Summer is always a busy time at the Thomasville History Center, but that doesn’t mean education can take a break! In August, staff from the Thomasville History Center, alongside friends from Pebble Hill Plantation, Jack Hadley Black History Museum, and the Center for the Arts participated in the National Association of Interpreters’ training program for Certified Interpretive Guides. An internationally recognized program, the N.A.I. is a “professional organization dedicated to advancing the profession of heritage interpretation” with a decades-long reputation for leading the field of interpretation. Under the instruction of the amazing Abby Gwinn, Director of Community Engagement with the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, and an N.A.I. Certified Instructor, we learned the ins and outs of interpretation in the museum field over four days.
Defined as “a purposeful approach to communication that facilitates meaningful, relevant, and inclusive experiences that deepen understanding, broaden perspectives, and inspire engagement with the world around us,” the concept of interpretation seemed daunting at first. But with Abby’s gentle guidance, we soon saw how intuitive much of interpretation can be.
Day one of our program began with going back to basics: what is interpretation? And how did it become a thing? We learned about meeting the needs of our audience whether that means providing snacks on excursions or having enough seating in our galleries. By ensuring visitors are comfortable and pleased, we can remove obstacles to engagement and learning during programs. Simple enough, right?
By day two we put our new skills to the test. Abby’s challenge to us: create a ten-minute program on a subject of our choosing to present to the class. After fighting off nightmare-inducing flashbacks to high school projects gone by, we got to work. By day three we were racing to the finish line. Presentations took place on day four. Time was put into perspective as the once agonizingly long ten minutes we needed to fill suddenly whizzed by in a flash as each participant got up to speak. Luckily, we were in a room of friends, all wanting to support one another by asking relevant questions, participating in tasks and quizzes, and not taking the role of over-inquisitive tourist too seriously. By the end of the day, we’d all learned something new: from alternative histories of Thomas County, to a deep dive into Pebble Hill’s occupants, to lessons in art, and a trip through the life and times of The Grateful Dead. And we’re proud to say that every participant passed their test to become Certified Interpretive Guides (complete with the coveted, shiny C.I.G. Badge!) With a new lease on programming, we sent Abby home just in time to avoid the storms of Idalia.
So what did we learn from this course? We learned how to better serve our visitors – you in fact – whether its by molding our programming to better accommodate all visitors or even tiny tweaks to our visitor experience that make the museum a more comfortable place to be and explore. But what we really found out is that each one of us is a guide, a creative thinker, a problem solver, and an interpreter. Does that answer your question?
The C.I.G. Club
Published in The Hourglass, Fall 2023