Wondering what folks said about the Interpretive Reverberation by Steve Van Matre? Those comments, along with a few of our own, can be seen if you click one more time…and find out who won the book Interpretive Design and the Dance of Experience.
What Folks Said About “No Job for Jesse”
A big Thank You from EID to all of you who responded to “No Job for Jesse.” In addition, we included a few comments and insights from Steve Van Matre along with EID responses. All comments on this post came to us anonymously. However, responses in the regular comment section of the blog posts can start a more public discussion. Dialogue is exciting and without feedback we have no idea how you are reacting to the ideas in our posts.
The first question was:
Do you agree with Van Matre’s assessment that staff training in experiential coaching and site mission are lacking at many sites?
All the responses were either Agree or Strongly Agree.
And here are some of the comments and EID responses:
Comment #1:“I really connected with the idea that if no training or coaching is available to interpreters because of lack of funding, then essentially the public interest in our environment as it is and as it has been will definitely lean more on the ease of recreation facilitation rather than education, and the knowledge that could be available and shared will become a missed opportunity. I’ve seen this coming for a long while, so it’s relieving to know others are noticing this turn in perspective and capacity.”
Response: Steve commented that it may not be a lack of training, but rather the kind of training that takes place. Though a few places may provide little or no training for a variety of reasons, if you go to the major interpretive organization websites there is no lack of training opportunities. Steve also wondered if EID had provided enough context for what we meant by “experiential interpretation and coaching”. So for a bit more context here are a few excerpts from Interpretive Design and the Dance of Experience.
(Page 2) — “Interpretation is not a form of communication; it is a form of experiential coaching. At heart, it is a public service…Its emphasis is not on what the interpreters say, but on what the visitors do. Yes, there is communication involved, but only in helping visitors interact with the place itself – to discover, explore, and appreciate what’s been set aside and looked after for them. It is not so much telling them something as it is showing them the way. The adventure belongs to the adventurers. Interpreters are there to lend a hand, to reveal and share, to facilitate and encourage. In the end, the visitors will have their own experience; experiential interpreters exist to assist them.”
(Page 3-4) — “Interpretation is one of the helping professions, like teaching, coaching, nursing, social work, child care, event coordination, personal training, and similar occupations. However, interpreters serve both the mission of the place and those who come to see it. It’s a twofold task: looking after the place and the people. That can be a tough balancing act at times, but it’s inherent in the job…They coach people in how to interact rewardingly with a place without hurting either it or themselves.”
(Page 42) — “The primary task of interpretation is to enrich the normal dance of discover and experience.That’s why its practitioners are experiential interpreters instead of linguistic interpreters. Naturalists and historians, writers and artists translate the language of place into new words and images – from one language into another – but experiential interpreters translate this language into ‘inter-actions,’ things visitors do to immerse themselves in it, in ways that will contextually clarify and intensify their experience with the place itself…”
EID wants to provide the kind of training that is connected to the Interpretive Design of the site, providing the frontline interpreters with a solid understanding of the mission and deep essences of a place – be it a preservation, collection or recognition site. We don’t want the focus to be on what the interpreter says, but rather on how the interpreter (or the interpretive sign/display/device) prepares the visitor to have their own dance of experience with the place. What will they take away in their Head, Heart, Hands and Hunger?
Comment #2: “I am glad to see that others see what I see. It frustrates me to no end that I am now working in a second place where there is no apparent "theme" to what we do, either in exhibits, signs, or programs. In my last job, when I asked a board member "what is our theme - what is our purpose - why should people come here and/or care about us?" And as a reply I got "we do environmental stuff; people learn about the environment." Really? "Then why should they come to us to do this? What makes us special?" There was no answer. It's sadly the same here. We have the motivation, and we have good leadership, but this component (plus funding) is missing. I watch visitors come in, wander around, and wonder what they are supposed to see and do here. We don't have a unified message that is "us." And I don't know how to get us there.”
Response: Well, this person has cut right to the core of the problem in the interpretive field. Why are the staff members doing what they are doing? What is unique about a particular site? Why should visitors come to this site and what will they takeaway with them?
Relieving the confusion and clarifying the purpose for the staff and for the visitors is exactly the focus of EID’s work. How do we make the purpose, mission and essences perfectly clear to everyone and what kind of invitations and experiences will help the visitor experience the language of the site fully? This kind of focus goes way beyond the idea of “themes,” which can come and go with the wind, but rather addresses the key issue of “Why do we exist?” and “What is our purpose?”.
Comment #3: “I would have hoped for a blog to inspire people instead of complaining what's wrong and ending it with a negative view on the future.”
Response: Well, for those of you who know Steve or are familiar with his work, “No Job for Jesse” should be no surprise. In our many years of working with him, Steve has provided valuable insights, offered fresh, well considered perspectives, doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers, and yes, is a bit of a provocateur. However, his motivation is to make the fields of interpretation and environmental education better places. Having said all of that, Steve agreed with the comment saying perhaps in the future he should hold out a bit more hope, or at least an example or two, to show how things might work better. However, there is no doubt in our minds that he is deeply in love with the earth and its life, and cares for the many public jewels in the world we are all trying to save.
Our aim at EID is to inspire. We hope you will read previous posts and add comments, since we too try to bring a different perspective to the field and provide some solutions in our blog posts and in our work.
Our second question asked…
Was this interpretive reverberation helpful to you?
All responses were either Agree or Strongly Agree with one Neutral.
And here are a few of your comments:
I realize that I am not alone in my thoughts on poor training and lack of experiential knowledge.
I felt my thoughts aligning with my fears as I read the statement, "His chosen professional field is so enamored with the idea of giving people ‘an opportunity to find their own “links” to a place,” that it doesn’t see how expendable it’s becoming." … Also, my fear is that people so often do not come to the right conclusions about environmental responsibility or their “sense of place” if left to themselves, only to have their beliefs tossed about in a society that is insufficiently connected to the environment. I would that they could be led by those who know their “place” and share boldly the things which need to be known…The future of their environmental connections is at stake and Van Matre is enlightening!
It has brought this issue back to the foreground for me...and I will try once more to address it. But both in my previous and current jobs, I am the only one with a background in interpretation. It is challenging.
I have observed a loss of professional knowledge and capacity in the last 30 years since many of these jobs have been cut, and the remaining few often have no mentors or colleagues to learn from.
We are glad this piece sparked your interest and thanks for sending in your comments. Of course, we always welcome your responses in the comment section on any of our posts. Let’s start a conversation.
And now… (drumroll please)… the LUCKY WINNER of the book Interpretive Design and the Dance of Experience by Steve Van Matre is…Jon Kohl of PUP Global Heritage Consortium. Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing and look for another contest later this year.