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When you say that interpretation should be organized, relevant, and enjoyable, those are acceptable initial qualities perhaps for beginners in delivery, but they fail to provide much depth for an overall design. Giving a sequential presentation is being organized; making a connection to the visitor’s personal interests may be relevant; putting on a good show is enjoyable; but those are rather superficial experiential qualities. If you place the emphasis on serving the mission of the place and the experience the visitors will have there, it provides more depth. Your interpretation should be...
organizing, not just organized; revealing, not just relevant; enriching, not just enjoyable.
There is an important difference in each of these points because the emphasis
is not on what the interpreter does, but what the visitor can do with the interpre-
tation in the context of the place and its mission. For example, “organizing”
becomes a tool for the visitor, not a method for the interpreter. Illustrating the
processes that created Lake Superior’s Isle Royale National Park with an
image of the upturned edges of a layer cake composed of alternating bands of
hard and soft rock, provides the visitor with a way of organizing both the
experience with the place and the understandings gained. And something that
is “revealing” is more important than something that is merely relevant to your
personal interests. For instance, it may be relevant for most visitors to say that their ancestors came from the planet’s oceans, but it is revealing to explain that’s why their blood and tears are salty. Finally, some- thing can be enjoyable, but not do much for your mental web. Watching fireworks is enjoyable, but interpre- tation should be “enriching.” If it is not, people will choose the fireworks every time.
Most people participate in an interpretive encounter hoping for something that will enrich their mental web, but what they often get is a couple of enjoyable tidbits that they struggle to find a place for in their web. “That was fun” should not be the criteria by which interpretation is judged. If it is, the “bean counters” will decide people can pay for such fun, and interpreters will become little more than minimally-waged (or volunteer) attraction greeters and helpers, replaced in due course by robots. That’s already happening. Is that the endgame of the profession?
Interpretation celebrates and shares a public place and its mission; interpreters guide and coach the visitors in experiencing it;
interpretive design ensures that
all the parts work together to make it meaningful and memorable.
In the institute, we have always viewed interpretation as a way of reaching people that formal education often misses. That’s why it is one of the three trunks of our “gathering tree”: interpretation . education . contemplation. Together, they support an international band of professionals dedicated to transforming our relationship with the earth.
Steve Van Matre international chair
6/Annual Report

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