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Friday, June 11, 2010

Renaissance Center

Visiting the UMass Renaissance Center was a great way to bring this week to a close!  Our tour guide, Lucinda Kidder brought us through the building, around the grounds, and into the neighboring barn.  The weather was perfect for us to see a grand view of the valley and fields near the building.

The building that currently houses the Renaissance Center was donated by the Dakin family (yes, the same family that contributed to the creation of the Dakin Animal Shelter).  The University has been utilizing the facility since the late 1980s.  The main uses of the Renaissance Center include: research, classes, and hosting events for the community.  The grounds also have a large number of trails that can be used for walks or cross country skiing!

In addition to hosting courses, which are mainly graduate level, the Renaissance Center is the home to an extensive library of over 700 rare books.  This collection is actually one of the largest in New England and researchers regularly visit to use the collection for their areas of study.  Some of the books are incredibly fragile, as a result the books are kept in the facility.  The basement houses the majority of the collection, and after visiting  it's pretty obvious that the current space is full to its gills.  As a result, a campaign to build a 16th century Great Hall has been established.

The proposed Great Hall will provide a location for theater, dance and music performances.  It can also be used for lectures, conferences, and classes.  The lower level of the facility will be used to house the ever-expanding collection of rare books.  Of course, in order for this proposal to become a reality, the Center will need to have the financial support.  I'm hopeful adequate financial backing will be acquired soon.

The grounds and gardens surrounding the building are beautifully maintained!  The gardens have plants that would have been found in Elizabethan times.  There is room to accommodate a tent and outdoor stage for the Renaissance Fair the Center hosts each year.  It has also been used for community events and weddings.

The adjacent barn is currently being used to house costumes and props for a local Shakespearean theater troupe.  The ground level has been setup to serve as a black box theater, until the Great Hall is constructed.  Productions are as authentic as possible, with period dress, limited usage of sets, and little adjustments to lighting.

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