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Making Meaning: New Models of Museum Interpretation (Course Highlight)

We at the UW Museology Graduate Program are pleased to include a wide array classes, covering every area of museum practice, in our curriculum.  For the last two years, we have been delighted for the chance to offer a course on museum interpretation.  What follows is one student’s reflection on how this course has helped her grow as a professional and elevate her thesis project.

This winter quarter, I took Making Meaning: New Models of Museum Interpretation, a course taught by Regan Pro, the Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Engagement at the Seattle Art Museum. I anticipated that this class would contribute to my thesis work, which is to create an interpretation plan for an exhibit at the Northwest African American Museum. The course would also provide resources to use in my future career in museum interpretation, and give me the opportunity to learn about interpretative strategies used in different museum settings.

The readings ranged from professional manuals to poignant and forward-thinking pieces, and in-class discussions provided constructive and practical methods for creating an interpretive plan, as well as. In particular, the book Interpretive Planning for Museums: Incorporating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making by Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke was useful in developing the framework for my project. I know that I can come back to the readings from this class- from Nina Simon to the MASS Action Project to John Falk- later for perspective in my career. Class discussions about decolonization, community engagement, and inclusive interpretation were especially helpful in developing the mindset and personal framework I needed to appropriately undertake my thesis project. We evaluated real-world museum programs, practiced and critiqued our own label writing, and for our final project created an interpretive plan for a museum of our own design.

The class also provided insight into various types of museums and how they facilitate interpretation in their spaces. Regan’s position with the Seattle Art Museum informs her approach to museum interpretation. With her background in multiple interpretive strategies at a world-class institution, the class discussed and implemented Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), evaluated case studies from different museum types, and chose our own museum type for our final interpretation plan. This variety provided opportunities for comparison and invited discussion between students from various museum backgrounds.

Through this class, I solidified and deepened my passion for museum interpretation work. Now that the course is finished, I am looking forward to observing changes in the museum field with an informed lens and hopefully contributing my own work to the field in the future.

-Melody Smith (Class of 2020)