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Podcasting Museum Audio Tours

With MP3 players all the rage these days, The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas decided to take advantage of a growing trend – and reach a new audience to boot.

According to James Yasko, a curatorial assistant at The Grace Museum who developed the new “musecasts,” one in four 12-17 year olds and one in five 18-34 year olds own some sort of MP3 player. “Attracting a newer, younger crowd not familiar with museums outside their annual trip to the museum is definitely a goal and a dream,” says Yasko.

By the end of the month, Yasko said there will be a total of 10 different audio tours, covering three exhibitions, available for downloading on the museum’s website.

The museum plans to develop more podcasts in the future.

“We plan to produce at least one podcast for each exhibit we display,” says Yasko. “With four galleries, there will at any given time be at least four podcasts to download. We have an exhibit opening in August on photographs from the country of Bhutan. We will have interviews with the Bhutan Desk Officer from the State Department, two faculty members from Canadian universities who live in Bhutan, and we're in the process of confirming an interview with the Bhutanese Ambassador to the United Nations.”

The length of each podcast varies. The museum’s first podcast is an interview with San Antonio photographer Michael Nye that lasts about 25 minutes. The museum also offers interviews with board members who participated in an exhibit called Board Picks, in which each member chose a piece of art from the museum’s permanent collection. Each interview lasts between 90 seconds and 4 minutes.

Only a handful of other institutions are currently utilizing this technology, including the Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Panhandle-Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas and the new art museum at Duke University have both contacted Yasko to discuss adding podcasting to their programming.

Podcasts can potentially add a whole new dimension to the visitor’s experience.

“It opens up a whole new world of programming,” says Yasko. “Speakers and experts that would be impossible to get to come to The Grace (for instance, the Ambassador) are now available in our visitors' ears.”

This type of programming may also help visitors retain information they learn in an exhibition. According to Marjorie Schwarzer’s article “Art & Gadgetry” in the July/August 2001 issue of Museum News, “Only six percent of visitors retain information about an object from labels, but more than 30% remember what they hear about an object.”

So far the response has been very positive, but difficult to trace. “We're working with our service provider to be able to track how many people actually download the podcasts,” says Yasko, “but at the outset the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Yasko has high hopes for the new podcasts, a project which hardly costs the museum anything. He has all the equipment on his home computer to produce the audio tours. The only expense is server space. The visitors themselves already own the equipment.

“Any new technology is flippantly referred to as ‘world-changing’ and ‘barrier-shattering,’” says Yasko, “but for museums podcasting has the potential to be both of those things.”

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Content copyright © 2013 by Kim Kenney. All rights reserved.
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