Today’s post is a little bit different – a combination of our What We’re Reading series and our Museums Gone Viral series. Here, Julia Kahn, a Tufts student in the Museum Studies and Art History programs, discusses a podcast she discovered while at the Metropolitan Museum. For a look at the gallery the podcast accompanies, check out this article.
For those of you that include podcast among your “reading” material, here’s a really interesting piece with implications for museums. The Metropolitan Museum recently installed a new decorated room in their American Wing, and have partnered with Nate Dimeo, who makes a podcast that tells vignettes of little known histories. In “Gallery 742,” the bite-sized podcast tells a narrative about the nineteenth century New York socialite who originally designed the elaborate dressing room. The story incorporates some of the salacious details of her life, while inviting us to image ourselves back on a particular day in the 1880s. I found this to be quite a lovely piece to hear, especially when I replayed it standing in front of the room. It is what motivated me to seek out this little exhibit on a recent trip to the museum. It made for a very memorable and intimate experience is this personal, unusual room. It helped me transport myself over the Plexiglas barrier and feel like I was momentarily part of that world.
I’m intrigued by the possibilities of how more museums may incorporate new technologies and trends into their visitor experiences. The podcast medium seems like it may offer some rich possibilities. It allows another (non-“expert”) voice to offer an interpretation. It encourages visitors to use their own phones rather than rent extra museum audio guides. It is available outside the museum as an advertisement or follow-up experience, and is inclusive to people who may be far away. In this case, it also emphasized emotional narrative over informational data points, which is probably more appropriate for a complete, decorated room.
There were some logistical issues with this example. For one thing, it was pretty long to listen to while standing there in the gallery, blocking vantage points for other visitors. And it was awkward for my whole group to try to cluster around my iPhone. Even with these inconveniences, I hope that the Met and other museums continue to think about how to use platforms like podcasts to compliment and extend their exhibitions.
And definitely listen to the story of Belle Worsham. It’s a trip!