Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

APPROACH | Interpretation as Value

Place-based projects often require interpretive approaches: we need to read and interpret the cultural and natural landscape. Our cultural heritage, placemaking and public art work involves aspects of interpretation and interpretive planning to provide ways of understanding sites, buildings, landscapes and objects. James Carter defines “interpretation as helping people appreciate something that you feel is special.” It is a kind of sensemaking and storytelling process that allows people (usually visitors) to find their bearings in a story that may not be their own. Because interpretive planning is a significant part of public programming, communication and engagement is at its core. Interpretive approaches are also embedded in Harbinger’s public art projects, through John’s innovative curatorial and masterplanning work, to convey an understanding or expression of place.

Our work with the Tambo community is focused on the relocation of a disused farm building to a new site. However, it’s more than that – it’s about the sense of pride the community has in its history as well as the desire to share its rural heritage with visitors. The building symbolises something greater than itself. Moving a building can change it and its relationships to place, so we need to work on approaches to ensure that the story can be communicated in its regional and local context. This is driven by the community itself and we have conducted several community conversations to outline the project. Interpretive planning is foundational for visitor experience planning. As a cultural tourism initiative, there is a need to ensure a quality visitor experience within the new facility as well as throughout the whole town.

While cultural heritage assessments aren’t focused on interpretive planning, they can help establish the significance of a place. This can be the precursor to other interpretive activities. Connect for Effect’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessments, with research support by Harbinger, a hidden history is being revealed for the purposes of protecting it from inappropriate development and to create greater awareness of the cultural significance of places. Freeman Tilden (quoted by Carter) said that “interpretation not only tells people what is interesting about a place, it aims to convince people of its value, and encourage them to want to conserve it.” Connect for Effect works closely with communities to find the right balance between archival documentation and community voice. In the longer term, oral history initiatives will be established within these communities. In assuring the preservation of these places and recognition of their significance, traditional owners are enabled to assert stewardship and develop interpretive and conservation plans for these areas.


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