73. Sanchita Balachandran Shifts the Framework for Conservation With Untold Stories

Welcome to Museum Archipelago in Your Inbox, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Museum Archipelago, your podcast guide to the rocky landscape of museums, is hosted by me, Ian Elsner.

The field of conservation was created to fight change: to prevent objects from becoming dusty, broken, or rusted. But fighting to keep cultural objects preserved creates a certain mindset — a mindset where it’s too easy to imagine objects and cultures in a state of stasis.

Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, founded Untold Stories to change that mindset in the conservation profession. Through events at the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation, Untold Stories expands cultural heritage beyond preserving the objects we might find in a museum. 

In this episode, Balachandran talks about Untold Stories’ 2019 event: Indigenous Futures and Collaborative Conservation, avoiding the savior mentality, and how the profession has changed since she was in school.

“I certainly came out of graduate school thinking that I was going to save everything. And to me that's a very problematic way to think about it because frankly, if the object still survives, it didn't need me. It made it thousands of years without me.” - Sanchita Balachandran

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Balachandran is the first guest to appear on two episodes of Museum Archipelago. In episode 38, she discusses her 2016 talk at the American Institute for Conservation’s Annual Meeting: Race, Diversity and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis. In it, she highlights her profession's lack of engagement with the social and political issues that are part of the objects they are called upon to preserve. Reading the talk, it is easy to see the seeds of the Untold Stories project.

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Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️: National Treasure (2004)

Just in time for holiday travel, our Archipelago at the Movies series continues with 2004's National Treasure!

The most dramatic moments take place at museums across Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, but the movie and protagonist Nicolas Cage go far deeper on issues of public ownership, provenance, and museum tour groups than the action-packed plot suggests. I'm joined by friend of the show and irl friend Rebecca Reebsteen to discuss this wild ride of a movie.

This fantastic episode of Archipelago at the Movies is now available exclusively to Club Archipelago members.

🎟️ Get Access To Club Archipelago