Frequently Asked Questions:
About the Renaissance Center and the Great Hall Project


Founded in 1998, the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies is located in the former Dakin House, a Tudor-style country cottage similar to those in Shakespeare’s Cotswalds. The Center contains one of the Northeast’s largest climate-controlled archives of rare and facsimile manuscripts, books and other research materials, in addition to the private and professional papers of some of the world’s leading Renaissance scholars. Its current facilities also include a small black box theater, gardens for study, and a seventeenth-century style printing press. In addition, the adjacent carriage house provides storage for Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s carefully researched Elizabethan and Italian Renaissance costume collection.


Campus personnel and community residents of all ages know the Center as a place where the Renaissance period is brought to life on site and throughout the region through live theater, music and dance performances, film festivals, classes and conferences which demonstrate the vitality and importance of the legacy of early modern culture and history. More and more, they also look to the Center as the point of origin for an increasing number of educational programs that reach out into the wider community, serving populations of all ages and backgrounds.


The Center is the site of scholarly activities such as conferences, lectures and seminars in a variety of fields by University professionals and students as well as visiting researchers. The Center also contains offices, a Reading Room, and spaces for seminars and public events. The patio and Great Meadow provide charming setting for outdoor events, such as performances, concerts and special events under a marquee. The Center also hosts residential scholars who spend a week lecturing and providing tutorials.


The enthusiastic response with which the Center has been received, locally, nationally and internationally, has led to a rapid expansion of activities that exceeds the capacity of the Center. Important additions to the library collection are putting critical demands on storage space. With the expansion of the collection come more scholars, graduate students, and staff, who have long since outgrown available space for classes, study and administrative tasks. Musical and theatrical performances of any size must either be squeezed into the Center’s relatively small indoor spaces or the uninsulated carriage house theater , or wait until the season from late spring to early fall when the outdoor patio can serve for presentations.


The vision for the future of the Center includes construction of a free-standing authentic sixteenth-century Great Hall. Unique in the world, the Hall will provide a flexible performance space for theater, dance and music; it will serve as a cutting-edge performance laboratory to test the historic staging of drama and the acoustics of Renaissance music concerts, enabling our resident company, local early arts groups, and touring companies the performance conditions experienced by Shakespeare’s traveling company of players and musicians performing the works of William Byrd and others.

The Hall will provide critically needed space for public lectures, conferences and classes as well as seminars for students and scholars on and off campus. Also included will be expanded research facilities, the Provost Charlena Seymour Costume Gallery for storage of the Hampshire Shakespeare collection and costume research, a fully equipped catering kitchen for social events, and a large climate-controlled space for the ever-growing library of rare books, manuscripts and related materials. It will also provide additional space for administration, archival storage, and practical spaces such as dressing rooms and seating storage, as well as a permanent home for several local early arts groups.

The expansion will provide the necessary home base for the Center’s continuously expanding outreach programs, especially educational projects in nearby underserved urban communities. Such programming links the larger community with its cultural past and enhances the Center’s efforts to showcase the importance of Renaissance humanities, arts, social sciences and science in the shaping of our modern world.


The proposed budget for construction of the Hall is $5.2 million. Preliminary architectural plans for the building (developed in 2005) provide for a two-story high flexible meeting and performance space of about 2,250 square feet, with three floors (two plus basement) for offices, storage, and other spaces. The design calls for non-fixed audience seating, a musician’s gallery, and large windows for ambient lighting. The Hall will reflect the findings of current research into the style of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English country playing spaces.


The Center for Renaissance Studies cannot cover this expense alone. Its budget is barely adequate to cover its current operating expenses. The Center needs the help of the many people who will benefit from the Great Hall as well as those who recognize the importance of the Center’s work in order to realize its vision. To that end, the Center has initiated the Great Hall Campaign and is actively soliciting tax-deductible donations, large and small. The Center has received gifts and pledges already in the neighborhood of two-and one-half million dollars, as well as the promise of lumber needed in the construction of the Hall.

There are many ways to contribute and many outstanding naming opportunities. How will you help? Call (413) 577-3600, or e-mail us at to find out how.




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