NORMAN — The question has been raised whether an aquatic center somehow constitutes a cultural center. Although the more thorough response would be to ask, in turn, what features create a cultural center, this short treatise will simply focus on answering the immediate question from first principles.
Culture is an abstract concept with very broad connotations, so that one man’s culture is another man’s boring ennui. But predominant in the broad context of culture is an appreciation that mankind is loosely grouped into collections of people who share some set of cultural values.
There is no set rule as to the precise makeup of those values, nor whether every single person within a group must share every single value. Rather, the more profound notion is that citizens can come together over shared values and exchange other value-oriented thoughts and ideas.
Thus, a cultural center can be thought of as a venue where citizens can gather and exchange thoughts and ideas related to their own personal perception of culture. This type of exchange is the fundamental premise of true diversity: the diversity of thought.
While most citizens in Norman and in the central part of the U.S. have a moderately similar cultural outlook, we are certainly not all carbon copies of each other. However, on a cool, fall afternoon when the Sooners play football in Norman, 83,000 fans with very diverse political, religious and artistic interests — a broad range of ages, a melting pot of clothing styles — all come together to cheer on the home team.
During Game Day, people who have never met exchange greetings, perhaps discuss college football and, more importantly, discuss other interests or passions. They may discuss art, music, guns, politics, education or other sports. Does the fact that the venue is a football game preclude it from being a cultural event? No.
In the same way, an aquatic facility — with the proper equipment for a broad array of patrons — is very much a cultural center. People needing water-based physical rehabilitation gather due to that common need and exchange ideas, thoughts and information on a variety of subjects unrelated to their rehabilitation. Parents watching their children in swim lessons or swim practice may visit over a coffee and review the school band concert, the drama show or their involvement in some community-related charity or program.
Youths who might otherwise be indulging in unproductive activities are developing friendships with other kids from different ethnic, socio-economic or other backgrounds. And while the initial purpose for arriving at the facility might be oriented toward athletic endeavors in the water, the byproduct of such a center is certainly cultural in the most profound sense of the word.
Culture is not, and should not be, limited in scope to a preconceived notion of what venue is required for culture to “occur.” Culture occurs when people gather for any number of reasons. Museums are a fine example of what culture brings us, but they are not the definition of culture by any means. Culture can be found at a knife and gun show, the county fair, a musical at the theater, a football game or at an aquatic center.
While an aquatic center is not the only venue where cultural exchange can occur, it provides a broad base that also accomplishes a number of community goals. It provides a venue for cultural exchange. It provides a much-needed facility for the health needs of patients, elderly people and the youth of our city. A properly conceived and executed facility would provide an opportunity for people with minimal interest in water sports and activities a chance to visit with friends and expand one’s horizons.
In closing, it would be a mistake to conflate the idea that swimming is an athletic activity with the idea that all athletic activities constitute competitive sports. Culture incorporates the exchange of ideas and values across the spectrum of daily life. Cultural exchange in a cosmopolitan community such as Norman occurs wherever citizens gather together. An aquatic facility provides an excellent venue for cultural intercourse among the citizenry, broadening each individual’s understanding of the diverse cultures represented here and, in turn, making Norman a premier community, which outsiders find a desirable place to live and Normanites find enhances their quality of life.
John Dyer is a resident of Norman.