Friday, March 21, 2008

Virtual Peace Garden in Second Life

This post comes from my short-lived Word Press Blog. I thought I had copied it to Ten a Day, but I can't seem to find it in the archives. I've also added some material since that initial post.

I've been imagining a "Virtual Peace Garden" for Second Life as MEmorial to civilian harm and loss in global conflict. My site would be a "peripheral" MEmorial, attached to the physical International Peace Gardens located on the Manitoba-North Dakota border. I decided I had better do a bit more research on the IPG first, however. Here are some things I found out.

1. The garden just celebrated its 75 anniversary, July 14, 2007.
2. The IPG has been under-funded for a number of years now, but during the last legislative session in ND, the state decided to increase its commitment to the gardens--5 million for this year, $32 million total (although the Canadians are going to chip in half, as I understand the agreement).
3. A 9/11 memoiral was erected in 2001, with beams from the WTC transported to the IPG by Canadians, erected on the US side.

I found out a variety of other facts, but in general, I was impressed with the vision the Director and the governments have for the IPG. My own plans for the Virtual Peace Garden seem, in fact, parallel to their vision of increasing the traffic and function of the site. A new interpretive center and conflict resolution center (Camp David style) are in the plans for the IPG. The park is currently open only 3 months of the year, but the goal is 12 months. The IPG plan probably isn't quite as ambitious as my own vision: turning both the physical and virtual IPG into a kind of mecca, a pilgrimage site for peace activists from around the world. By building in Second Life, I would make the Virtual Peace Garden more accessible than the IPG, but with any luck, a community forming around the virtual PG might be inspired to visit the physical PG.

What would a visitor to a Virtual Peace Garden do? Leave notes and objects, meet and talk with others interested in peace and justice issues, perhaps someday visit "rooms" within the virtual museum. I have been working on a MEmorial for the Lost Boys of Sudan*; I could envision a virtual room for southern Sudan, for Darfur, for Rwanda, for The Democratic Republic of Congo, for Somalia, etc., rooms that might collect video, photos, and text. Audio tours could be recorded. I don't know how to build anything in SL, so I would need to find good technical support for this kind of project. I'd also need to find a job that would give me the time to do this kind of work. The VPG could also host Rallies and other events. Conflict negotiation students welcome!

Greg Ulmer, primary theorist of Electronic Monuments / MEmorials, talks about the work of virtual memorialists as the work of "consultants without portfolio" and "unsolicited consultations." I do wonder how the IPG board of directors would respond to my "unsolicited consultation" and I wonder what compromises I would need to make if I functioned as a consultant with portfolio? Seems like I need to keep pushing my project further, define it more clearly, and then see about contacting the Director.

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