By Rachel Boyd
A self-described “techie geek,” Yale University Art Gallery Museum Educator Aja Armey spends much of her free time listening to podcasts, ranging from comedy shows to news broadcasts to knitting lessons.
But last fall, Armey decided to try to combine her work and play, and began planning a podcast for the museum.
“A lot of what happens here is about dialogue and discussions and openness to explore the art that’s here, so why not continue that in people’s own homes?” Armey said.
She partnered with two undergraduates to create the gallery’s first podcast, and the product of their months of planning, recording and editing became available online last week. The 48-minute show is composed of three episodes, the first narrated by Armey and the second two by the student hosts, Elyse Nelson ’09 and Michael Dziuban ’08. The project reflects a national trend of university museums enhancing their educational offerings using technology, and gallery officials said they hope the podcast will bring a fresh perspective to art currently on view in the gallery.
The podcast consists of a walking tour of the gallery’s newly reopened Kahn building, a conversation about the relationship between minimalist art and minimalist music, and a discussion with artists featured in the gallery’s student-curated exhibition. Work on the podcast began last fall, and the students began recording their episodes in February, Nelson said.
While art history major Nelson was already very involved with the gallery in her work as head student guide, Dziuban, who created the piece on the student-curated exhibition and is a political science major and host at WYBC radio, had no experience working with the gallery before the podcast project. He said he enjoyed working on the podcast because he was able to integrate his interest in art with his love of broadcasting.
“I feel like this is an interesting counterpart to radio in the modern age,” Dziuban said. “This was a good opportunity to branch out a little bit and a great way to learn about art.”
Nelson said she enjoyed Dziuban’s outsider perspective and expects that his descriptive style will appeal to other people who might not be familiar with the gallery.
Armey said this is just the first of what she hopes will be many podcast projects at the gallery. She would like more students to approach her about developing new segments, she said.
“The beauty of the medium is that it’s so open to experimentation,” Armey said. “We see it as being a way to discuss very broad-based ideas in art through looking at specific pieces in our collection and also talking with living artists whenever possible.”
Yale is not the first university museum to launch a podcast. James Yasko, who wrote a graduate thesis last year on podcasting in museums, said museums in general first started the practice on a regular basis around 2005. But there still are only about 50 museums featuring podcasts, he said.
“College students, especially college students who work with museums, have a great opportunity to take museum podcasting or any kind of technology to a next level,” said Yasko, who is the manager of visitor education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Lisa Falk, the director of education at Arizona State Museum, part of the University of Arizona, said the museum began its podcast project two years ago and that its first podcasts were launched in October 2006. Students were integral in her podcast project as well, she said. Her students’ research showed that audiences prefer short podcasts — between 90 seconds and five minutes long — and presentations that feature multiple voices, Falk said. As a result, the final podcasts came out as short interviews.
Jim Olson, coordinator of technology at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center, said the Davis Museum has produced 10 podcasts since the fall of 2005. The museum wanted to explore podcasts as a medium with which to create an inexpensive and flexible audio tour of the collections, Olson said. In the future, he said, the museum plans to record speeches by guest artists and create more tours and creative content.
Armey emphasized that Yale’s podcast is unique in that it is modeled after a radio show and includes introductions and transitions with a student radio host.
The podcast is just one of the gallery’s technological experiments debuting this spring — Associate Director of Communications Amy Porter said the gallery also plans to launch an art wiki by the end of April. Armey said she is excited about the podcast and hopes it will encourage the gallery to stay as technologically advanced as the students who visit it.
“I think it’s really important that museums embrace current technologies that are in use in people’s everyday lives,” Armey said. “Podcasting is a relatively newer technology, but it’s something that’s growing exponentially, and I think it’s amazing when we can become part of that movement.”