Wyck: Re-interpreting an historic house

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 27, 2010.

Wyck is NOT a historical house museum. This was the monumental point of today’s session presented by Eileen Rojas, The Wyck Association; Laura Keim, Curator, The Wyck Association; Donna Ann Harris, Principal, Heritage Consulting Inc.; and Page Talbott, Principal, Remer and Talbott.

Though technically Wyck IS a historic house, the staff have undertaken an initiative to utilize creative, participatory, and dynamic but still historically accurate interpretation. Instead of creating simple period rooms the museum is hoping to portray 300 years of history in just four spaces. Wyck wants to move on from being a simple place to visit to becoming a place of vital discovery of the past.

The steps in Wyck’s interpretation development process:

  1. Research
  2. Workshopping and Interviews
  3. Develop Interpretive Strategy
  4. Development of Interpretive Plan
  5. Visualization
  6. Evaluation

Vital points and tips Wyck discovered in re-interpreting their institution:

  • They felt it was beneficial to visit other historic houses in order to familiarize themselves with what was out there; this also helped the individuals working on the project together to form a better relationship amongst themselves.
  • The presenters stressed the benefits of working closely with their Board. This includes many of the people who are most expressly passionate about the museum and want to see it succeed in its mission.
  • The museum is striving to keep ‘Wyckish’ traditions and core values but at the same time fit them into a new interpretive byway.
  • Realizing the full interpretive plan might be a long time coming but museums should set short and mid-term goals for implementation, making it a gradual process.

New interpretive tactics:

  • Creation of self-guided tours and a scavenger hunt for exploration
  • Flashlight tours that create a sense of discovery
  • More labeling and more artifacts on display
  • Continuing a tradition of sustainability and being good stewards of the surrounding property
  • The inclusion of more hands-on reproduction
  • Addition of user-generated activities or hand-on crafts
  • Relating activities to specific objects in the collection
  • Community curation w/ inter-generational activities like creative writing workshops

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