Transformed facility provides fine arts with new home
By Stefanie Graen
Sunlight shone upon the faces of St. Olaf students, faculty, donors and alumni on Friday afternoon as they all gathered to be part of the dedication of the new Dittmann Center.
The dedication was the first event of a weekend-long celebration that included the Companydance Spring Concert, open studios with works in progress, a senior art show opening, gallery talks and dance exhibitions by faculty and alumni.
The ceremony began with a student processional and dance that symbolized all of the arts coming together. President Christopher Thomforde offered the opening remarks, giving thanks for "a space where Gods sacred presence can be among us. . . [and] where creative expression can be released."
In his dedicatory prayer, Pastor Bruce Benson asked that God bless the work done by planners, designers, and builders.
Loren Ahles, the principal designer, told the gatherers about the welcome challenge of incorporating the hopes and dreams of the fine arts programs into a structure that would move to the edge of the St. Olaf campus.
He described the initial desire for a strong, comfortable place scaled to the creative individual, that had an "optimistic, extroverted feel" that celebrates the energy and vitality of the fine arts. He stated that it was obvious to him from the very beginning that St. Olaf cares about the Dittmann Center, as well as all buildings on campus.
The school does not want to simply create monuments, but has a respect for the people on campus that is grounded in tradition.
Tom Boldt 74, president of The Boldt Group, Inc. construction company invited everyone to touch the walls and the stone, to look in the corners and to "become part of this building" that has been a dream for the faculty members.
After the initial cutting of the ribbon, the vice-chair of the Board of Regents, Jerrol Tostrud 60, described the Dittmann Center as representing the goals of those who love St. Olaf College.
Art Department Chair Jan Shoger and Dance Department Chair Janice Roberts commented on the beauty and importance of the new building to faculty and students.
Noah Holm 02 and Stephanie Laager 02 asked students what they thought of the new space, and received a wide array of responses.
After Andy Eklund 03 and Kendra Spanjer 03 cut through the final section of the ribbon with a blowtorch, the crowd filed into the new Dittmann Center to take part in the reception, in which hors doeuvres were stationed on the three levels of the building.
Heidi Swenson 02, a participant in the student processional, commented that the dedication was "very tastefully done."
She, like most other students at St. Olaf, has been excited to use the new facilities that the Dittmann Center has to offer to everyone.
Photography Professor Meg Ojala talked about the new photography classroom and lab.
The art department was previously housed in Flaten Hall, and although it holds nostalgic value for Ojala, she is excited that the increased space has made it possible for all her students to listen to lectures far away from the fixer fumes in the darkroom.
"Ive come up out of the basement of Flaten into the bright light and air of the Dittmann Center. I think that students work is going to change in an interesting way because of the atmosphere and the new space."
In order to construct the Dittmann Center, the old St. Olaf Center, which housed the cafeteria, student congregation spaces, bookstore and post office, was gutted, leaving only the pillars and the frame.
There were many challenges in transforming the old Center into a space for the fine arts, but the results have pleased both students and faculty.
The openness of the museum gallery space allows visitors to view pieces from different areas, which allows for new viewing perspectives.
This museum gallery was previously the Fireside Lounge. Ceramic kilns now sit where the old cafeteria ovens once baked, and the old Lions Pause has been taken over by the photography lab.
Dance studios with well-designed acoustics are on the top level, with the largest studio allowing for some performances.
The Dittmann Centers namesake, Reidar Dittmann, came to St. Olaf in 1945 from Tonsberg, Norway where he was born and raised.
Dittmann joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1946, becoming a Norwegian instructor before he had even graduated.
After going back to school and realizing that art was his first love, Dittmann joined the art and art history department in 1975, after a stint as the first international studies director of the College.