• Designing Experience: Harpers Ferry and the Interpretive Infrastructure of the National Park Service
    Matthew Coolidge and Aurora Tang
    The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Los Angeles
    Aug 11, 2023 to Nov 26, 2023
    The Center for Land Use Interpretation

The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Clingmans Dome overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, 2006. Courtesy The Center for Land Use Interpretation

In 1970 the National Park Service consolidated its design functions at one location, in the small West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry. Since then, the evolution of the iconic “federal style” of landscape interpretation has emanated from this place, and principally out of one building, the Interpretive Design Center. As the nation’s leading interpreter of place, the National Park Service is on the front lines of the debate over what our national landmarks mean. Its methods, expressed physically in visitor center architecture, exhibit design, waysides, plaques, brochures, and other media produced and directed from the Harpers Ferry Center, tell the story of the nation as it struggles to explain itself, to itself. This exhibition explores and describes the values, methods, and material forms generated at Harpers Ferry, and applied at hundreds of the most significant cultural sites across the country.

Matthew Coolidge is the founder and executive director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. He is the author and editor of several books, including: Los Alamos Rolodex (Blast Books, 2015), Around the Bay (Blast Books, 2013), Up River: Man-Made Sites of Interest on the Hudson from the Battery to Troy (Blast Books, 2008), Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America with the Center for Land Use Interpretation (Metropolis Books, 2006), and Nevada Test Site: A Guide to America's Nuclear Proving Ground (CLUI, 1996). Coolidge is a recipient of the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, the Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship, the Smithsonian Institute's Lucelia Artist Award, and a Creative Capital Artist Award. He has served on the faculty of the California College of the Arts, and as board president of the Holt/Smithson Foundation.

Aurora Tang is a curator and researcher based in Los Angeles. She has worked with the Center for Land Use Interpretation since 2009, and currently serves as program director. As an independent curator she has organized exhibitions at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, MOCA Tucson, City of West Hollywood, Materials & Applications, and the Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Tang has worked with the Getty Research Institute, Getty Conservation Institute, and High Desert Test Sites, where she was managing director from 2011–15. She has taught at schools including Otis College of Art and Design and the University of Southern California. Tang is the recipient of an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Research Fellowship.

Founded in 1994, the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a research organization dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.