Interpretive Planner? What’s that? We caught up with Richard Lahey, ROM Interpretive Planner, to explain his role in the museum world, as well as what he did to help bring the larger-than-life Ultimate Dinosaur exhibition together and some of the interesting things he learned.
Can you describe your role at the Museum as an Interpretive Planner?
My main responsibility on any given exhibition or gallery project is to develop and detail a clear and compelling storyline that communicates effectively with the museum’s visitors, engaging their attention and delivering key ideas and important information through displays that are easy to access and understand.
To a large extent my work involves writing and editing, inventing a style of presentation and establishing a hierarchy of information that meshes seamlessly with the overall design. I work with the curators to script the ideas and information for presentation, but at the same time I work closely with the graphic designer and 3D designer to devise interesting ways to present and array ideas and information.
I take pride in working up means of presentation that are primarily visual, not just text to be read.
What makes Ultimate Dinosaurs easy/challenging for you?
Developing this particular exhibition was challenging because in addition to dinosaurs, the planet Earth is a principal actor in the show. The storyline had to be carefully woven to interrelate two large-scale, enormously long-term, parallel lines of development — the rise and ongoing evolution of dinosaurs on the one hand, and the changing shape of the planet Earth as large land masses broke up and separated, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere.
Keeping these two parallel lines of thought going through the length of such a large exhibition was a delicate balancing act. I think we got it right because the exhibition continually reminds visitors of these BIG ideas, from start to finish, and does not come across as a simple exercise of rowing up, identifying, and describing a series of dinosaurs. That would have been too easy an exhibition for us to do! We always strive to give visitors a larger intellectual framework to work with … a new way of looking at things, to take away and ponder.
What are some of the key messages for this exhibition?
For me, the key message of the exhibition is WHY these Southern dinosaurs came to be where they did, with their special characteristics … it all revolves around how the early vast supercontinent Pangaea gradually split up into Laurasia in the North and Gondwana in the South; then in turn when Gondwana fragmented into separate new continents, the dinosaurs isolated on them could take different evolutionary paths.
Can you share with us the most interesting dino fact you learned while working on Ultimate Dinosaurs?
Learning there once roamed in Late Cretaceous Argentina a giant theropod, Giganotosaurus, even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex, was a real eye-opener for me! The fact its jaw and teeth were designed for slicing, rather than crushing, gave me something to conjure with too.