Issues



September, 2013 Issue

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9 online articles from this issue. Next


Wake Forest

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Situated just northwest of the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University is a small, private university originally founded in 1834 and was located in the town that bears it's name. Wake Forest relocated to its present location in 1956. the school consists of a school of arts and science as well as a school of Business, and offers 40 majors and 57 minors.

Student Union at Wake Forest is the primary campus-wide programming board. Kathy Arnett is the Director, who sits down with us to talk about the programs there, along with student leaders Aubrey Peterson, President, Annie Eggleston, VP of Marketing, Cameron Flayer, VP of Membership, Emily Biddle, VP of Administration and Lucas Swenson, VP of Finance, all of whom comprise the entirety of the executive board of Student Union.

Cameron explains a little bit more about the size and structure of SU. "The board in general has two advisors, Kathy being one and Tiffany Hassler, the assistant director. We have the five member exec board and additionally 12 programming chairs, who sit on the board. they are the ones who lead the committees and really plan all of our events."

The committees are paired into six groups of two. "Two programming board chairs are paired into six committees and each one has between 20-30 people. There are probably about 120 committee members involved in the SU total. The committees include Attractions, Coffeehouse, Homecoming, Family Weekend, Campus Traditions, Special Events, Lectures, Short Courses, Films, Springfest, Tuesday Trivia and Social Media.

With only about 7,500 students, 4,500 of which are undergrads, that is a pretty healthy level of participation for an activities board. "We plan over 200 programs a year," Cameron says, "and that's happened since Kathy came on board about 10 years ago. prior to her arrival there were only between 50-60 events per year, but now there are so many more. There is a little bit of competition between program board chairs, we all want to plan as many events as possible and try to outdo each other (laughs)."

Unlike many universities, the budget for su is not solely derived from a student activities fee embedded in tuitions. "We get money from the university each year," Lucas says. "We have a revenue level we must reach each year, if that makes sense. so, we get a certain allocation, but we also must generate a certain amount of revenue, which we do through ticketed events mostly. We also have the opportunity to apply on an event by event basis to the student activities Board, which does come from the fees included in tuitions."

Like most campuses, there are certain genres of entertainment that work better than others, and in all time slots throughout the week. "We have found a few genres that consistently work very well," Annie says. "Late night programming and weekend programming always do well, and we maintain good attendance during weekly programming as well. We have Tuesday Trivia every week at 8PM, as well as weekly films shown on campus. Those are free for students and are always new releases, for example this weekend we had "The Hangover Part III." So they are films that are current and interesting to the student population. We also have comedy clubs and open mic nights, which tends to be very popular. We really have a broad range of programs that we do."

Many campuses seem to find a particular entertainer that works well, so they'll have them back on an annual basis for a guaranteed hit. Not so at WFU. "We have campus traditions, we actually have a Campus Traditions Chair, and she plans 'Awake All Night' which takes place once a semester, which is a night from 10PM-2AM in our student center and is filled to the brim with fun novelties, games and food, which are all free. That and our 'Lighting Up The Quad' in December are what we consider our campus traditions. As far as artists though, we don't have anyone that is recurring. We have had some really great people that we have brought in the past that have gone on to great success, but generally we keep up a steady rotation rather than falling back on the same artists in consecutive years." Artists may cringe at the thought of not having any possibility of the coveted re-booking, but the SU likes to keep things fresh.

One particular joy of working in the world of campus booking is the ability to say "We had them when..." WFU has it's own share of feathers in their cap. "We have had some great people in the past that were not so famous at the time we booked them but have gone on to great success, like Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Dave Matthews Band, etc. Last year we had a concert called 'WAKEstock' and it featured Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, Natalie Stovall and Black Girls Band perform. We are really excited, in a couple of weeks we are bringing Brett Eldredge to campus, who is a rising country star. We booked him before we got big and now he has a number 1 hit on iTunes, which means we were able to grab him for a lot less of our budget than we would if we wanted to book the same show now. That's a good feeling, and makes us look great to our administration, not only because it was a smart play, but because it will be very well attended, and the ticketed revenue compared to the amount invested will be a very good ratio."

When it comes to what types of music work well, there's a pretty even mix, but the board doesn't attempt to force their own preferences onto the student population, or turn it into a guessing game. "We try to send out student surveys at the beginning and end of the year to gauge what the population is interested in," Emily says. "In years past we have had a lot of interest in hip-hop and country has been a growing area of interest. We try to avoid bringing in anything we know the campus isn't buzzing about." Having to derive revenue off of ticket sales makes catering to their market an important part of concert promotion, just as in the "real world." Many of these events are open to the public, as having an audience of only 5,000 undergrads would make major concerts a fairly unsustainable model. "We tend to keep them strictly student based, unless it is someone really big that we know the public would be drawn to," Aubrey says. "For instance last year we hosted Frank Warren of PostSecret fame. We know he has a very large cult following, so we opened that to the public. The ticket prices for the general audience is usually slightly increased over what student pay, just so they know it's made to cater to them and they have first priority. They can get earlier sales and better seating as well."

Venue space, like on most campuses, can be a constant challenge when programming at WFU. "We don't have a venue space large enough to accommodate our entire student body if we have to go inside," Kathy says. "If we sell to the public, it's going to be an outdoor show. We do have a coliseum, but it's a bus trip away, not right on our campus. It's also something that increases the overhead costs of putting on an event considerably."

While they are limited in very large sized venues, WFU does have a variety of programming spaces for their other events where capacity is not such an issue. "We really try to utilize all of the venues that our campus offers," Annie says. "We have two quads that we use for outdoor spaces, one is our lower quad, which has a really nice permanent stage already built in. We use that for our coffeehouse events, and we also have an indoor sports bar style place called Shorty's, which is a really great venue for the indoor coffeehouse shows, late night open mics and Tuesday Trivia. There is a stage in there as well and it is always packed with students who are eating there anyway as part of their meal plan. We also have Wait Chapel, which seats 2300 people, which is our biggest indoor venue on campus, where we host some of our concerts like Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles and O.A.R. Davis Field and Manchester Plaza are our outdoor concert venues and can accommodate up to 4000 guests. We also have a new space on campus called The Barn that is just three years old, which holds about 650 people. It is a very flexible space we have used as a comedy club, for away football game viewing parties and this year we are doing a Haunted Barn event, where our Film Chair will show a scary movie around Halloween."

WFU is a great example of a campus with a very sound business model and a wide range of events, teaching the students that are a part of its student union the skills they will need to plan and program professionally if that's the career path they choose. For more information on WFu and su, contact Kathy Arnett at arnettkc@wfu.edu or (336) 758-5228.