Culture / heritage

Muze Croatian heritage keepers

Managing and caring about a heritage

Croatia is known for its natural and cultural heritage and Croats are proud of their history and the country’s natural beauty. Travellers and tourists are also attracted to Croatia by beautiful landscapes and rich culture. We wanted to find out how one can use heritage to add more value to the local community and visitors. So, we reached out to Muze, founded to share the cultural and natural heritage knowledge and help their clients shape and present their own stories.

The company was founded in 2005 by Dragana Lucija Ratković Aydemir, an expert in cultural heritage and management in culture and cultural tourism. Before establishing Muze, she worked for ten years on cultural heritage protection for the Croatian Ministry of Culture.

The company is a pioneer in the field in neighbouring countries, which required a different approach. The focus was not just on the ‘making’, but on the general public’s education and the ones who manage and care about heritage, too.

Today, the company has six eager muses. Muze is a Croatian word for ‘muses’ that shape the landscape of Croatian cultural and natural heritage through education, management and visual interpretation.

Photo: Domagoj Blažević | Muze team
Photo: Domagoj Blažević | Dragana Lucija Ratković

Photo: Domagoj Blažević | Muze team

The heritage interpretation

Freeman Tilden, teacher, mentor and philosopher, gave the first definition of heritage interpretation in 1957. He defined it as an educational activity that aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than to communicate factual information.

That is the core of what Muze does. The most tangible results of their work are different interpretations, visitor centres and ecomuseums across Croatia.

If you’ve ever visited Croatia, you probably experienced at least one of their works. Be it on a trip to Krka, visiting the city of Ogulin or while strolling through the streets of Rovinj.

We wanted to know more about their projects, how they transfer information and make visitors experience the heritage in a way that excites, expands one’s knowledge and calls for interaction.

What are the steps needed to emphasise a place’s authenticity, educating or transferring a verbal idea to something tangible?

Photo: Valerio Baranović | Participants of the Muze Education Workshop in Šibenik 2021
Photo: Valerio Baranović | Participants of the Muze Education Workshop in Šibenik 2021
Photo: Valerio Baranović | Participants of the Muze Education Workshop in Šibenik 2021

Since every brochure about our country is celebrating and selling mostly just our nature and history, do you think cultural and natural heritage could be the answer for the future of Croatian tourism?

Definitely, heritage interpretation is recognised worldwide as an essential tool for heritage preservation and values and awareness that positively affect individuals and communities.

As interpreters, we shape heritage experiences that help people become interested and connect with heritage on a deeper level and with all senses. Good heritage interpretation always invites people to understand better themselves and the world around them.

We encourage people to actively question the meanings of their experience. A more profound connection with the sense of the place creates an unforgettable memory and a great desire for return in a tourism context.

What is your work process when approached by a potential client?

We approach every potential collaboration individually. Firstly, we are interested in finding out more about the client and project, then we can determine how we can help and what part of the project requires our expertise.

The foundation of our business is cooperation. Our partnerships arise in different circumstances, but we are always focused on communicating and including participative work in all of our ventures.

Although our expertise in heritage interpretation and museology is crucial, listening to people and their needs is at the core of our work.

The projects of heritage interpretation that require space design, like Ivana’s House of Fairytales in Ogulin or visitor’s centre of river Kupa, source craft of many different professionals like illustrators, graphic and product designers, IT developers, among others.

Together with us, they build a physical environment where one can experience natural or cultural heritage with all the senses.

Photo: Muze Archive | Visitors’ Centre Underground Secrets of Paklenica 2016
Photo: Domagoj Blažević | Visitors’ Centre Ivana’s Fairytale House, Ogulin 2017
Photo: Domagoj Blažević | Visitors’ Centre Cultural Routes of Family Frankopan, Kraljevica 2017

Can you share the projects you did in Croatia that you’re most proud of and why?

It’s hard to choose because every project brought us a new experience and ultimately led us to where we are today.

Very dear to our heart is our first project and first ecomuseum in Croatia, Batana, that Dragana Lucija successfully managed for many years, preserving a valuable part of the local intangible heritage around the batana boat for generations to come. Batana is a traditional wooden fishing boat from 4 to 8.5 meters long. But, she is much more. She is mirroring personal and collective memories… She is important ingredient of Rovinj’s sense of place.

We aim to bring a change with our projects, so it is gratifying to see how they positively affect the local community, like Ivana’s house of fairy tale that helped Ogulin become an unavoidable tourist destination in the Croatian hinterland. It is also the first museum exhibition created for children and families in Croatia.

Just recently, our team and exhibition co-authors Clinica Studio, Šesnić&Turković, Revolucija dizajna and Igor Pauška received BigSEE Tourism Design Award 2021 for Med Dvemi Vodami in the visitor centre. Med dvemi vodami in local Medjimurje dialect means ‘between two waters’.

Photo: Tjaša Kalkan | Med Dvemi Vodami, Reception 2020
Photo: Tjaša Kalkan | Med Dvemi Vodami, Permanent Exhibition 2020
Photo: Tjaša Kalkan | Terra Panonica Permanent Exhibition, detail, 2020
Photo: Tjaša Kalkan | Terra Panonica Permanent Exhibition, detail, 2020

The common theme to all Muze’s projects is that, besides celebrating heritage, they have a long-term impact on the local communities.

Those projects strengthen the sense of place, make them more attractive, visible and consequently more visited, which benefits the local communities.

Sharing knowledge

Those who have already been through the process of branding a destination know the benefits of heritage tourism and heritage interpretation. For those who are not familiar with this type of work and the benefits for tourism, the women from Muze selflessly share their knowledge through education, publications and the national association for heritage interpretation Interpret Croatia which they co-founded in 2016.

You published a Heritage Interpretation Manual and established the Interpret Croatia Association. Some of your team members are certified heritage interpretation trainers, and education is a big part of what you do. Are you satisfied with the results?

Education means enriching and empowering the individual, the collective, the institution and the local community. As pioneers of heritage management and heritage interpretation in Croatia and the surrounding countries, we have a great passion for transmitting, sharing and communicating knowledge and skills.

Our Facebook post about the Heritage Interpretation Manual is our most liked from last year, which is a good sign that there is a great interest in what we do and share.

We are currently finishing one cultural management education in Šibenik and we hope we will have many more in the future.

We raised the bar high in planning and implementing these projects, and we want to do the same in managing interpretation centres, visitor centres, and traditional and long-established heritage institutions.

Everyone involved in working with heritage and people needs to be ready for innovation, knowledge and proactiveness.

What are the future goals for Muze?

We would like to try many areas, like innovations in digital, various training programs, and new publications being just a few of them.

Currently, we are finalising two extensive interpretation centres and we are looking excitedly toward the future. Our short term goal is to get our team back in the office, so we can do yoga together and have fun face to face like we used to.

The best way to understand the benefits of Muze’s work for the community is in the words of the owner, Dragana Lucija: ‘Good interpretation is a guarantee of heritage preservation. It must first and foremost be credible, based on broad knowledge and interpretation skills to cover a wide range of educational and cultural goals. Only then can it guarantee the heritage will be appropriately included in sustainable development and promote tourism.’

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