November 7, 2013
Perhaps the most telling indicator of an institution’s health is its ability to learn, to grow, and to adapt. You can recognize an institution that has ossified because it just keeps doing the same thing the same way, regardless of the external environment, the needs of its stakeholders, and the needs of the rest of the world.
One thing that gives me faith in the future of St. Olaf College is our demonstrated ability to change in meaningful ways in response to the world around us. There are lots of examples of this in our history: think, for example, of the far-sighted recognition of the importance of developing in students a global perspective and the decision therefore to build a comprehensive off-campus study program that provided the model for the rest of the liberal arts colleges in America.
Or think for example of the decision to create the learning communities we know as the Conversations. An early recognition of the impact of learning in community with others led to the Great Conversation, the American Conversations, the Asian Conversation, the Science Conversation, and most recently to the Sustainability Conversation.
Not all of the examples are so recent. Think of the day when the it was decided that St. Olaf College needed to have an art department to house the academic study of the visual arts. And think of the decision to turn to a recent graduate, Arnie Flaten, and the decision to send him to Europe to prepare for that assignment. Those were bold moves, creative ones, aspirational ones. And they had their desired effect. Today the visual arts flourish on campus, and the visual culture of St. Olaf College enriches all of us.
When the College said to Professor Flaten, “Oh, by the way, your first assignment is to build a building in which to teach art, we may have crossed the line from being bold and visionary into the realm of “Are you kidding me?” but Flaten was undeterred, and the result was the Art Barn that housed generations of students and faculty and the renewal of which we celebrate today.
Which brings me back to my point about adaptation, growth, and change. All over our campus are buildings conceived and constructed for one purpose and now serving another: Old Main, the Center for Art and Dance, Tomson Hall to name three examples. The Art Barn, reconstructed on this site as a classroom, a retreat center, a gathering place, a portal to the Natural Lands, a model of sustainability, lives again to serve the College, its students and faculty, and the community around us. It also remains as a monument to the vision and the legacy of Arnold Flaten. It is thus fitting that we celebrate this rebirth today with prayer and with celebration. To that end, I now invite Pastor Matt Marohl to offer a blessing.