Sushma Jansari, the Tabor Foundation curator of South Asia collections at the British Museum in London, is a regular co-host on the institution’s podcast. But she set up The Wonder House as an entirely independent, self-funded enterprise. It focuses on “the most innovative contemporary approaches to decolonising museums”, offering insight that might otherwise be inaccessible. “It occurred to me that most people aren’t able to be part of the conversation,” Jansari says. Most conferences she has spoken at or attended on this subject are relatively exclusive, taking place in London, while informative conversations that occur over coffee are born out of established professional networks. So where can you go to learn about this subject?
“Places like Twitter can be very unkind and I saw that people who were genuinely trying to decolonise their museum were having their work torn down, instead of being supported by their sector colleagues,” Jansair says.
“The Wonder House aims to do the opposite, by speaking to a range of museum professionals in a tone that is fun and light-hearted as well as serious, because there’s a lot of joy in what we are doing.“[The Wonder House podcast is] a discussion about what has done well, what has failed, and what can be learned – it is not prescriptive. It’s about encouraging people to go out and do what works for their institutions.” Jansari prepares extensively, sharing research and questions with her interviewees weeks beforehand an episode is recorded, so that everyone feels well primed. That includes input from Nick Harris, a British Museum producer who has collaborated on The Wonder House from the outset. He helped Jansari refine the concept, including a segment where each guest is asked what the term decolonisation means to them. He also asks additional questions while recording, requesting clarifications and elaborations that might not seem obvious to experts. It is a prime example of how helpful an additional, objective creative voice can be. The Wonder House proves that very specific areas of work have potentially large podcast audiences. Jansari says she has been pleasantly surprised by her listener figures since launching in November 2019. “I thought it might be an audience of two, including my mum,” she says, when in fact, the demographics stretches not only across Europe and the US, but the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and South East Asia. “Knowing where people are listening from really opens up my mind to who I should be featuring and how I can think more widely.” The first season cost around £1,000 to make, which includes the producer fee (which will be waived for season two), original artwork commissioned from illustrator Aleesha Nandhra, and travel expenses for her guests, which is no small undertaking for an individual. But by self-funding, Jansari has been able to maintain the integrity The Wonder House, with no reason to dilute her vision. Such independence allows her to profile professionals whose work might be overlooked or under-recognised, and who might not necessarily be primed for broadcast. “You sometimes get the same guest on every podcast because they are so good at talking and sharing, which is fine,” she says. “But there are a lot of other people who are doing fantastic things, who might not have the experience and confidence required to be behind the microphone. For me, it’s all about the work and the people, not the ability to speak on a recording.”