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Interpret Croatia! The Croatian Association for Heritage Interpretation

Do you love the nature of your region? Do you think that cultural heritage is used adequately? Would you like to help the local community to encourage sustainable development with its use? Find out how Muses are collaborating in the establishing of the Interpret Croatia association, by wishing to network the local legacy into the big European story. Join us!

Ivana is proud of the Poljica soparnik (savoury Swiss chard pie), Marko of the last European primeval forest of Turopoljski Lug and the art of building traditional wooden houses, whilst Maja of the fishing tradition of her island. What they have in common is that they feel like the inheritors of the values and skills of their ancestors, and they want not only to improve their preservation but also to care and think about them so that they are included in the life of their communities in a new way.

Recently the route of their enthusiasm for heritage to the realisation of a successful project has become easier for them – because they will be able to contact the Interpret Croatia association.

The Croatian Association for Heritage Interpretation was established in April last year, and the founders behind it are proven experts when it comes to a modern approach to heritage: Darko Babić, assistant professor and head of the Department of Museology at Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb and member of the supervisory board of the European Association for Heritage Interpretation - Interpret Europe, Vlasta Klarić, secretary general of the Association of Independent Travel Agents of Croatia and lecturer at the Libertas Business School in Zagreb and Dragana Lucija Ratković Aydemir, the director of Muses Ltd. and national coordinator of Interpret Europe for Croatia. In 2017 they are ready for a full step forward, towards this new approach. Why should heritage be interpreted at all? And what is heritage interpretation?

The story has its own historical and theoretical dimension. In an historical sense the new approach appeared in America in 1957 with the publication of a pioneering book by Freeman Tilden, related to the management of national parks in the USA. The European story has its roots back in 1975, but it was only in 1999 that a serious step was made when included in the story was the Interpret Europe organisation, at that time still on an informal and voluntary basis. Today it is a European umbrella association for heritage interpretation. Its recent CEOs are Thorsten Ludwig and Sebastian Zoepp, both from Germany.

“Even before such a form of association it was noticed throughout the world how the old concept of museology was unsustainable and how the preservation of heritage must be approached in a new way. At the beginning of the 1970s eco-museums were created as a result of the new thinking about the role of museums in society and the correlation of man and the environment. It was the beginning of the so-called new museology. The essence is that the basic object of study can be neither a museum, nor a museum item or collection, but the all-encompassing concept of heritage. To date the various disciplines that deal with an individual segment of heritage conceptually and content-relatedly are becoming increasingly closer. All of these processes have led to the establishment of one new interdisciplinary science, the science of heritage”, says Prof. Darko Babić, president of the Interpret Croatia association.

As the concept of heritage interpretation, as well as the idea of new museology was fairly unknown outside of a very small circle of experts in Croatia, it certainly contributed to the weak and ineffective development of heritage projects. The circumstances changed for the better with Croatia’s entry into the EU in 2013, because in this way new methods for financing projects were created linked to natural or cultural heritage, which began to be particularly recognised by local communities, by including such plans in their development strategies. According to the words of Dragana Lucije Ratković Aydemir, vice president of the association, it means a step forwards – a shifting of focus.

“Heritage interpretation rests on the transmission of information of some form of heritage or some phenomenon of heritage (whether tangible or intangible, cultural or natural), however in a way that the user is the focus, in other words on the person to whom the interpretation is directed! Heritage interpretation should inspire, interest, entertain and touch deeply its users. Quality and ingenious interpretation revives heritage, puts experiences at the centre and connects users with various spaces and times, spreading its knowledge about the world and around itself as well. A good interpretation is creative, authentic, innovative, playful, and takes on the most diverse forms: from museum exhibitions, visual, interactive applications, signs within a space, narration, animated films, brief diverse forms of creative and artistic expression! At the same time, each serious approach to interpretation includes a mass of expert knowledge as well as serious management skills, and rests on the careful research and serious strategic consideration…”, says Dragana Lucija.

Whilst Muses deal with the development of one segment of the approach to heritage, the other vice president of the association, Vlasta Klarić MSc. is approaching it in a separate way so far. This prominent expert in the development and promotion of cultural tourism on a national and international level, began to deal with tourism back as a student of art history. Every day one encounters the challenges of the interpretation and presentation of heritage, in various ways promoting the education and professional training of tourism industry employees in this area.

The diverse experiences of the founders has also shaped the broad fundamental goals of the association. First of all the awareness of the importance of the role of the interpreter of heritage needs to developed.

“Good interpretation is a guarantee of the preservation of heritage. This means, above all, that it must be trustworthy. In order for it to be so it must be based on the broad knowledge and skills of interpretation which must be placed so that it covers a large range of educational and cultural goals. Only when an approach is organised this way can it be a guarantee that heritage will be included in the right way in sustainable development and that it will serve to promote tourism”, Dragana Lucija emphasises, adding how the set goals lead the way so that the main activities will be focused on education, the collaboration of experts, the networking with international associations, publications and the proposal of measures for the inclusion of heritage interpretation in strategic and development plans and the development of the tourism offer.

A particularly illustrative example of one aspect of heritage interpretation – the interpretive tour – is that of Iva Silla, a young story narrator who in a couple of years has introduced the secrets of Zagreb to thousands of tourists (local and foreign), bringing about a transformation in the tourism offer as well as in the treatment of the themes of heritage in tourism. In her tours she offers ‘the secret Zagreb’, a Zagreb that hides in the little streets and corners, which preserves its folk stories about dragons, ghosts, witches under the surface and behind the façades. Last year Iva took part in training to be a certified interpretive tour guide organised by Interpret Europe and stated – it was “the most useful thing that I ever took part in”.

“Interpretation is a tool which can and must be learnt. People from many countries took part in the training, from different kinds of organisations, with varying expectations and backgrounds.

For the beginners this experience opened their eyes and in front of them a whole world of new possibilities was discovered, and for us who already perform interpretive walks it gave us the realisation of how to look critically at our own work, how to improve it”, says Iva, emphasising how she especially looks forward to the European boom in interpretive training that will soon be on offer in Croatia too.

“I work on tourism projects, however I don’t want them to be a mere commercial product, but rather that they have a deeper meaning and that they help visitors to connect with the destination”, she adds, hoping that the Interpret Croatia association will soon gather a membership which will be networked so that each member achieves better results.

So who can become a member? First of all, it is not important whether you are self-employed or work in an institution. Everyone who is involved in any sector of heritage interpretation or who just wants to master it can contact us via email: The association’s secretary Ivana Jagić will happily introduce you to the steps of membership and the planned activities! Let’s interpret Croatia together!

Do you love your homeland? Are you proud of your town? Do you want what you feel to transform into story about identity and share it with others? Send us your thoughts, your questions and suggestions and we will help you so that with our combined forces we form a unique fragment for a mosaic of the heritage of Croatia!

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