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Podcasts from the museum

I’m not sure how into podcasts you are, so at the risk of assuming too much or too little, I want to share something with you.

I got into podcasts during grad school, when I had an hour long transit trip to and from campus each day. I was studying in the US, and although I scoffed at the introductory workshops for international students when they warned of culture shock, I was fully and completely in its throes. So I picked one that I had heard years before on the radio, and remembered that I liked, because I hoped it would help me relate to my new home. It was called: This American Life.

Each episode shares stories around a theme, usually from a journalist or other interesting person, told in narrative and conversational form. Often they’re surprising, heartwarming, shocking, or funny, in some combination. My favorite though, is all of those and of course, it’s got a museum theme.

I’ve been holding off on writing this blog post, because I wasn’t sure how to share this one show with you, without spoiling the episode. While doing a bit of research, I learned just how many museum based podcasts there are… SOO MANY. There’s just a whole lot, and at the risk of stereotyping museums, a fair number of them are boring. I thought if I share some that I’m pretty sure aren’t boring it might be helpful. Plus, with a list I can tell you about This American Life without writing about the story, so you can hear it for yourself. So, here’s a few humble recommendations:

1. This American Life’s “The Feather Heist.” This episode provides a starting off point for a lot of interesting thinking to me. Some of my favorite themes to think with include the “value” of collections and to whom, security in museums and our obligations to collections in relation to our budgets, and the global impacts of fashion (which museums are definitely implicated in, although my wardrobe is not good evidence of this).

2. Everything is Alive‘s “Connor, Painting”. This show is a really interesting way to think about objects. The premise is a talk show in which the host interviews objects, who tell their life story. It’s a perfect fit for the “empathy” theme that directs our work in Open Minds, and it’s super fun to listen to. Just a warning:  there is some sexual innuendo in this episode. Although the magic trick of sexualizing a painting is pretty hilariously bizarre, it might not make sense for young ears.

3. NHM LA Talks by Natural History Family of Museums Los Angeles County. This podcast has too many good episodes to name. Today I listened to one called “Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive” which turned out to be about zombies, neuroscience, and history. The series explores a variety of topics from across the sciences, with perspectives from academics, museum folk, and a whole bunch of plain old fascinating people. This podcast also has an episode about the subject of the feather heist, so you could cross-reference.

4. Working’s How does a Museum Specialist Work? This podcast from Slate explores “what people do all day at their jobs” It has so many interesting episodes for young minds, (umm… but also some episodes that are NSFW, so… use with discretion), including a whole pile of museum related episodes about working as an art auctioneer, an archaeologist, a librarian, a set of jobs at MoMA, and a few jobs from the museum world’s unruly cousins: aquariums. This episode is about Mary Elliott, a curator with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the newest Smithsonian institution on the National Mall. I’ll be honest, this podcast has a bit of a slow burn for me, but even just the idea of it opens some interesting thoughts.

5.  Intangible Alberta by the Royal Alberta Museum. This homegrown podcast is pretty new, and only has a few episodes. I listened to one called Ghosts in the Vault, which  probably isn’t great for nervous folks. But, ghosts are sort of friends of museums, and their presence is often a source of wonder for kids. There’s some interesting space in this episode to think about how stories are constructed, and respect for people and belongings.

Bonus:  You’re Wrong About‘s Yoko Ono Broke Up the Beatles: This podcast uses NSFW language, but I threw this episode in here because their whole ethos is looking deeper and allowing things to be as complicated as they really are + Contemporary Calgary has a YOKO exhibit coming up this spring!

All of these podcasts are free either directly from the web, or from a variety of podcasting apps, but send me a message if you have any trouble finding them. Oh, and if you’ve heard some good ones, let me know!