This essay was published in The Wisconsin State Journal on June 25, 2011 as:
Of Egos, Rome and the Overture Center.
A link to The Wisconsin State Journal page: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/column/article_cc17b176-6592-5326-87a0-27a0790d46f2.html
The Egos of Time and Place: Rome and the Overture Center
Rome is a small settlement built along the south bank of the Owyhee River in Malheur County, Oregon. U.S. Highway 95 runs through it on its way south between I-84 in western Idaho and I-80 in northern Nevada. Rome is a beautiful place. The Crooked Creek Range and the Steens Mountains rise to the west of it and the Mahoganies are seen to the north from the bench that rises directly above the hamlet from the north bank of the Owyhee.
Rome is so remote that mail was once delivered there, and may still be, by single-engine aircraft, weather permitting. And it is the place where, in late April, 1866, Jean-Baptise Charbonneau suffered an accident while attempting to cross the Owyhee.
Places like Rome allow the imagination to skip back to the 1800s when the place was nothing but raw boards and hope and its founders stood on an improvised platform to pronounce that here, along this mighty river, someday in the near future, a city would grow to rival the great Rome in Italy.
Well, that didn’t quite work out for them. In this, Rome, Malheur County, Oregon is much like the Overture Center in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin. Egos ran high in the inception of each and with each those egos have come to some dust.
Of the two, I much prefer the town in Oregon. It is what it is and pretends to be nothing else. On the other hand, the Overture Center is what it is, which is a hybrid between a Trojan Horse and a white elephant, and continues to pretend that is it not.
When you’re in the Overture Center you can imagine you’re in one of the halls of Lincoln Center in New York City, population 8,175,133. Problem is, you’re not. You’re in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, population 233,209. The Overture Center was not built to match the city it is in. Rather, it appears to have been built to match the ego of W. Jerome “Jerry” Frautschi and endeavors based on a foundation like that are notorious for not quite working out as planned. The reality all too often turns out not to have matched the genesis ego, just as the present day reality of Rome, Oregon turned out not to have matched the brave pronouncements of its founding fathers. If I had to place a bet on the long-range prospects of one or the other, my money would go down on Rome and, btw, I picked the 24 to 1 winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes, Ruler on Ice.
After he was injured at what is now Rome, Oregon, Jean-Baptise Charbonneau was taken to the Inskip Stage Station in Danner, Oregon, where he died on May 16, 1866. His gravesite there is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s worth a visit if only to consider the sweep of history that surrounds you. Charbonneau was the son of Sacajawea and the two of them knew something of how the mix of ego, hope and reality can be sometimes good and, at times, not so good. Perhaps everyone involved with the decisions affecting the Overture Center should visit Rome and Danner, Oregon to come to terms with that mix. After all, nothing else seems to be working for them.