74 episodes

A tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Museum Archipelago believes that no museum is an island and that museums are not neutral.
Taking a broad definition of museums, host Ian Elsner brings you to different museum spaces around the world, dives deep into institutional problems, and introduces you to the people working to fix them. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.

Museum Archipelago Ian Elsner

    • Places & Travel

A tiny show guiding you through the rocky landscape of museums. Museum Archipelago believes that no museum is an island and that museums are not neutral.
Taking a broad definition of museums, host Ian Elsner brings you to different museum spaces around the world, dives deep into institutional problems, and introduces you to the people working to fix them. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.

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

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

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


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


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


    Topics and Links


    00:00 Intro
    00:14 Apollo Mission Control Center
    00:49 Sandra Tetley
    02:00 “History Keeps Going”
    02:35 Becoming a National Historic Landmark
    04:00 Starting the Restoration
    04:40 Gene Kranz Steps In
    05:15 Mission Control Visitor’s Galley
    06:30 The Visitor Experience
    08:10 The Drama of the Room
    09:37 Independence Hall
    10:10 Coffee Cups and Cigarettes
    11:15 Apollo Flight Controllers Get to Celebrate
    13:04 Archipelago At the Movies 🎟️: Lisa the Iconoclast
    13:50 Outro/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;
    Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums;
    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 74. 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



    Every time an Apollo astronaut said the word Houston, they were referring not just to a city, but a specific room in that city -- mission control.


    In that room, NASA engineers -- average age: 26 -- answered radio calls from the darkness of space. Sitting in front rows of green consoles, cigarettes and cigars in hand, they guided humans to the moon and back, channeling the efforts of the half a million people who worked on the program through one room.



    Sandra Tetley: I realized the value of this room to American history and to the world history. It's one of the most significant sites on earth.



    But up until a few years ago, that room was kind of a mess.



    Sandra Tetley: It was open to anyone who could get into the building. You could actually go into that room, you could sit in the chairs, you could dial the phones, press the buttons. They would have the co-ops come in their first day and they could have coffee and breakfast at the consoles. The Department of Defense used to have their retiremen

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

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

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


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


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


    Topics and Links


    00:00 Intro
    00:14 The Conservation Profession
    01:12 Sanchita Balachandran
    01:35 Untold Stories
    03:30 Mohegan Sun 2019: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation
    04:58 endawnis Spears and the Akomawt Educational Initiative (episode 68)
    06:09 Savior Mentality in Conservation
    07:37 Changing Working Practices
    09:03 Changing Technical Practices
    10:30 Changing Social Practices
    11:25 Activating Cultural Heritage
    12:15 Salt Lake City 2020: Preserving Cultural Landscapes
    12:30 Learn More About Untold Stories and Watch Recordings of Past Events
    12:40 SPONSOR: StoriesHere Podcast
    13:40 Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️: National Treasure
    14:34 Outro


    Photo credit: Jay T. Van Rensselear


    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.



    Sponsor: StoriesHere Podcast
    This episode is brought to you by a new museum podcast, StoriesHere! The latest episode is an excellent two-part series about the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It includes the story of a family secret being hidden from a daughter, revealed after talking at the site with a former incarcerated person. If you like Museum Archipelago, check out StoriesHere!





    Transcript
    Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 73. 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



    The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset -- the mindset of protector. A mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis -- that this is how it always was and will be forever.



    Sanchita Balachandran: Often, I mean, just given the Colonial and Imperial histories of museums, it was because people were going to be gone forever. That culture was gone. And so this is the last trace, but in fact, that's not how cultural heritage works. It's transformed. It's changed. It continues on in different forms. And a lot of the way that conservators think about cultural heritage is, is about mitigating that change, which makes it a little bit fossilized. But to me, that changes where things are really vibrant and exciting and people are so closely connected to cultural heritage, that it really feels alive.



    This is Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum.



    Sanchita Balachandran: Hello, my name is Sanchita Balachandran. I’m a conservator and I’m trained in the conservation of archaeological materials in particular. And my day job is the Associate Director at the Archaeological Museum at Johns Hopkins University.



    Balachandran founded Untold Stories, a project that pursues a conservation profes

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

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

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


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


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


    Topics and Links


    00:00 Intro
    00:14 Museums as Verbal Spaces
    00:52 Speechless: Different by Design
    01:05 Sarah Schleuning
    01:30 Schleuning’s Personal Experience
    02:45 Picture Exchange System
    03:40 Planning Speechless
    05:00 Yuri Suzuki’s ‘Sound of the Earth Chapter 2’
    05:17 Misha Kahn
    05:38 Laurie Haycock Makela
    06:08 Makela’s Personal Experience
    06:55 The Exhibition's Ground Rules
    07:11 The Exhibition's Design
    09:26 Museum Fatigue
    11:30 What Keeps Schleuning Up at Night
    12:16 Museum Selfies
    13:29 Introducing Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️!
    14:16 Outro | 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;
    Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums;
    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 72. 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



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


    But there’s a new series ot exhibits designed to be different, to guide visitors as far away as possible from words.


    One of those is a collaboration of the Dallas Art Museum and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It’s called Speechless, and to underline the point, it is subtitled: different by design.



    Sarah Schleuning: Speechless has been an exhibition that merges research and aesthetics and innovative new design to explore accessibility and modes of communication in the museum setting.



    This is Sarah Schleuning, curator of Speechless.



    Sarah Schleuning: Hello, my name is Sarah Schleuning and I am The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and the interim Chief curator at the Dallas Museum of Art. And I love to focus on projects that really explore ideas of how design and art can transform our everyday lives.



    The roots of Speechless come from Schleuning’s own rethinking of how to communicate without language.



    Sarah Schleuning: The idea really germinated out of something very personal for me which is that one of my children has motor planning disability, a neurological issue that rendered him, wh

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

    71. Assessing Curatorial Work for Social Justice With Elena Gonzales

    Museums are seen as trustworthy, but what if that trust is misplaced? Chicago-based independent curator Elena Gonzales provides a solid jumping off point for thinking critically about museums in her new book, Exhibitions for Social Justice.


    The book is a whirlwind tour of different museums, examining how they approach social justice. It’s also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward.


    In this episode, Gonzales takes us on a tour of some of the main themes of the book, examining the strategies of museum institutions from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.


    Topics and Links


    00:00 Intro
    00:15 Trust in Museum Institutions
    01:00 Elena Gonzales


    Website
    Twitter

    01:45 Exhibitions for Social Justice
    03:05 What is an Exhibition for Social Justice?
    04:20 National Museum of Mexican Art
    07:12 “Questioning the Visitor”
    07:50 Anne Frank House Museum
    08:25 Eastern State Penitentiary
    11:23 Buy Exhibitions for Social Justice


    On Routledge (Use Promo Code ADS19 for 30% Off)
    On IndieBound
    On Amazon

    12:30 Introducing Archipelago at the Movies!


    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;
    Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️, a bonus bad-movie podcast exclusively featuring movies that take place at museums;
    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 71. 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



    The American Alliance of Museums often says that museums are the most trustworthy institutions in modern American life.


    And the statistics are remarkable: some surveys indicate that museums are the second most trusted news source after friends and family.


    As rates of trust in other institutions plummet: the news media, etc, museums still enjoy a privileged position in collective consciousness. It’s something I’ve noticed over the past few years: even non-museum spaces try to adopt museum-like presentations to apply the veneer of trustworthiness.


    But it’s an uneasy set of statistics. Is it possible that the reason museums are so trustworthy is because they've been excellent at toeing the status quo, the party line? And whose public consciousness are museums enjoying a privileged position inside of anyway?


    That’s why I was thrilled to come across Exhibitions for Social Justice by Elena Gonzales during a recent museum binge.


    The book presents the current state of museum practice as it relates to the work of social justice, but also a guide map for anyone interested in a way forward.



    Elena Gonzales: I think if a lot of people fully understood how museum work is done, they might actually not trust us so much because they would understand the subjectivity. But I think the more that we are transparent about museums, content, who creates it, how, what the goals of an exhibition are, et cetera, the more people can trust us authentically and rightfully.



    I’m joined today by Elena Gonzales, author o

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

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

    To the extent that there was a Communist capital of humor in the last half of the 20th century, it was Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Situated in a valley of the Balkan mountains, the city prides itself on its unique brand of self-effacing humor. In 1972, the Museum House of Humor and Satire opened here, and the city celebrated political humor with people in Soviet block countries and even some invited Western guests.


    Today, three decades after the collapse of Communism, the Museum House of Humor and Satire remains one of the region's most important cultural landmarks. The museum has had to reinvent itself to interpret not only a democratic Bulgaria, but a the global, meme-driven, and internet-forged culture most visitors live in.


    I went to Gabrovo to visit museum director Margarita Dariskova, who describes how the museum's strengths in its early years—like knowing how to present political humor without arousing the interest of the authorities—inform how the museum thinks of its role in the world today.


    Topics and Links


    00:00 Intro
    00:15 Gabrovo, Bulgaria
    01:07 Margarita Dariskova
    01:44 How the Museum House of Humour and Satire Started
    02:40 How to Run A Humor Museum Under Communism
    04:05 1st International Biennial of Humour and Satire in the Arts in Gabrovo
    05:55 The Museum in 1989
    06:40 After the Collapse
    07:00 Humor is Not Universal
    07:30 Media Freedom in Bulgaria
    07:55 Addressing Civic Space in Bulgaria: Garden Town
    09:09 The Museum and the Internet
    11:00 Outro | 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 70. 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



    In the middle of Bulgaria, not far from the crumbling Buzludzha monument, lays the town of Gabrovo. Situated in a valley of the Balkan mountains, the city prides itself on its unique brand of humor.


    Many local jokes jokes are self deprecating about the Gabrovoian obsession with frugality and entrepreneurship, and center around the comical lengths that townspeople go to save money. The mascot of the city is a black cat without a tail. It is said that Gabrovoians prefer cats without tails because they can shut the door faster when they let the cat out, saving on their hearting bills.



    Margarita Dariskova: That's actually typical for the Balkan mountains. This used to be the kind of humor that would exist in the region around Gabrovo, not just Gabrovo itself. But Gabrovoians were smart enough to brand it as theirs. That's the entrepreneurial side of things, of course. [laughter].



    This is Margarita Dariskova.



    Margarita Dariskova: Hello! My name is Margarita Dariskova and I'm a curator by profession and I'm the Director of the Museum of Humour and Satire in Gabrovo, Bulgaria.



    The museum was founded in 1972. Before the Wall fell, this location was known as the Communist capital of humour, extending its reach across Eastern Block countries, and also

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

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

    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

    • 11 min

Customer Reviews

<<a.morris>> ,

Better than the msueum placard!!

I love listening to Museum Archipelago because it approahes cultural institutions with such an open mind. It has changed how I think when I go into a museum myself. Bonus: the host has a great professor voice.

kennallie_90 ,

Excited for Deep Time

This podcast is wonderful! The most recent episode includes a very interesting history lesson about the fossil hall at the Smithsonian, and it made me incredibly excited to (hopefully) visit the new Deep Time exhibit in the near future!

MiamiiFan ,

Really Good and Additive

So much to learn about the underlying structures that make up museums and a global reach!

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