It may be a corner café, a small coffee shop, a barbershop, a bookstore, even a museum or art center – not work, not home but a “third place” where people linger, learn and discuss differences, the “hangouts at the heart of a community.”
In the words of community sociologist and former UW Madison professor Ray Oldenburg, they are “Great, Good Places.” The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is making a commitment to find and honor them as they are opened and nurtured around the nation by the University’s nearly 85,000 alumni.
On June 3, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan became the first-ever recipient of UW Oshkosh’s new “Great, Good Place Award.” About 30 UW Oshkosh alumni and partners were on hand at the arts center to join institution leaders for a presentation to alumna and UW Oshkosh honorary doctorate recipient Ruth DeYoung Kohler.
“This award is a physical benchmark, a reminder, a monument for the places we know to be third-place role models,” UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells said in introducing the award. “These are the kinds of places we want our new, sparkling UW Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center and other campus-based third-places to serve as. These are retreats that double as town halls. There, challenging concepts and ideas are aired and examined, not stuffed away in darkness or shoved to the ideological edges.”
DeYoung Kohler and the Arts Center’s partnerships with UW Oshkosh run deep.
A series of paintings donated by the Kohler Foundation Inc. now adorn the walls in the new Alumni Welcome and Conference Center’s ballroom and in the building’s corridors. Additionally, the Kohler Arts Center has been a strong collaborator with UW Oshkosh’s art department, offering its students high-impact internships in Sheboygan. The Foundation also gifted UW Oshkosh with the Shaffer Collection, an array of small sculptures, maquettes, paintings, drawings and historical papers that reflect a lifetime of work by artist O.V. (Verne) Shaffer. The works join UW Oshkosh’s Permanent Collection and, for years to come, will serve as both a collection to be exhibited throughout campus and to be studied by students and faculty.
Additionally, UW Oshkosh fine arts students have been able to staff and oversee the Arts Center’ “ARTery,” a hands-on, experiential community art center where K-12 students and adults alike can explore their creativity and dabble in a host of media.
VIDEO: UW OSHKOSH GRADUATE TINA JOHNSON SHARES MORE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE IN THE ARTery…
On June 3, UW Oshkosh graduate Patrick Stromme ’13, gave DeYoung Kohler one of his paintings as a symbol for the Great, Good Place Award. Stromme is also one of several graduates who, as a UW Oshkosh fine art student, benefitted from an internship at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
“The experience and knowledge that I gained here gave me much insight into how I was, and currently am, pursuing my future career to be a professor of drawing and painting at the university level,” Stromme said during the June 3 ceremony. “I have recently been accepted to the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and not only have they offered me a full scholarship but also a teaching assistantship. Thanks to my own personal efforts, my professors, and all the people who gave me the opportunity to intern at JMKAC, as well as the staff members here and at UWO, I am able to continue to my schooling and present my ideas to the public.”
Wells said the Great, Good Place Award is also intended to help in a broader effort to preserve third places and keep their stories and value alive for the good of the nation.
Eventually, a sister-plaque will reside within the UW Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center to keep a running list of the awardees – the Great, Good Places themselves and the University alumni who are helping keep them thriving, community hubs in our democracy.
“These third places are the Great, Good Places that make our democracy sing, give it soul, invite us to mingle and dance over our differences,” Wells said during the June 3 ceremony.
“These are places that deserve our care, our participation and our applause. They will only vanish if we don’t shine the spotlight on them and demonstrate their value to all.”