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Thalden Pavilion dedicated at SOU

Dedicated to “outrageous innovation in sustainability and the arts,” Southern Oregon University’s sweeping, daring, angular Thalden Pavilion got its official launch Friday before a celebratory crowd of about 300 invited guests.

Speakers highlighted the fact that the circular teaching stage — also good for arts, drama, music, dance, weddings, events and parties — is a stunning monument, like nothing else on campus or perhaps in the whole city.

Ashland philanthropists Barry and Kathryn Thalden inspired and funded it and, in the beginning, so he told the audience, Kathryn told architect Chris Brown, “make it more soaring.” In the future, he added, the edifice will be the anchor for the school’s Center for Sustainability and serve as the entrance to SOU’s “north campus.”

It looms bravely with three giant timber triangles interwoven by sailcloth triangles and marked with a seeming exclamation point at the north — a pair of vertical cedar “teaching panels” carved by Russell Beebe, which convey respect for all species and warn against over-consuming resources.

Expanding on the pavilion’s theme of sustainability, Barry Thalden said, “Make no mistake about it. Sustainability is not about saving the planet for the future. It’s about whether human beings will be part of that future.”

Speakers underlined the idea that the pavilion’s birth signifies a new direction for SOU, as President Linda Schott notes, “preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist,” which will require a lot more knowledge and technology skills, but also “nurturing of human skills, creativity, communication, cultural understanding and ethical decision-making that set humans apart from the technology they produce.”

The pavilion, she adds, lives up to SOU’s strategic planning around sustainability by being “outrageous” and “audacious” as well as “coloring outside the lines.”

“The word ‘audacious’ led to a lot of discussion in the past year of our planning for a sustainable future,” she said. “Audacity means the knowledge and capacity to set a confident course and the bravery to carry it out.”

Thalden notes that mandatory public education in the U.S. got its start in the Industrial Revolution when, instead of being taught to think, students were told to “sit down, shut up and follow directions,” but “That is no longer relevant in a world where we need young people to stand up, speak out and lead us in new directions.”

Playing on the pavilion’s stated goal of “outrageous innovation,” Kathryn Thalden said it’s about “reaching deep in yourself to find all the passion, joy and love and bring it out to share with the world, because the world is waiting for us to show up.”

The pavilion sits on Walker Avenue next to SOU’s Sustainability Garden, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, Ashland Middle School and John Muir School. It is surrounded by an arc of other schools — Walker Elementary, Ashland High School and SOU — all of which will have access to it for teaching.

The Thaldens and SOU see the pavilion as a facility at The Farm that will bring together the university, local schools, the city, the business community and local theaters for various events and opportunities, according to an SOU statement.

Barry Thalden is a retired architect and Kathryn is a landscape architect and Unity minister. They are benefactors of the downtown flower baskets and murals at Ashland Emergency Food Bank, Guanajuato Way and in Ashland’s sister city of Guanajuato, Mexico.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.