In agony without an ‘Agora’

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

If you attended the inauguration of President Thomas Hibbs and stood on those creaking bleachers that sounded as if they were going to collapse any second, you’ve felt it. 

If you have ever stood in the doorway or crammed in for a talk that multiple professors had encouraged their students to go to for extra credit and been unable to find a seat, you’ve felt it. 

If you have ever been unable to register for a large General Biology or Psychology class because there weren’t enough seats in the classroom and have had to submit a written plea to just sit on the floor for class, you’ve felt it.

You’ve felt the lack of space, the lack of room, the lack of somewhere to sit down and participate in the community.  

You’ve felt the lack of an ‘agora.’ 

In ancient Greece, at the heart of every city-state, there was an agora, an open common space where the people could gather, a center for the artistic, spiritual and political to take place and unify the whole city. The agora was a place where everyone could fit in, find a seat and come together for the serious, the silly and the soul forming. 

But, UD doesn’t have one. 

In the days of its youth, the University had the 350 seats of Lynch Auditorium, a place with good acoustics, ample seating and most important, a versatile space where dances, talks, political discussions, auctions, orientations and so much more could be held. After Lynch was torn down in 2016 and replaced by Cardinal Farrell Hall, we find ourselves hurting from the lack of a multipurpose and raw space where we can come together. 

As far back as 2017, there were plans to create a new building to fill that gap, when  former President Thomas W. Keefe said, “In 2018, we will break ground on an auditorium/arts center to replace Lynch Auditorium.” 

This week, in an interview, Provost Jonathan Sanford explained that the University has not forgotten these plans, but said planning and fundraising are still in progress.  

There is hope, says Sanford, “that the new lecture hall could double as a venue for performances for our growing music program. This would be a place both for the university to gather for larger talks and performances, as well as to engage with the local community.” 

However, there remains much more planning to do. As it stands, all the administration has right now is hope to one day build a gathering place for UD’s little polis

But hope might be enough. This space would be fantastically useful as a place to hold our greatest occasions like masses, inaugurations and  smaller moments like guest speakers, large science classes, common exams, Student Government meetings, alumni get-togethers … the list is endless. 

Of all the departments in the university that would benefit from the construction of a new lecture hall, none would more than the Drama department.

Stefan Novinski, an associate professor in the Drama department and an ongoing member in the talks on the construction of a new performing hall, notes that “[w]e have iconic buildings on campus dedicated to all the areas of pursuit that we believe in, except an auditorium. And I would love to have an auditorium with a theater in it, dedicated to drama.”

The Drama department has particularly felt the pinch this year when trying to work around the ongoing decay of the Margaret Jonsson Theater. This opportunity for the construction of a new 500-seat space could be a godsend and a chance for the administration to solve two problems at once. 

“Obviously we need a new place for learning and gathering… but, connected to that, we could make a theater used by the drama department, used to perform,” Novinski said. 

“If we were to build a performing arts hall, I would want a connected theater with a wonderful uniqueness similar to the Margaret Jonsson theater,” said Novinski. 

But so far this is all speculation, as it remains to be seen if any of these dreams for a new common agora will ever come to fruition.  Hopefully, with new fundraisers, a growing student population and a college of independent thinkers who value free-thinking, we can build a space large enough so that everyone can be invited to participate more fully in the polis that is this university.

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