Did the conference deliver on its ambitious theme?

‘Can interpretation change the world? – The art of making a difference’ was the theme of this year’s AHI conference in Belfast, and over the course of three days, a number of great speakers, including Professor Emeritus Sam Ham, provoked conversation and debate amongst over 100 delegates. This was reinforced by site visits to the award-winning Belfast Titanic Experience, the SS Nomadic (small ship) and The Ulster Museum, all leading to animated discussions and networking between participants.

I, and over 60 others, attended the pre-conference workshop, Using interpretation to influence behaviour, Run by the internationally recognised and respected Sam Ham, who disarmed us with his opening statement, ‘I know what you’re all thinking: Did my parents have a sense of humour?’. Participants engaged in a lively workshop, tackling how interpretation can influence visitor behaviour, including creating their own poster on discouraging dog poo in an urban environment, putting into practice the points Sam had made.

We also had some great speakers. One of the conference sponsors, Mark Leslie from Martello Media, presented a unique perspective of Irish History through their recent exhibition on the GPO (General Post Office – occupied by Irish rebels in 1916) in Dublin, giving us a great insight into the complexity of Irish history and politics. In Mark Leslie’s case, he told the poignant story of his older relatives representing five different political viewpoints, and the turmoil that caused.

We enjoyed a wide range of other great speakers, including Dr Antonieta Jimenez, all the way from Mexico – talking about human values in archaeological heritage, and Ria Dunkley, from Cardiff University, who delved into the motivation for ‘dark tourism’ – also known as ‘thanotourism’.

The site visit to the Belfast Titanic Experience started with an insight into the creation of this leading visitor attraction from its director and how it, and the wider redevelopment of the former docks area of Belfast, has changed the perception of Belfast from a ‘no-go’ to a ‘let’s go’ city. Its ‘Europe’s Leading Visitor Attraction 2016’ award is well deserved and the ‘Experience’ gave us a real sense of the phenomenal scale of the construction, grandeur and ultimate tragedy of the Titanic.

Our other main site visit was to The Ulster Museum: a modern, dynamic attraction with fresh, vibrant and engaging displays telling the fascinating and troubled story of Ulster.

All this interpretive activity meant that participants were buzzing in conversation during the breaks, on bus transfers, and during the conference meals.

Sometimes I think we underestimate the power of interpretation. This conference showed that it definitely can make a difference.

Steven Richards-Price is Visitor Experience Manager for Natural Resources Wales in the UK, former Chair of the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI) and a former Supervisory Committee Member of Interpret Europe. He can be contacted at: steven.richards-price@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk

To cite this article:
Richards-Price, S. (2016) ‘AHI Conference ‘Can interpretation change the world?’ ‘. In Interpret Europe Newsletter 4-2016, 19

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