PODCASTING Institutions are employing "artcasting" to reach the iPod generation. Some even offer pictures.
Thanks to podcasting, it's becoming as easy to download a museum visit onto a portable digital audio player as it is a pop tune.
And museums, realizing this is a way to reach a younger generation of potential patrons, are racing to get involved. They are making their in-house audio tours of special exhibits, as well as original programming, available on their websites for free use on iPods and other MP3 players. And art lovers can listen through their home computers as well. There's even a newly coined term for the phenomenon - "artcasting."
"It's neat to see museums - even low-budget museums - do high-tech things," said Elisabeth McLaury Lewin, publisher of PodcastingNews.com. "And it may drive new participation in the fine arts as the traditional audience is aging and dying."
As a result of this trend, Coloradans can "tour" the new Dada exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art while they drive, jog or hike in a mountain park. Or, an expatriate Colorado art lover in Los Angeles can sit by his laptop and listen as Suzzette Kraus - a professional voice-over talent - narrates a tour of the current Emmi Whitehorse exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
"You enter a world filled with the smoky palette of the Southwest and steeped in a mysterious vocabulary of doodle and symbols," she alluringly intones, drawing the listener in like an old radio serial.
The Boulder museum believes itself to be the first in Colorado to offer podcasts. Its offerings - tours of three simultaneous shows - became available May 31 at www.bmoca.org. They were produced in-house, under the supervision of associate curator Kirsten Gerdes, for approximately $5,000. A donor provided the museum with six iPods so visitors can listen on site, if they don't have their own to bring.
"Amazed" by results
Since the podcast inception, Gerdes said, the museum has had 14,222 total "feed views" - website visitors listening online - as well as 304 downloads of the files to personal listening devices and 107 subscriptions to a museum service that will automatically download new podcasts.
"As a contemporary art museum, we need to be moving forward," Gerdes said by phone. "This is our first look at how to direct our education program to a more technically inclined crowd."
After compiling the first month's numbers, she added by e-mail, "We are amazed and pleased by this result."
Several other Front Range museums said they intend to begin podcasting in the future - Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, the Denver Art Museum (sometime in 2007) and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Additionally, Gerdes said she's been contacted by the Vance Kirkland Museum about it.
It's hard to compile a complete list of museums now offering podcasts, since new ones are constantly starting up. But the sites Museumpods.com and Podtrip.com list, among others, New York's MoMA and Metropolitan Museum of Art; San Francisco's de Young Museum and Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles' UCLA Hammer Museum; Washington's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; London's Victoria and Albert Museum; even the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss.; and Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Maine's Bowdoin College.
Contemporary art museums, science and technology museums, and university-affiliated institutions seem to be especially active. But there's also room for idiosyncratic ephemera like the Burlingame (Calif.) Museum of Pez Memorabilia.
According to one study, more than 20 million Americans 18 and older have Apple iPods or other digital music players. And because the iPod revolution has been youth-driven, the challenge for museums is to make podcasts less didactic and one-dimensional than traditional on-site audio tours.
"Assuming the audience is a younger demographic, it needs to be more hip, lively and contemporary," said Pamela Glintenkamp, whose Los Angeles-based Sandpail Productions is getting into podcast production after specializing in on-site audio tours. "That relates to the voice of the narrator, the background music. You have to think of the kind of people on the street who use iPods."
San Francisco MoMA's Peter Samis, the associate curator/interpretations, has been especially aggressive in experimenting with "artcasting," as he calls it. Working with Antenna Audio, a Bay Area-based international leader in the production of audio tours, he has developed what he calls a new "'zine" (as in magazine) available for downloading every six weeks at sfmoma.org. It also includes video images. Each costs about $5,000 to produce.
The June episode, which is audio only, packs a remarkable variety of compelling and unusual material into its tight 37-minute length. Avant-garde artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney discusses his current exhibition, "Drawing Restraint." And singer-songwriter Will Oldham performs a whaling song, "Rolling Down to Old Maui," inspired by a Barney film and commissioned exclusively for the podcast.
Samis said the role model for his "artcasts" is National Public Radio.
"It's just like listening to an NPR feature story," he said. "It's been in my lifetime that this form of radio has developed, where the radio story has such a rich acoustic tapestry and can evoke a visual world through wordplay, not to mention the use of sound."
The San Francisco museum is sponsoring an Artcast Invitational, where listeners can submit their own podcasts. As viewer input catches on, it could make things really interesting for museum podcasts.
"It seems in the near future people will have an opportunity to interact with a podcast, just like people can interact with blogs," said Lewin, of PodcastingNews.com. "And podcasters don't necessarily have to bow to a curator's view. They can be irreverent."
A variety of museums are offering podcasts. Here are some to sample:
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art: Museum officials are pleased by the traffic that podcasts for three simultaneous exhibits have generated since they became available online on May 31. Visit www.bmoca.org/flash/education.html.
The Museum of Modern Art (New York City): One of the crown jewels of New York's cultural scene, the museum reopened in 2004 after a $425 million overhaul. Visit moma.org/visit_moma/audio.html.
Delta Blues Museum (Clarksdale, Miss.): Housed in an old railroad depot building, the museum traces the history of the blues. You can listen to Robert Johnson as you put your hand on the shack where Muddy Waters grew up. Visit deltabluesmuseum.com.
Victoria and Albert Museum (London): This is actually three museums now, but the exhibits at the original facility in South Kensington focus on art and design, including a remarkable collection of ceramics, furniture, fashion, jewelry, sculpture, textiles and paintings. Visit www.vam.ac.uk.
By Steven Rosen, The Denver Post