins of an old Roman fortress and city wall were discovered at the network’s proposed Serdika station. This wasn’t a surprise. People have been living in what is now Sofia for at least 4,000 years, and when you dig a tunnel, you’re bound to find something.  The agendas of archaeologists and metro builders are often contradictory. Metro builders want to proceed quickly, while archaeological examination can be extremely time consuming. After the construction finished, however, Serdika station resolved these differences into a museum-metro station hybrid. Serdika station is just one example of this museum-metro station hybrid. Metro systems in cities like Mexico City, Istanbul, and Rome have stations featuring artifacts unearthed during their construction. Museum Archipelago tries to make sense of these museum-like spaces.Links:Problems of Cultural Monuments' Preservation Connected with the Construction of the Sofia Underground MISC | Archaeology & Subways
May 15, 2017
I met interpretive planner Lisa Brochu in Akagara National Park in Rwanda. I was there as a tourist, and she was there as a guide trainer.Lisa’s teaching stresses that the best way to communicate with the visiting public is by having strong, central theme. At Akagara National Park, park-employed and community freelance guides are the ones doing that communication. By working with them, Lisa hopes visitors’ experience in Akegara will stick with them longer. Lisa teaches that instead of rattling off a list of facts, guides should bundle them together with a strong, central theme. Repeating the theme throughout the tour builds an emotional connection that standalone facts don’t.In this episode, Lisa explains the importance of “going beyond the wow,” particularly for institutions like Akagara that have plenty of cool experiences to offer visitors. The “wow” doesn’t last, but a good theme will leave visitors with something to reflect on afterwards and then hopefully stimulate the visitor to make to make a commitment to the park’s conservation. Guest: Lisa Brochu
May 1, 2017
Even before I started working in the museum field, I was thinking about the future museum at the Apollo 11 landing site at Tranquility Base on the moon. The site is special. No matter how the human experiment turns out, the site will represent the first step off earth. Now Tranquility Base is a pile of historical artifacts in their original context. Even the astronauts' footprints in the delicate, powder-like dust of the lunar surface are still there. How should we treat this well-preserved historic site? What will the museum at the site have to say to future visitors, all of whom took the same journey as the Apollo 11 astronauts?Museum Archipelago has some ideas (and more questions). Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an episode! Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)!
April 18, 2017
Dr. Sherril York, executive director of the National Center on Accessibility, was part of the team that renovated the White House Visitor Center in 2012. Design priorities included making the experience accessible for all visitors.The new visitor center features raised line floor plans, tactile 3D models, and physical directional keys adjacent to touchscreens.In this episode, based on her case study for the fall 2015 issue of the Exhibitionist, Dr. York describes the process of working on alternative navigation methods, explains the difference between accessability and universal design, and underscores the importance of not thinking about accessibility and universal design as an afterthought.Guests: Dr. Sherril York  Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode.
April 3, 2017
When the Kigali Genocide Memorial was first built in 1999, it was a burial site outside the Rwandan capitol city for thousands of victims of the 1994 genocide. Rwandans came to visit the final resting place of friends and family. Today, the city has expanded to envelop the memorial, which has also expanded to include a museum and archive.We talk with Honoré Gatera, the manager of the memorial, about what the center means to the city and country in 2017 and why a museum is the right medium for the center.This podcast was recorded at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre on March 24th, 2017. Subscribe to Museum Archipelago for free to never miss an epsiode. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Guests:Honoré GateraTopics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Honoré Gatera, Manager of the Memorial01:00: Burial Site01:45: Visitor Experience / Opening Film04:00: Individual Stories Lead to Community Stories04:50: Video Is In Two Parts05:25: Pre-Colonial Period07:10: Why is a Museum the Right Medium to Tell the Story?09:06: School Groups / Educational Outreach11:07: Photographs in the Museum13:00: Genocide Archive
February 27, 2017
Image: Two propaganda maps at the Maps and the 20th Century exhibit at the British Library. The Maps and the 20th Century exhibit at the British Library is quick to get to central theme of the exhibition: in order to understand a map, you must understand how and why it was made. Maps are not neutral. In a museum context, however, it can be tempting to present a map as the source of truth.Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Maps in Museums01:08: Limiting the Gallery to the 20th Century01:45: “Global North”02:15: Propaganda Maps and Globes02:40: German Map of European immigrants living in the USLinks:Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line
February 6, 2017
Image: A Civil War-era village that would have served as the hub of Disney's America. Image (c) Disney In 1994, Disney was hard at work on a new theme park called Disney's America. The park, which would open in Virginia not far from Washington DC, would showcase the “sweep of American History.” Confident and enthusiastic, Disney executives were walking a tightrope between entertainment and history.Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Disney's America00:37: "The Complexity of the American Experience" 01:24: Themed Lands at the Magic Kingdom01:50: Themed Lands at Disney's America03:10: "Serious Fun" 03:50: Courtland Milloy05:10: Theme Park Design05:50: Marc DavisLinks:DISNEY SAYS VA. PARK WILL BE SERIOUS FUN - The Washington PostHELPING DISNEY, HURTING AMERICA?SLAVERY IS NOT AMUSINGDisney Avenue: Imagineers Remember Creating Pirates of the CaribbeanPassport to Dreams Old & New: Marc Davis 
January 16, 2017
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum is commemorating three anniversaries in 2017: the 200-year anniversary of the first attack of the Seminole War, the 60th anniversary of federal recognition of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the 20th anniversary of the opening of the museum.Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum, compiles data collected from visitors. Last year, she discovered that visitors from one third of countries visited the museum, including a surprising number of Europeans. In this episode, Carrie discusses possible reasons behind the visitation numbers, some museum goals for the next year, and Seminole history. Topics Discussed:00:00: Intro00:14: Carrie Dilley00:48: Three anniversaries in 201703:30: Overall Visitation Numbers04:44: What a Wonderful World Blog Post05:25: Why the interest from Europe in general and Germany in particular?07:30: Museum guides in multiple languages08:00: How much do Europeans know about general American history?10:30: New exhibits on the wayGuest:Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum.
January 2, 2017
The Lonely Palette is the best museum podcast out there. Host Tamar Avishai wants to make art more accessible and to help people feel more comfortable talking about what they see in museums. She uses her experience as a Spotlight Lecturer at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston as a jumping off point for her relaxed and unconventional approach to art history. Topics discussed:00:00 Intro00:16 Tamar Avishai00:29 The Lonely Palette01:26 Museum education as a recent addition to the museum experience02:04 Museum education making visitors feel welcome02:49 Spotlight lectures at the MFA04:14 A tour nobody asked for06:05 The intro, by museum guests, in the Lonely Palette10:10 The problem with audio guidesGuest:Tamar Avishai  
December 12, 2016
Image: Guard tower from Camp H at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola at the National Museum Of African American History And Culture The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened in September 2016. Today we will talk to some of the people who were thinking about the museum in 2007.Sara Smith and Andrew Anway were part of the Interpretive Planing team. They discuss NMAAHC director Lonnie Bunch's guiding principals for the museum as a whole, trips to other museums during the planning process, and the mission to show that what is happening in culture today is rooted in the past. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)! Topcis Discussed: 00:00: Intro00:30: Sara Smith and Andy Anway01:12: National Museum of the American Indian02:59: Guiding Principles of NMAAHC06:59: Guard tower from Camp H at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola08:50: Where in History Does the Museum Start? 09:44: The Museum Today11:24: Getting The Museum Built
June 23, 2016
Curator Rainey Tisdale sees two possible futures for museums: they play a more interdisciplinary role for their audiences or keep going down the same path they're on, becoming less and less relevant each year.Why should it be the job of the museum to enter the domain of other traditional institutions? And how can museums engage the public in new ways? By bringing together brain, body and spirit.Notes:- City Stories- @raineytisdale
May 24, 2016
Image: Lenin's mausoleum, Moscow. CC by Veni The American Association of Museums (AAM) has this to say about human remains in its code of ethics: “The unique and special nature of human remains and funerary and sacred objects is recognized as the basis of all decisions concerning such collections collections-related activities promote the public good rather than individual financial gain.” When AAM uses the word “special,” it means that every instance of a dead body is special, not a special body from a special person. What is different about displaying the everyman?In the second half of this two part series about dead bodies, we look at how cultures view their own dead from museums to mausoleums. We explore the Body Worlds exhibits, which bring visitors face-to-face with dozens of dead bodies, all identifying markers removed. We also discuss a landfill in Staten Island, where much of the sorting of museum artifacts and human remains from rubble took place after the September 11 attacks. NOTES: Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York EskimoRegarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum - The British Museum creates guidelines for displaying dead bodies. Code of Ethics for Museums - AAM
April 22, 2016
Image: A rendering of Minik in the New York World When Robert Peary brought six Inuits from Greenland back from his Arctic expedition, they landed in the care of the American Museum of Natural History. Among these people were an eight year old boy named Minik and his father Qisuk.After Qisuk became ill and died, the museum staged a fake burial and put his remains in the museum as artifacts. This is part one of a two-part series on dead bodies in museums.NOTES: Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo - The work on which most of this episode is based. Regarding the Dead: Human Remains in the British Museum - The British Museum creates guidelines for displaying dead bodies. American Experience . Minik, The Lost Eskimo | PBS
April 4, 2016
At an art museum, would you rather listen to a detailed guided tour or just enjoy the art without any interpretative support? Are you more comfortable visiting with a friend, or do you prefer being in a group of interested strangers? The Dallas Museum of Art has determined that visitors fall into one of four clusters, based on their preferred learning styles. While she was director of the museum, Bonnie Pitman applied the results of the survey to make the museum more engaging to all types of visitors.In this episode, we take a look at the four clusters, analyze the study, and talk to Bonnie Pitman.Notes: Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums (Dallas Museum of Art Publications) by Bonnie Pitman and Ellen HirzyDallas Museum of Art: HomeDallas Museum of Art on TwitterFramework for Engaging with Art | Dallas Museum of Art 
March 11, 2016
A photo posted by Museum Hack (@museumhack) on Oct 3, 2014 at 5:50am PDT Dustin Growick of Museum Hack finds that selfies can create a personally engaging experience within the context of a museum. Club Archipelago 🏖️ If you like episodes like this one, you’ll love Club Archipelago. Join Club Archipelago today to help me continue making podcasts about museums (and get some fun benefits)!
February 10, 2016
This week, we visit two museum works by architect Santiago Calatrava: the Prince Felipe Museum of Science in Valencia, Spain and the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, USA. Both museums look nothing like the museum icon on maps and in mapping programs. Do these facades have anything to say about about what the museum icon might look like in 50 years? Do these buildings even make good museums?Correction: This episode misidentifies the Milwaukee Art Museum as the Milwaukee Public Museum. Notes: Santiago Calatrava - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaCity of Arts and Sciences - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaMilwaukee Art Museum | Museum Info
January 27, 2016
Most of the time, nothing.This week, special guest Carole Sanderson of the National Roller Coaster Museum and Archives describes the process and challenges of documenting the entertainment industry.Notes:Six Flags New Orleans - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaNational Roller Coaster Museum: WelcomeMatterhorn Bobsleds - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaSpecial thanks to Carole Sanderson
October 1, 2015
Until Muzeiko opened in Sofia, Bulgaria on October 1st 2015, there were no children’s museums in the Balkans. One of the reasons for the lack of children’s museums was a cultural attitude towards childhood education during communist times, according to Vessela Gercheva, the Programs and Exhibits Director for Muzeiko.In this episode, Museum of Museums visits Muzeiko to find a shifting attitude towards children's education. Notes:Muzeiko - Official SiteA Children’s Museum Comes to Bulgaria - NYT
July 24, 2015
Image: Monika Bernotas and her family interact with statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin that were previously located in the cities of Lithuania at Grutas park. Go to the central square of any Soviet influenced country like Lithuania, and you will find empty pedestals.The pedestals used hold monuments to Soviet leaders. Where there once were statues of Lenin and Stalin, you now find overgrown bushes and pop-up cell phone stores. Where are the statues now? In Lithuania, they are in a pseudo-theme park called Grūtas Park or, unofficially, Stalin World.With special guest Monika Bernotas.Notes and Links: Grutas Park and the Fate of Soviet Statuary in LithuaniaGrūtas Park - WikipediaMusic composed by Adam Emanon from his album for rest (2008). Used under a Creative Commons licence.  
May 27, 2015
Built in 1966, the Bison Hunt on Horseback diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum is a throwback to an older style of exhibit, without projectors or screens. In this epsiode, Dr. Ellen Censky, Senior Vice President and Academic Dean at the Milwaukee Public Museum, talks about the diorama and modern exhibit design. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode.
May 5, 2015
Seb Chan, Director of Digital & Emerging Technologies at Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, joins Ian to talk about museum authority against the backdrop of the web. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode.
April 15, 2015
Early 20th century cartoons showed exhausted visitors craning their necks to read labels and stopping over to examine artifacts. What's the story 100 years later? Topics and LinksExhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly SerrellMUSEUM FATIGUE, 1928, JAMA Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode.
April 3, 2015
The lobby is where you transform from an ordinary person into a museum visitor. In this first episode of Museum Archipelago, host Ian Elsner introduces the show and describes the transformative power of the museum lobby. Museum Archipelago is a tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Subscribe to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, or Spotify to never miss an epsiode. Topics Discussed: The British Museum by J. Mordaunt Crook The museum foyer as a transformative space of communication by Ditte Laursen, Erik Kristiansen, and Kirsten Drotner. Transcript Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 1. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above. View Transcript Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I’m Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes. So let’s get started. In his architectural study of the British Museum, J. Mordaunt Crook says that the modern museum is the product of renaissance humanism, 18th century enlightenment, and 19th century democracy. This project takes aim at this widely held sentiment. The landscape of museums has always been shaped by the people who created them. They institutionalize their biases, filled the collection with objects looted from far away places, as part of European colonialism, and presented themselves as enlightened luminaries in a world of superstition. Today, the landscape of museums is changing. With each episode, Museum Archipelago brings you to a different museum around the world, highlighting fundamental museum problems and introducing you to the people working to fix them. So why museums? Well museums are the only buildings, aside from maybe a school house, where you enter expecting to learn something. You might even be open to experiencing something new. For many, they still feel like a trusted institution. Even when almost nothing else does. The medium of a museum has proven powerful, and it all begins in the lobby. This is where you first see the admission price, if there is one. This is where you first judge how busy the museum is today, and what you can expect from the quality of the exhibits. This is where way finding is introduced. This is where you come in from the outside. The lobby is a transformative space that turns ordinary people into museum guests, and at the end of the day, museum guests into ordinary people. This is done through a series of transformations supported by the services of the lobby. As part of a study on museum lobbies, Erik Kristiansen, et al. noted that at a particular German museum, many people would try to get as close to the information counter as possible, to get information about the prices without yet coming in contact with the staff behind the counter. These people are dividing the lobby as a transformative space into the exact point where the transformation happens. As a retailer will tell you, people are more likely to buy an object in a store if they’ve already touched it. Once the outside person comes in contact with a front desk staff, the transformation to museum guest is almost complete. We can think of extending the transformation point as long as possible. When Walt Disney built Disneyland in California in 1955, visitors would go through the ticket purchasing counters immediately before entering the park. By the time the Magic Kingdom opened at Disney World in Florida in 1971, the lobby, sort to speak, was extended out several acres. Guests would buy a ticket but they still weren’t in the park. Instead, they would hop on the monorail or a boat to get to the park. A journey that takes at least a few minutes and a few miles. This journey serves to lengthen the transition time between person and guest. To make the guest feel the feeling of being whisked away from the real world and into the fantasy world. By the time visitors actually entered the park, having disembarked the monorail or boat, the rather unhappy experience of buying a ticket was now literally miles away. The lobby transforms you. Welcome to the show.
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