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Interpreting “Interpretive”

April 3, 2019

Written by Marilyn Levy, Sheridan Museum of History

When the Sheridan Museum of History applied for the Oregon Museum Grant we were just completing a renovation project and moving into the new building. Our hope was that this grant would help us with set-up costs. We hired a museum consultant to get a better handle on how to proceed with this daunting task. As she spoke, you could watch the disapproving faces around the room. Her suggestions, like reducing the number of items in any one display, met with huge resistance. Not long before we were to have completed our grant requirements, we decided that we needed to have an appointment with Kuri Gill, grants and outreach coordinator to make certain that we understood what “interpretive” meant.

Well surprise- we were not even close to understanding “interpretation,” and we obviously had no clear understanding of what an “interpretive museum” was!

Interpretive label installed by Sea Reach, Ltd

Fortunately, Sea Reach, Ltd, is an interpretive sign and development company is located in Sheridan. We came home from our meeting and scheduled a meeting with them. We still had doubting volunteers with regard to what “interpretive” meant, to the extent they were willing to return the generous grant. Luckily, this very busy, nationally known company was able to help. They took on the project, which included signs on all venues, direction signs on the pillars, a wonderful mural behind our pioneer display, and an outside sign (compliments of Sea Reach). Amazingly, they were done by June 2018, our three month deadline.

Since doing all of this signage, we now have a self-guided brochure listing all the venues and where they are located so that the visitor can take their time and not be bothered unless they want to talk with volunteers.  There is not a volunteer at the Sheridan Museum of History that does not agree with our new understanding of the meaning of “interpretive.” I think the best way to describe how we view the concept is that we provide our visitors with the tools necessary for them to understand what they are looking at.  They are able to read signs and other additions that give them the opportunity to make up their own minds about “the way it was” and what they are looking at.  Ultimately this stimulates a variety of questions.  You can’t beat that!

Thanks to the Museum Grant from the Parks and Rec Department we have a much more enjoyable and educational place for our visitors and volunteers. To say that we had a steep learning curve would be an understatement, but thanks to Kuri and staff; and Sea Reach, Ltd, we were able to understand and embrace the meaning of “interpretive” and get it done.

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