PLU Public Arts Reinforce the University Mission Statement and Echo with the Lute Identity

PLU Public Arts Reinforce the University Mission Statement and Echo with the Lute Identity

After sojourning around the campus of Pacific Lutheran University, I was impressed by several artful subjects exhibited there. In the middle of the campus, in front of Karen Hille Philip Center for the Performing Arts, is the exhibition of The Centennial Bell. On the left of that is a clutter of pillars and sculptures dedicated for visit Norwegian royal members. As I walked close by it, I was able to spin the pillars around which generated some fun experience for me. As I walked to the library from Hardstad Residence Hall, I saw three bended metal sculptures along with an abstract-looking one, comprised of a bent pipe on top of a smaller cylinder welcoming inquirers like me to my destination. As I was approaching the Robert A.L. Mortvedt Library I felt like I am going to absorb the knowledge that is going to help me understand what these arts are built for.

Like art in many public places, PLU arts on campus function as a storyteller. In Giorgia Aiello and Irina Gendelman’s essay “Seattle’s Pike Market (De) constructed: An Analysis of Tourist Narratives about a Public Space”, they refer to public space when they state: “Public space is not merely a geographical configuration, but also a verbal and visual narrative construction.”(Page 158). They indicate that Pike Place Market is a place that not only functions as a location but also reflects a meaning with its inside and outside narratives. Their essay adapts evidence collected from tourists’ photography, travel guides and tourists reports to analyze what the public space Pike Place Market represents. However, my analysis will not focus on evidence collected from tourism recording, reporting or recalling but will deliver the same concept, public places reflect meanings through their physical appearances. That is, art at PLU is designed to echo with and reinforce the university’s mission statement. This will be done through photography collected and taken by me, a student at PLU.

PLU, as a community, identifies itself with excellence. As it states in its mission statement: “PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care for other people, for their communities, and for the earth”. As a student at PLU, I see the mission statement not only push us to be good citizens but also individuals who are valuable in our community. Specifically, people should be curious when something wrong happens in the community, such as an accident that happens on Garfield Street, the neighborhood street of PLU. This can be a compelling case of living a life of always being curious which refers to “thoughtful inquiry” in the mission statement of PLU. Care can also be seen as a warm-hearted person caring for the people living in their community. This is what care extends to, thinking for others. If the unfortunate incident is that a house is damaged by a storm, PLU alumni help a neighbor by restoring the damaged house. This is a testimony of service. Being compassionate about the incident and proactively engaging in the restoring would be a justification of leadership, that is doing the right thing without having someone telling you to do so.
PLU’s mission statement functions as a method for identity creation. Similarly, in the article Foxes, green fields and Britshness: On the rhetorical (de) Construction of Place and National Identity, the authors Jodi Wallwork and John A. Dixon argue that nations represent a kind of identity. They say: “Nations are, par excellence, discursively located categories; indeed, the very term ‘nation’ straddles an ambiguity between the social and the spatial, denoting both a people (bound together by imagined relations of similarity) and a place (the imagined country or homeland)(Jackson&Penrose, 1993).” PLU represents an identity, too, an identity that people care, lead and inquire. PLU’s identity doesn’t explicitly correlates with British hunting but correlates more with communities. What is also different about PLU is that PLU’s social and spatial relationship corresponds. PLU functions as it states in its mission statement and its space are designed accordingly to that purpose.

With this being said, how does the public arts at PLU echo with and reinforce its mission? Let’s look at some art pieces. First, as mentioned in the first paragraph, the pillar sculptures in the Red Square of the university were established to commemorate the visiting of Norwegian royal members. One of the sculptures was made with an inscription that says specifically it is to honor Norwegian immigration from 1825-1975. Other than to honor the immigration of Norwegian people, it also makes the immigrated people a topic for the audience to wonder about. Decades ago, immigration was welcomed by the government of the United States of American, nowadays the government often critize about it. Other than that, how do Norwegian immigrants think about this issue? How are they doing with nowadays? After so many years of settling down in the U.S. do they think it was worth the effort to immigrate? These are all questions students, faculties and visiting individuals can and should ask. To increase inquiry within the community is a significant affair since this sculpture is place in the heart of the university campus, on the Red Square.

With the two benches around the sculpture, I was able to sit and take an intimate look at it. Even if you just walk by it, you will notice that it is quite tall, at least taller than an average human being and pretty imposing. Seemingly, the way it is designed is to attract your attention and it asks ask you to take a look at it because it is placed in the center of the campus. Looking at it, you can feel the scope and size the sculpture imposes on you. You may even feel that it is awe-inspiring. In particular, the interactivity of this art really puts the people around it in an engaging circumstance where you could spin it around. By spinning around the vertical pillar, it forces you to physically interact with PLU’s commemoration of its ethos, beliefs and values and honor where the PLU community come from. In fact, this echoes strongly with the inquiry value within the university’s mission statement. By sitting on the benches and participating in the tradition and commemoration of the Norwegian founding fathers, one is inquiring and inquiring only.

Another art piece I want to take a moment to appreciate is The Two Sisters, by artist Douglas Charles. This art product is not far from the pillars. It is on the right hand side of the Karen Hille Philip Center of the Performing Arts. Different from the size of the pillars, this sculpture is about the height of a six-year-old child. According to the plaque on it, the two sisters being honored are Agnes Hougen Stuen and Ester Hougen Davis, which is suggestive by the appearance of the art. The plague also says “ a life time of caring, loyalty and service to the community and university, we remember them with love, 1983.” Apparently, the sisters Agnes and Ester contributed service and care. According to PLU’s website:

“This metal sculpture is named in honor of Agnes Hougen Stuen (1883-1982), a teacher and the wife of a professor, Ole Stuen. Esther Hougen Davis (1896-1979) was a bookkeeper at PLU during the 1930′s and 1940′s, the sculpture was commissioned and paid for by George Davis, a PLU regent and son of Esther Davis.” (Art Around Campus)

During the sisters’ stay at PLU, services were surely contributed. Agnes even exhibited care during her time at PLU. According to Robert A.L. Moetvedt library Scandinavian immigrant Experience Collection Archives and Special Collections Department: “Agnes lived at the school, where she taught English and spelling to foreign students, in addition to looking after 50-70 girls”. Nevertheless, both Agnes Hougen Stuen and Ester Hougen Davis demonstrated exactly the type of person the university describes in its mission. They put themselves in the everyday world and demonstrated virtues to their community. They cared and served. Not only that, but also the fact that this plaque provides us with information of the sculpture corresponds with inquiry. In another words, sojourners on PLU’s campus can easily have access to what a university intend its students do. Furthermore, the commemoration of the two sisters reinforces the mission statement by honoring what the two sisters have done. The statue tells us a story about who we are and what we believe in.

Realistically, people choose to live in a community where they can display their identities. As a small community in a larger community, PLU has stretched their services to Parkland, Washington, where the campus is located. This is where inquiry, service, leadership and care can be brought to the community.

Aside from the public arts on campus, a signature art not far from campus, the Parkland Mural, echoes with and reinforces the values of PLU as well. Located across from the North Pacific Coffee Company, the Parkland mural is a piece that was created by collaborations between students from PLU, volunteers from local high schools and local business owners. The eight letters that compose “Parkland” in the mural depict the natural surrounding of Parkland, the people living in Parkland and the culture of Parkland. Painted inside the frame of letter L, mountain along with deer and grassland are included. Letter P, R and K each signify the people living in Parkland and the culture of Parkland. For instance, letter P has a choir group sing displayed; Letter R is a cowboy riding on a horse next to industrious area; Letter K has both a African American child flying a paper- folded kite and a children of different skin color play with water together.

In the Parkland Community Mural Project video where an interview with PLU Art Department Chair Jp Avila was conducted, he says: “The mural both physically and symbolically represent a centerpiece of Parkland”. With PLU being a famous community in Parkland and the mural celebrating the culture of Parkland, the Parkland Mural is indeed a centerpiece of Parkland. Although his comment on the Parkland Community Mural was on point, he didn’t actually participate much in the process of creating the Parkland Mural. Created by the hands of PLU students and other community members, PLU’s mission statement is reinforced and echoed.

On my way from the Parkland Mural to PLU main campus, I was so satisfied by the arts of the community I live in. Having inquired about them makes me feel that I am an appealing Lute who definitely is echoing the mission of the university. By volunteering to guide high school juniors and in order to for them to have a sense of what we believe in and how we are behaving, I am demonstrating caring, serving and leadership. I am defining my identity of a Lute, which echoes with PLU’s mission statement: “PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care-for other people, for their communities, and for the earth.” PLU public arts are not passive objects but also vivid exhibitions that assert an argument. Every day I walk by them and am constantly reminded by what they are meant for. This should be viewed as the best of public art.

by Laura Wang
All photos by Laura Wang