Tilden’s Six, Continued

4. Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical, or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.

In your role as a park interpreter, you will find yourself with the opportunity to use any or all of the skills you have, to provoke, reveal and inspire your audiences; to create relevance, to make meaning, to forge connections between the interests of the visitor and the meanings within your place. 

5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole (person) rather than any phase. 

Tilden’s fifth principle speaks once again of relevance. In order to help our visitors make meaning, we are called upon to help them make connections to greater truths, bigger ideas, universal principles. 

In other words, it’s never about the object or the fact.  It’s about what the object or fact represents, illustrates, symbolizes.

6. Interpretation addressed to children should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach. To be at its best it will require a separate program.

Tilden reminds here that children’s programming simply won’t work if we just dilute  or “dumb down” adult content. We need to understand how children learn as they develop. As with any specialized audience, we must understand their needs and interests—and the feelings and knowledge that they are bringing with them when we meet them. 

But here’s a thought: what if some of the things that make for wonderful children’s activities were “smartened up” for adults? What if we stopped assuming that all of the things that make for wonderful children’s content—interactivity, challenge, fun, gamification, imagination, adventure—are suddenly no longer required in adult programming? What if we took the qualities of great children’s activities, and applied the same principles in an adult context?

The trend toward experiential interpretation—visitor experience products in which the participants are doing, inquiring, experiencing, actively engaging—is exactly a step in that direction. We are moving away from the idea of the interpretive experience as a didactic (purely educational) one. The interpreter is no longer called to be the classic “wise sage on the stage” as much as a “guide on the side”—the stage manager of a carefully choreographed set of experiences that allow the visitor to make meaning on their own terms. 

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