What is culture? It seems like a simple enough question. The answer is a bit more elusive. I consulted several dictionaries to find a few short words that define the meaning of culture. It is not that easy.
Perhaps the description that I liked the most was culture refers to the values, norms, and beliefs that a society holds. It can contain tangible things like buildings and artifacts. Culture can also refer to intangible things like fables and myths.
Another definition of culture was a way of life of a group of people – the behaviors, beliefs, values and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and they are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication.
That’s it. Symbolic communication. Have you ever heard of “Southern culture”? Think of the many ways we communicate that message. Food. Dialect. Storytelling. Music. Lots and lots of music.
The Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center had its grand opening this past week at Auburn University. The 70 million dollar facility exceeded all my expectations as Mary Lou and I were treated, along with thousands of others, to cultural events and performances of all types.
It was appropriate that the first event held Thursday evening was a free concert for the students. We watched from a safe distance under a tent as thousands stood and listened to a contemporary band playing a long list of songs that I had never heard with words I could not understand. The students, however, loved it.
The second night was bluegrass and country music, also performed in the Amphitheater named for the City of Auburn, thanks to their gift of over $1 million to the facility. The rain showers, heat and humidity did not dampen the enthusiasm of the sold out crowd.
Saturday night was black-tie only as the Auburn community showed they could put on their finest for a great cause. The initial performance by Santiago Ballerini proved that you can enjoy opera in Italian and Spanish without understanding a word. After all, music is the universal language.
The main performance by Michael Feinstein and his 22 piece orchestra rivaled anything you would see on Broadway. It featured songs and music from America’s songbook, spanning generations of music to which all could relate.
The crowd then adjourned to the front lawn where the Auburn University Band waited in full uniform for another concert to the adoring crowd. Appropriately, the evening ended with the Auburn fight song, “War Eagle”.
Named for former and now acting Auburn University President Jay Gogue and his wife, Susie, the building was made possible for a lead gift of $57 million given by John and Rosemary Brown. $25 million of that gift was designated for the theater. The facility is a testament of what can happen when vision and money come together in a common cause.
The building is an extraordinary performing arts venue. According to their website, The Gogue Center will present touring Broadway productions, opera, dance, chamber arts, and popular musical performances, along with student and faculty music and theater performances. It is not just a performance hall, but also a teaching laboratory fulfilling the university’s larger mission of education. It will expand the horizons of those who love the arts in its many forms, offering many a first glimpse into a world they had only previously imagined.
People have a lot of ways to describe Auburn. Tigers. Plainsmen. War Eagles. Loveliest Village on the Plains. Some of our rivals even like to call it a Cow College.
From now on, many will also call Auburn University a true center for the performing arts, transforming not just the community but the lives of thousands of students who have that inner craving for music, theater and the arts.
In a day and age where support for the arts is declining, the opening of the Gogue Performing Arts Center made me really proud of Auburn. It is a victory for the arts and a story well worth telling.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org