First some good news:
The College of Fine Arts and Design officially accomplished a pair of momentous goals over the summer. In both cases, our externally perceived level of excellence will now more closely match the internal knowledge we have long enjoyed regarding the exceptional quality of our programs, faculty and students.
UCO is now an All-Steinway School.
The Department of Design is now the School of Design.
Achieving these watershed triumphs involved dedicated, selfless teamwork. Scores of people donated time and treasure, endured frustration, and eventually persevered. I am convinced these new laurels will enable CFAD to spring toward even greater heights.
Now a story:
During the first two weeks of August, I accompanied the Department of Theatre Arts study tour to London and Edinburgh. Our students devised a new play, and performed brilliantly as “The Gravel Road Show” for over a week at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Dr. Kato Buss, a savvy, study-tour guide in addition to his talents as an educator, playwright and actor, led a transformative learning experience for 12 students. These “happy few” witnessed a frolicking “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe, a West End play, toured the National Gallery, and visited the British Museum in London prior to chugging by train up to Edinburgh for their theatrical run of shows in the Fringe Festival.
Early one Tuesday afternoon, while waiting for the “Gravel Road Show” to showcase their talents on a Royal Mile stage, I entered St. Giles Cathedral seeking a respite from the cacophony of noise boiling up from the teeming throngs of festival goers. Stepping into the sanctuary from the street, the tonal difference was astounding. Seven-hundred-year-old stone walls absorbed the physical sounds from outside, and centuries of history combined with ecumenical architecture and artwork immediately induced a hushed, meditative state.
My thoughts ventured back in time to the Medieval craftsmen, tradesmen and architects who planned and initiated the structure, knowing they would never see its completion. Construction of the great Cathedrals of Europe typically took well over 100 years. In many cases, the building process spanned 300 years. Selflessness infuses the activity of creating awe-inspiring architecture for your descendants. The often thankless, daily toil of the laborers is captured by the Welsh writer, John Ormond in his poem, The Cathedral Builders.
The Cathedral Builders
They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
took up God’s house to meet him,
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer’s swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, ‘I bloody did that.’
Here at UCO, Old North earned the moniker of “The Cathedral of Learning on the Plains”. The date carved into the stone lintel proclaims completion in 1893, but without a significant effort to rebuild, reimagine, and recommit to modern standards, this venerable symbol of higher education in Oklahoma would have collapsed before renovations were finished in 2016. As we take our place among the “cathedral builders” dedicated to educating the citizens and workers rooted in our windswept, red-dirt region, we too become part of a lineage of laborers focused on creating, recreating, renovating, and rethinking the role of a Normal School, College and University for our community. A university is never “completed”. A university is an ever-evolving idea, responding to transformations in culture, pedagogy and the demands of the workplace. We will not live to witness the perfectly rendered version of UCO, but as we grow greyer and shakier, and eventually determine to leave the spires to others, we can proudly look back on what we constructed during our moment and say, “I bloody did that.”