The Student’s Association sponsored a Town Hall Meeting entitled “For UR Entertainment” in the Gowen Room on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The topic was University Entertainment, and the speakers included Melissia Schmidt, Assistant Director of Student Activity Programs Melissia Schmidt, Administrative Chairperson of CAB Steven Bloch and President of UR concerts Nicole Schaeffer.

They discussed the difficulties they have faced and successes they have had in organizing concerts and other events on campus and fielded questions and possible ideas from the audience. The main problems that were brought up had to do with money, size of the student population and available space.

The Student Association gives money to all the clubs, and UR Concerts and CAB have two of the biggest budgets. They take those funds and allocate them to a few different events each year. CAB sponsors a cheaper comedian in the fall and the spring, ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They spend a much larger amount, anywhere from $60,000 to $150,000, on a comedian for Meliora weekend.

UR Concerts hosts a few events each year. The biggest one takes place in the fall and ranges in price from $20,000 to $60,000. The limited amount of funds prevents the groups from even considering some of the more famous acts that students desire.

However, the process of finding artists and comedians is not as easy as simply paying them off. The venues that are available on campus are very small compared to other campuses.

When someone suggested building larger venues, Schmidt pointed out that the small student body does not merit a large arena or building. The Palestra and Strong Auditorium can hold a good amount of students, but even a full crowd is nowhere near the numbers that other schools can hold.

As neither venue is especially equipped for a concert, the club can end up spending as much as $20,000 extra on a stage, sound and band accommodations. Besides, many artists will not play smaller campuses such as this one – for example, Dane Cook refuses to perform in a location containing less than 5,000 seats.

Many audience members suggested different venues for events, such as the athletic fields or off-campus arenas. The panel was ready with reasons that these venues are either impractical or impossible to book.

In past years, concerts have been held in the Eastman Theater or in conjunction with Rochester Institute of Technology. However, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has priority at the Eastman Theater, and their busy schedule often conflicts with potential events. Besides, Schmidt pointed out, students don’t want to walk.

The theater at RIT holds 8,000 people, more than twice as many as any UR venue. Joint sponsorships are always an option, but they prove difficult because of transportation and logistics.

“We have to be creative as to what we can do to help student life and boost community on campus while avoiding inconvenience,” Schmidt said.

Bloch explained that CAB has been working in conjunction with a number of groups on campus, but neither CAB nor UR Concerts wants to be associated with the administration.

CAB has recently been bringing speakers to campus – they are relatively inexpensive, and they have a broad appeal. By the end of this year the speakers will have included B.D. Wong, Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s and Helen Thomas.

These speakers were co-sponsored with other groups, which allows for a larger budget and a way to serve everyone’s interests. Schmidt pointed out that UR is very different from other campuses in that it has a number of independent student organizations that handle entertainment. Other campuses have one large umbrella organization that covers films, concerts and other events. UR contains 212 clubs total – more than that of Cornell.

When someone suggested that CAB and UR Concerts ask the administration for more funds, the panel insisted that doing so would result in a loss of control over basic decisions. The three speakers all agreed that that is the last thing that those groups want to happen.

“We lose a lot of control,” Schmidt said. “The SA government is separate from the administration and so are the other SA groups. You’re taking your hand off the wheel if you go to the administration.”

The panel spoke about how they decide which artists students would be interested in. The process for choosing a fall concert begins in April with a booth in Wilson Commons where students can fill out surveys. CAB and UR Concerts use polls, Facebook statistics, information from other college’s concerts and any other source they can think of. However, in the end the decision comes down to the members of the groups.

“It’s impractical to poll the entire campus for every event,” Bloch said.

Besides, noted Schmidt, the Wilson Common booths rarely attract more than 10% of the students on campus. The process can end as late as August, or the groups can get lucky and find a good match right away. Schmidt insisted that the hardest part of the process is finding available artists.

“Availability is everything,” Schmidt said. “If I’m shown a list of 50 bands, I would be thrilled if I could get one off of that list.”

When questioned as to how CAB got Lewis Black to campus, Bloch said that those had been “perfect circumstances.” He stressed that finding an available, affordable artist and venue at the same time is extremely difficult.

All three members of the panel stressed how important word of mouth and student involvement is in the process of finding artists. Bloch said that if a student finds an event he is interested in, he should spread the word.

“Be energetic,” he said. “Find other people who want to do it.”

Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.



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