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Unfortunately, many interpreters get stuck on the beginner’s skill of naming. Identifying the products of a place may be a skill, but what one can do with that skill becomes most important. When you learn the letters of the alphabet, you don’t start teaching them to everyone else; you use them to build with. It’s the same with the names of things. What are the larger, universal processes governing such things that we aim to share with our visitors?
People are naturally drawn to skills. They enjoy watching those who have mastered them (almost anything will do, even youngsters stacking soda cups). So what skills do we want our visitors to take away, and can we make a case for why they are important skills for them? Being able to name some of the products of a place is not a useful skill for most visitors, but being able to perceive how energy flows and materials cycle on our planet to create those products in a particular place is a skill of great practical value wherever they go. Understanding the processes provides context for the products.
Visitor Interests
As an interpreter, is your task to tap into the visitor’s interest and connect that interest to the resource (a terrible word implying the world exists for our use), or is your task to help them experience that place in meaningful and memorable ways relative to its mission?
The view that whatever an interpreter does must be relevant to the audience can quickly become a cognitive blind alley in interpretation. It does not need to be relevant to the visitors’ particular interests, but to their general understandings. Relevance means that something is related to the matter in hand. In interpretation, that’s the place and the experience the visitors are having there, not their current personal interests.
Visitors arrive at a place with hundreds of interests. Are you a reference librarian or an experiential coach? I think we can assume most visitors have some interest; that’s why they came. So are they looking for you to make a connection with their interests or to share why this place and these things are worthy of their inter- est? Perhaps your primary task is to strengthen an interest for some and create a new interest for others. Forget themes. Think webs. Interpreters are web-weavers. You are sharing things to do that will enhance and set to vibrating the universal strands in the visitors’ grasp of the natural and cultural web of life illus- trated in the place. Freeman Tilden, often considered the father of modern interpretation, put it best when he said the visitors may be there in the explicit hope that you will reveal to them why they have come.
The idea that visitors will construct their own “knowledge” does not relieve you of the need to instruct them in yours. In fact, they expect that from you. But you need to do it in a way that enriches their experience with the place and its mission; not in a way that enriches their experience with you and your interests (or even theirs).
Let’s create new interests, not pander to old ones.
Yes, people construct their own mental webs (in both understandings and feelings). The interpreter’s task is to assist them in doing so relative to the mission served. The interpreter is not a personal trainer or tutor or therapist for whatever attracts the visitors’ interest. The interpreter serves the place and assists the visitor, not the other way around.
Thought or Action?
Is the primary goal of an interpretive encounter to promote thought or action? I think this question goes to the heart of the profession.
What does it mean to say one promotes thinking? If we claim this as our primary outcome, then it be- hooves us to know what that means. When you are “thinking,” what are you doing? I suspect you are fitting
4/Annual Report

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