Experiencing Arcadia is a project of passion, set up to encourage historic garden staff to be bolder in their approaches to interpretation. It grew from a personal belief that general interest visitors, especially those of younger generations, were often being sidelined. Although some sites are embracing new methods of interpretation and engagement, this is far from the norm for most of the sector.
We have an embarrassingly simple and achievable vision; that visitors can view an online map of the historic garden they are visiting. The map will catalogue features in the garden, and by clicking on each, the visitor can read a firsthand account by the people who would have visited in the past. Or if no specific account is available in the archival record, then they could at least read an account of a similar feature elsewhere. In this way, we are sure, garden history will come to life and the general populace will be enchanted!
Call us biased, but garden history has some of the best stories – so why do we instead place our emphasis on cataloguing the chronological development of individual gardens, the minutiae of changes in ownership and the detail of construction techniques? The result is that today’s garden visitors rarely consider the landscape as more than a beautiful painting to be admired, or as a canvas for a collection of plants to be cooed over. Just think about what they are missing. They have no idea of how much fun was had in the garden when there were musicians, games, fireworks, poetry readings, feasts, miniature naval battles on the lake and noisy menageries! Or what it was like to experience the garden at night, or if you were a child in an unwieldy dress and unsuitable shoes?
The www.experiencingarcadia.org project was set up to trial a simple and achievable method that could allow historic gardens to adopt a digital interpretation offer for their visitors. The idea was to find an approach that even the most modest of sites could use without the need for huge budgets, teams of interpretation professionals, and an expert grasp of modern technology. To put it in perspective, we are two landscape historians who were awarded a small pot of money (many thanks, Finnis Scott Foundation!) and have a limited understanding of digital technology – if we can do it, so can you!
Do get in touch if we can help.