Sally Gibson is a specialist in built-heritage interpretation, that is, researching and communicating historical information about the people, buildings, events, and themes associated with particular places in effective and engaging ways. Formats may range from small-scale and traditional (plaques, handouts, and physical displays) to large-scale and new- media (websites, animations, and mobile technologies). Whether large or small, traditional or new-media, good heritage interpretation adds value to sites undergoing restoration or redevelopment.
Gibson’s expertise derives from having written three major books about the history of Toronto and from her implementation of a multifaceted heritage interpretation program at Toronto’s Distillery Historic District. This interpretive program has included creating an award-winning heritage website, writing nearly 100 articles, publishing a full-length book, conducting oral history interviews, leading heritage tours and curating both virtual and in situ displays of documentary art and industrial artifacts.
Done well, heritage interpretation makes history come alive. It widens the audience for any preservation or adaptive-reuse project and benefits both project-owners and surrounding communities.
All too often, however, major heritage interventions stop when the building or buildings have been completed. Archaeological objects that have been dug up are packed away, perhaps lost forever. Knowledge painstakingly acquired by architects and planners about the evolution of the site, archaic construction techniques, forgotten place names, historical associations, and so on is also packed away. How much better to use those objects and that knowledge as the basis for interpreting the site, telling the stories of the people and events associated with it, and above all engaging and exciting people of today about their own history. It can be done. And it can be done at a modest cost compared to the overall cost of the redevelopment project.
If you are a heritage developer, restoration architect, archaeologist, heritage-property owner, or anyone else interested in exploring the idea of adding a heritage interpretation component to your project, please her.