I got a sneak peek inside the new Social Science and Art Hall at Buena Vista University last week, and I was both impressed and surprised by how much the guts of the place has changed since I knew it as the very conventional former Science Center.
On the outside, it looks something like a Frankenstein's monster of architecture, bringing the old building and new additions together in a seeming cacophony of styles, materials, rooflines and angles. Inside, it works - something of an art form in itself, that seems like it will melt a bit of industrial chic with lots of glass that should provide views for drawing and dreaming.
The interior cavern is divided up in a way so that no classroom or workshop seems the same as another, and like the new Science Center, is features some comfortable alcoves that appear almost like someone's living room - soft, informal places for faculty and students tostretch out and philosophize.
At first glance, the programming of the building seems as eclectic as the structure itself. Social Sciences and Art seem like unnatural bedfellows - a figurative sculpture class in the same confines as, say, cultural anthropology. But the more I think about it, perhaps it fits - they are fields in which free thinking, originality and a slightly abstract view of the world can pay dividends. Perhaps they will inspire each other.
I was especially thrilled to discover the beautiful new art gallery space, right up front where it will beckon to passers-by.
I have seldom missed a show at the old BVU gallery, which was put to maximum use, but was still tiny, claustrophobic, dark, and stuck in an out of the way Forum corner where most of the public and maybe even a few of the students never realized one existed.
I'll be excited to see how this new hall is put to use when it is soon finished up. It strikes me as a place where ideas could sprout like dandelions.
* Oh, one thing - consider that the place is called Social Science and Art - the term Art and Social Science stopped being heard by the time the label went up on the building. Look real carefully at the words Art and Social Science and see if you can figure out why...
* I did a story on Friday on the local Hermstad family's situation, feeling the a presidential candidate had turned his back on them after promising to serve as a liaison to get help for their mysteriously ill daughter.
The next day I saw the movie "Swing Vote," which in part features a presidential race where candidates turn away from their core values and adopt whatever stance on issues they think will swing the election their way - to the point where one remarks, "I don't even recognize myself any more."
Dear Mr. Barack Obama,
We know you can't do everything for everyone, and we even realize that we the public have allowed to be created an environment where we don't even expect campaign promises to be honored any more, but consider this - why did you decide to run in the first place? I doubt if it was to make empty promises while getting your picture taken with a desperately ill child.
I'm guessing that you ran because back then, you genuinely wanted to reach out and help people, to make life better for those who are struggling.
A fellow Democrat and Senator, a guy who has been around a little longer than you, can show you how it is done if you let him. Hours after Tom Harkin met Alex Hermstad, he had been on the phone, and she had almost instantly been accepted into a national program for children with undiagnosed diseases.
Mr. Obama, you could have made that call. You promised. And it isn't too late to help the girl and others like her. But if it has come to the point where even for you, campaiging, winning, is more important than the people you are supposed to serve, goodness help us. There is no Change in that, sir.
I hope when it is all said and done, the candidates still recognize themselves.
* The other day I was at the Methodist Church Family Life Center, which was pressed into service as the foul-weather site for the high school music Beach Party. On Sunday, I stopped by, with the same room being used for the first time as the new monthly site for Stone Soup - a volunteer-based community meal for the needy, the lonely, and just anybody who feels moved to come. I've seen the same place volunteered this year whenever neeeded for the Taste of Storm Lake community blockparty fundraiser events, even when the fundraiser is for parochial school kids of a different denomination.
Some may remember the days when a church never had to be locked, when they were used for all kinds of community gatherings - often as a town's center of social activity, and the first place to turn for community-based help.
What does the UM Church get out of opening up its wonderful center for so many positive community uses this season? Extra clean up duty, probably. A threatbare carpet from hundreds to shoes. Thank you, Methodist Church staff and congregation, for sharing and welcoming.
I suspect that the very best use for church space is to just plain wear it that sucker out with loving activity.
Thanks for reminding us.
* I can tell you from graceless first-hand experience that the railroad crossing on Cayuga Street downtown really does not cut the mustard. I have the scabs to prove it.
On the west side of the road, right where bikes and pedestrians will travel to dodge the traffic, there is a deep, nasty drop at the tracks, and since the crossing is totally unlit, it will eat your car strut, front bike fork, or ankle.
The railroad hasn't been very forthcoming in assisting with locals' efforts to preserve their rundown depot site downtown, but the least they can be expected to do is make a crossing that goes all the way across the road. It shouldn't take a lawsuit.