Everybody’s talking about podcasting, and as we prepare to push out Walker’s Art on Call files as a subscription, several of our sister institutions have beaten us to the punch. Last week MoMA was #23 (today #45) in the iTunes most subscribed podcast directory, and I’m told that SFMOMA is close to releasing a tour of their Richard Tuttle exhibition. While these are official audio guides, the media has been attentive to the unauthorized tours produced by the writers of Slate Magazine for the Met’s modern gallery, and Art Mobs, a podcasting project at Marymount Manhattan College where students did tours of MoMA for a class in communications arts.
This week’s On the Media did a segment on podcast alternative audio guides. Here’s some of what I heard:
- Conversations about art–as opposed to monologues–can be more interesting for some museums visitors.
- The Daily Show’s piece on Christo’s Gates was inspiration for at least one of the Art Mobs students.
- Alternative audio commentary is not intended to undermine or replace the art historian but laymen should be able to find a way to engage with art that’s not intimidating.
- MoMA’s deputy director of education reports that usage of their audio guides is up. About 33% of MoMA’s visitors are using the audio guides since July 1st when they started offering them for free (well, that’s after you pay the $20 admission fee). Prior to that it was about 5%.
- MoMA let’s you download the same files through their website or iTunes.
- MoMA is “intrigued” by Art Mobs and sees the educational possibilities for a younger population.
- Fun is good when embedded with real pieces of information.
- MoMA doesn’t think alternative audio commentaries eclipse the scholarly perspective of the work. Instead, it enhances the possibilities for people’s engagement.
So, my question is “ Are people really downloading this material and bringing it into the museum on their mp3 players?” Unlike most podcasts, these programs–whether produced by the museum or an involved public–have limited appeal divorced of the work. Walker will be riding this wave (bubble) and making our audio commentary available as a podcast … but we’re really hedging our bets on the cell phone.