Renaissance Island … return visit

Following up on the comment posted by wanderingmadman to my earlier review of Renaissance Island, and in light of Chris T’s question with regard to student behaviour, I felt I had to return to Renaissance Island to re-appraise my original assessment.

Yes, wanderingmadman rightly points out that “a great deal has been accomplished since then [viz. my first visit]”, and the “additional elements such as the wharf and merchant galleon” are both visually impressive and testimony to the dedicated efforts of those who have been working on the island. In respect of urban and architectural design, all in all this Island is a stunning achievement.

renaissanceisland2.pngI met Moonbeamdance Northmead, in RL (i.e., “real life”) a student doing her Library internship on Renaissance Island, and with responsibility (so she told me) for “making a Renaissance library in the manor house”. She took me back to show me her own house, much of it designed and built by herself (“I made the bed and built the chest as well … the bench, bed, chest, table, candles, lute… i built”), as impressive in its attention to detail as anything else I had seen on the Island. How many hours of work, I asked, did it take you to create all this? “almost 160”, she replied with, I suspect, some justifiable pride at her achievements.

renaissanceisland3.pngMoonbeamdance had to leave to say goodbye to a friend, so I made my own way to the Manor House to see her Renaissance library. Not signposted (at least so far as I could see), good guesswork identified the manor house, ‘Lagswell Hall’, for me, “a composite based upon a number of sites including Haddon Hall, Stokesay Castle, and Penshurst Place”. Again, attention to architectural detail was impressive. I wasn’t able to find the library, though I’d opened every door and explored every exquisitely crafted room–perhaps at this time still on the librarian’s ‘drawing board’? Tapestries and portraits line the walls, clicking some few of which (and, I expect, over time, all) reveals brief explanatory text in ‘notecards’.

Some features came as a bit of a surprise. In the main hall, for example, I came upon objects inviting me to “waltz”; and I clicked and waltzed, all the while in the knowledge that it would still be some two hundred years before the waltz would be invented.

And it was exactly these inauthentic features that irked me. They could, of course, be no more than the playful eccentricities of the students who have contributed to the project; yet I felt that there was a risk of their misleading visitors into a confusion of eras and fashions. I had to find someone I could ask about this.

Later this evening I went back to Lagswell Hall, and met Morrighan Heron (Mary-Carol Lindbloom, Coordinator of Renaissance Island) whom I’d misremembered as a name given to me earlier by Moonbeamdance as an authority to speak to with respect to design decisions taken in the construction of Renaissance Island. Checking again, the name given to me had been ‘Korrigan’, not ‘Morrighan’, but by then I feared I’d already embarrassed myself by getting too personal with the wrong person. I need not have worried: “I’m Korrigan’s alt…here picking up pose balls from the weekend”.

renaissanceisland4.pngI queried Morrighan about the oddness of discovering a waltz in an Elizabethan manor. “That is left over from the weekend. Normally it’s not there. We had the Globe Opening yesterday, and the dance was an opportunity for residents and visitors to mingle and network.” I couldn’t, of course, resist the temptation to ask her for a dance.

“We are having a scriptor develop period dances like the pavane, but he’ll not have them available until mid-Sept”, she continued by way of explanation. “Anyway… the compromise was that we weren’t going to have any break dances haha. But, normally they’re not here. Authenticity is a great struggle. I am looking at it as a journey to authenticity, these days”.

I then moved on to the question of what learning activities might take place on Renaissance Island:

[13:56] Morrighan Heron: Well…we do have a professor from a small college in Missouri (where I live) who will be bringing his students here. They are going to be assigned projects.
[13:57] You: Can you tell me what kinds of project students might be doing?
[13:57] Morrighan Heron: Probably more to do with researching than building things.
[13:58] You: I noticed that several objects and pictures have explanatory notecards attached — I expect that most will in time?
[13:58] Morrighan Heron: Indeed–and that’s just the sort of thing that students could help with.
[13:59] You: Do you see students as perhaps your willing researchers? I’ve been thinking of doing so with my own students, on the grounds that the best way to learn is to contribute content — and then to teach it to others.
[13:59] Morrighan Heron: That’s exactly how we would like to have them involved.

Finally I brought up with Morrighan the subject of the shops in the main square. “You mean the ones that are carrying modern day attire and such …? Initially, I suspect (because I wasn’t involved here at that point) the thought was to get shop keepers here who were willing to pay rentals.” I told her I’d guessed as much, but queried whether this might offend against the sensitivities of some? “For some”, she replied, “I suspect that SL is going to be sort of a shocking place. It is an adult world (teens have their own grid) and there is definitely a reason for that”, but also confessed that “If one were in SL and searching for the most innocent of things sometimes, one is confronted with nudity that is far beyond my comfort zone”.

renaissanceisland1.pngSo what’s the issue? This, I suppose, takes me back to where I started: student behaviour. I’m in part a tad worried that we may have students who will take offence at the content of the shops; in part worried that, at the other extreme, such content may become an irksome distraction for many away from learning content. We don’t, on the one hand, want to find ourselves receiving complaints about content outside of our control; we also don’t want to find ourselves spending our time ‘herding cats’ when we should be teaching.

I’m delighted to have met Moonbeamdance and Morrighan today who have given freely of their time to answer what may at moments have seemed tiresome and pedantic questions. There is no doubt at all of their tireless commitment to making Renaissance Island a success, and I truly wish them well. These are, it seems, still relatively early days for RI, and perhaps at this point it’s hard to envisage exactly how it will evolve (for I suspect that, in consequence of the many hands and the many voices that pass through RI, it will be evolution and not design that determines what, a year or three down the line, it will look like as an arena for learning). This is potential, however, for something magnificent; and the wider the participation, the broader the pool of expertise, the more impressive it can become.

So, wanderingmadman, thanks again for your comment to my previous post, since it was that that brought me back here. Apologies again if I seemed unnecessarily harsh in my criticism. I wish you all well … but, for heaven’s sake, get rid of those darned clothing shops! Put in book shops instead!

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About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
This entry was posted in Case study, Museums and history. Bookmark the permalink.

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