What does John Rudy say?


To set the scene. I was at VAFO Monday to Friday. Mon, Tues., and half of Wed. sessions were led by Sarah Pharoan of the International Sites of Conscience. Wed., Thurs., and Friday sessions were led by John Rudy (WASO, right?), Brendan and interpreter now at Flight 93 Memorial (used to be at Chamizel and also Golden Gate, I believe), and Dominic C from NERO.

What I heard from John was pretty consistent with the messages in the Interpretive Skills vision paper. He was, to my sensibility, part preacher, part passionate anarchist, with passion if not urgency about shifting interpretive practice toward dialogue. John pointed to a 2012 study by Stern and Powell on qualities of interpretation. After watching many, many interpretive programs and surveying audience members about their behavior intentions (while in the park and after leaving the park), the authors correlated certain interpretive practices with these more desirable, responsible visitor behaviors/intentions. Thus the authors recommend certain interpretive moves and discourage others. A point John emphasized: being a walking encyclopedia of facts (might be John’s characterization, at least I didn’t find that wording in the report), occurred 75% of the time and wasn’t seen as effective practice.

I was left with the feeling that this approach is taking off, particularly as more people are going to training of trainers. A staff member from the New England Regional Office, Dominic, joined the group. He posted something on that facilitate to communic8 site that reminded me of you, Josh. It’s a schematic with polarities accompanied by the question: which parts of a dialogic approach are hardest for your co-workers? John said more than once, if you get push-back from supervisors or visitors or in some way need back-up, contact him, email Julia. “If you’re doing this work, we have your back,” was the strong message.

At one point John talked about people’s expectations of interaction in this digital era. He thought a lot of this could be traced back to the way people experience children’s museums. We made them interactive. There’s been decades now of effort going to interactive exhibits in science museums and historical sites (like Sturbridge, Plymouth plantation). Visitors are used to pushing and pulling things and now grown ups who came of age with that stimulation and interaction don’t see any reason to give it up. They don’t want to go on Don’t Touch tours. Their inclination is to get in there and touch, experience, enact, become. Based on people’s expectations that their opinions matter, they are used to “liking” on FB, reviewing on YELP, etc., experiences in the park have to allow for that easy flow of two-way communication. Does that resonate with you?


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