Have you ever been to an exhibition and found the text panels less helpful than you wanted? Interpretation Matters! was all about the written material found in galleries – the text panels on the walls, providing context for the work on show, and the printed booklets that describe the works or overall programme. Usually “under-the-radar”, the aim of the project was to highlight this area of gallery practice.
Interpretation Matters grew out of my own interest in and dissatisfaction with the variable quality of written interpretation in our galleries. As both an arts writer and an arts manager with twenty years experience, I had long felt that how written interpretation is done has not evolved and developed at the same pace as other aspects of curation and gallery management.
Paradoxically for such a visible interface between art and audience, the subject of written interpretation is nearly invisible in local, regional and national discourses about exhibition making, management and audiences. Having been involved with making funding decisions within local authorities and Arts Council England, and read a considerable number of funding applications, I had never seen this topic specifically addressed, or funding requested in order to develop this area.
There is a body of academic research about interpretation, and institutions such as the Courtauld teach “Text and Interpretation” as part of their MA Curating the Art Museum – which must be a fascinating module. But in the UK, practical guidance and development work about interpretation mainly exists within the heritage sector – see this Heritage Lottery Fund guidance on Interpretation from 2009. The subject does not appear to have significant profile in small to medium sized visual arts institutions, perhaps in large part to do with capacity.
So in 2013 I created the Interpretation Matters project, generously funded by Arts Council England. It had three strands of activity – an online site, a workshop programme for gallery staff, and a publication, The Interpretation Matters Handbook.
Now completed, I am archiving the web content from the Interpretation Matters website onto my own professional site as a resource for arts professionals and those with an interest in the subject.
If this is a topic of interest to you, please do browse on the pages linked here: