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Punking about Museums

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
The recent “museum blogger” day on Twitter yielded a wealth of recommendations on who to follow on the blogosphere for great content in and around the museum sector. (You can retrieve those recommendations by doing a Twitter search on #museumbloggerday and #museumblogs.) In today’s post, I want to direct your attention to another format. Museopunks is a monthly “podcast for the progressive museum” in which self-proclaimed “Museum GeekSuse Cairns and the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Jeffrey Inscho investigate the fascinating work and personalities in and around the museum sector.  Since April 2013, the pair has explored emergent, boundary-pushing work and ideas. Today Suse shares a bit about the origin and evolution of the podcast.
Suse, what was the inspiration for MuseoPunks?
The idea for the podcast came from Jeff. He’d previously hosted a weekly podcast, talking about art, technology, and museums. The two of us met in late 2012 at the Museum Computer Network conference, and immediately had a good rapport. The early goals were quite small, at least for me… I wanted an excuse to talk to interesting people. It quickly became apparent that there was also potential to help shape practice within the museum sector, and that realisation proved to be quite a watershed moment in terms of thinking about what else the podcast could become. After our second episode, on design and design thinking in museums, I had a number of people mention to me that they’d started introducing design thinking approaches to their work, having first heard about the concept from Museopunks. It was quite meaningful to realise that we could have a real world impact, and reminded me that having a public voice is a powerful thing.
You’re based in New South Wales, Australia, Jeff is in Pittsburgh, PA, and I bet your listenership is global. Do you find the issues you explore are pretty much universal, or do they play out differently in different countries?
It’s funny you should ask that question now, because our March episode is looking at ‘the economics of free’, with Maxwell Anderson (Director, Dallas Museum of Art), and journalist Tyler Green. Coming from Australia, where so many of our institutions are publicly funded, I’ve grown up with free or largely free museums, so I’m more conscious of the gaps between US practice, and funding models in other parts of the world in this episode than in many others. Although I’ve noticed differences between countries before, it was really only planning this episode that I became conscious of the need to ask questions in a way that could be simultaneously specific, and universal, so that our international audiences will still find the topics interesting and useful. Whether we’ve fully solved that problem with this episode, I don’t know, but it’s been useful to identify it as an issue to address in future episodes.
Share a couple of things you have discovered in the course of the podcast that strike you as particularly important for museums to pay attention to.
I have taken away something new from every single interview we’ve done, but I think some of the stand-outs for me have to be those episodes in which guests really address new ways of thinking about acquisitions and collections, like when Paola Antonelli (MoMA) spoke about acquiring the @ symbol, or when Seb Chan and Aaron Cope (Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York) ran us through the thinking around their recent acquisition of Planetary – an iPad app. These discussions have really helped give me insight into different ideas about how museums might need to approach collecting and curating the digital world, particularly when digital is becoming a dimension of everything – inside the museum, and beyond it.
20 years ago, or even 10, you would have had to have tackled these subjects through academic, peer-reviewed journals. How do you think social media have changed the way that ideas are disseminated and discussed in our profession?
Social media platforms make it possible to explore ideas in timely and responsive ways. They can enable different kinds of dialogue and engagement, too, which means they are super useful for encouraging collaborative work and thinking. They can also be very flexible with voice, and range from funny to serious, which I think gives them far more flexibility than does the usual peer review format. It’s probably why I love the podcast format, and blogging too. They offer a very human face to museum work.
That’s not to say they suit all purposes. I value peer-review publications for the type of measured research that they tend to encourage. It’s one reason why I still utilise peer-review platforms for my own work, in complement to social media. One of my favourite quotes is from new media theorist Friedrich Kittler, who writes that “New media do not make old media obsolete; they assign them other places in the system.” It’s a quote I revisit whenever I’m thinking about scholarly and other forms of publishing. It reminds me that different forms of publication necessarily have different purposes and different affordances – and while that the advent of social media and this kind of low-barrier publication creates new conditions for discourse and discussion, that actually enables peer-reviewed publication to come into its own in ways that maybe weren’t possible when it was the default type of publication.  (FYI: right now, Ed Rodley, Rob Stein, and I are conducting an experiment in online discourse and publishing that will hopefully explore and exploit the best of both these types of publishing. Check out Ed’s poston the subject to find out more, before the full project rolls out in April.)
Share a moment from one of your favorite interviews.
In November last year, Jeff and I were lucky enough to receive sponsorship from the Museum Computer Network to attend the MCN2013 conference, and conduct three Museopunkssessions in person, which were filmed by Parce Que Films and then put online. The final session of that series, which looked at how technology is changing the way we interact with the world and each other, tickled an itch for me, since it’s a topic of ongoing personal fascination. We had three super smart guests, all of whom were generous with their thinking and knowledge, and played as much with each other’s questions as the ones that Jeff and I asked, and the chemistry in the room just worked. I still cannot watch or listen to that episode without feeling a sense of enchantment with the conversation.
What have you learned about doing interviews, through producing Museopunks? Any advice for up and coming bloggers and podcasters?
I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from both my blog and my podcast is that you can’t anticipate how something will be received until you start actually doing it. Also – it helps to find great partners-in-crime for projects like this. Jeff is such a driving force behind Museopunks, managing all the technical aspects, and bringing such great creative thinking to the project. I don’t think either of us could tackle something like this alone, because it’s hard to sustain the energy when life gets in the way. Finding good people to work with makes a huge difference to generating good (and regular) creative output… Fortunately, there are lots of them in this sector.
What are some issues you want to explore through the podcast in the future?
We actually have quite a long list, from museums and mobile devices through to professional identity online and offline. We try to forward plan our shows in advance, but often find that a pressing or timely issue propels us in another direction, in response. Maybe we’ll even do a show on museum discourse and publishing (social media vs. peer review), based on this interview?
What you about you, readers? Any favourite Museopunks episodes you’d like to share? Any other museum podcasts to recommend? Please weigh in.

Suse and Jeff interviewing guest at MCN for episode 9 
of the podcast: Museums as Digital Citizens

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1 Comment

  1. Would absolutely recommend Museum Voices out of Montana. Fairly focused on that state and region, but looks at bigger issues too. But I would recommend it since I'm the host.

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