About one month ago, Student Association (SA) Vice President of Programming Anthony Lino and NORML/SSDP President Marc Pottak anticipated that up to 4,000 students would attend a May concert featuring the rapper Nas, to be hosted by Pottak’s organization, SA Productions and sponsored by dozens of other groups. Now the pair said they are dismayed to learn that only 1,500 may see the artist, since this is the capacity of the location named for the event: Elting Gym.
“That’s less than the size of the freshmen class,” Pottak said. “We wanted more students to benefit from this kind of event.”
After security concerns were raised and discussed by administrators and other officials, student organizers are now collecting signatures for a petition to have the event held on Old Main Quad instead of Elting Gym.
Lino said SA Productions members decided to collaborate with NORML/SSDP for Rock Against Racism because the idea behind of their yearly outdoor event supported those promoted by Nas, an artist SA Productions pursued to bring to the campus last semester.
“The artist speaks of social issues that promote critical thinking and progressive thinking and unifying concepts and themes,” he said. “So it made logical sense to merge the two to provide a more progressive event where we get the most participation we can from students.”
The event is being paid for through funding provided for the organizations. In the 2010-2011 budget, SA Productions was granted an $80,000 line item fund, and NORML/SSDP was approved for $20,000. Lino said this year’s concert headliner cost approximately $50,000.
Pottak said organizers and sponsors from 80 different student organizations had planned to hold the “large-scale” event on Old Main Quad, where Rock Against Racism has been held in the past. He said Director of Student Activities and Union Services Mike Patterson – who said the idea to hold the concert outdoors was presented in the “late fall semester” – did discuss the event or it’s location with other administrators until last month.
This was when Lino and Pottak said Vice President of Student Affairs L. David Rooney, University Police Chief Ray Bryant and other officials expressed concerns they had about who they deemed to be a major artist performing outside.
According to Patterson, the college has not hosted major artist events outdoors. He said when major artists are coming to campus, the school has set a standard to put those artists in indoor facilities.
“Major entertainers tend to draw major crowds. Managing a significant crowd outdoors becomes very difficult because the boundaries of the event are limitless,” he said. “Being able to protect and secure an event of that magnitude can be impossible.”
Bryant said controlling what goes on at the concert was the main concern of security personnel, and that the indoor venue would allow for police to better mange the event.
Advance ticketing for the free event will allow security personnel to know how many people are in the venue, Bryant said.
“We need to have security for individuals entering the venue,” he said. “We have multiple concerns about controlling individuals and what outsiders are coming in.”
Bryant said approximately five officers will be on hand at the concert, if not more. An outside security agency will also be hired, according to Patterson. Procedures will include checking of photo identification, wanding and pat downs of attendees, restrictions of backpacks, weapons, bottles and more. the University Police chief said these processes have been carried out at all concerts on campus in the past.
But Lino and Pottak feel that Bryant’s and other officials’ concerns about safety should not deter them from considering the permission of an outdoor event, saying they cited examples and researched successful events held at other schools in meetings with administrators.
“It came down to the fact that even though we had solutions to all of their little problems, the list kept going,” Pottak said. “Every time we had a solution there was another red flag and they were just afraid of the number of red flags they had.”
Another concern of officials was in regards to costs, and how an outdoor event would increase expenses.
Patterson said the SA insurance provider also said they would not insure an major concert held outdoors. SA would have needed to purchase a separate insurance coverage for the single event which could cost up to $10,000.
“With the added security requirements that would have been required, I believe that the hosting groups would have run out of funds to support the event,” he said.
Lino said organizers have recognized these concerns and have tried to have discourse about the location of the event.
Organizers said they felt officials should keep the message of the event in mind when making venue decisions in spite of their fears.
“This is about all unity,” he said. “Isolating and separating the event would be counterproductive to having a progressive event that will be beneficial to all people.”
Pottak and Lino are currently seeking to schedule a meeting with Interim President Donald Christian to present their petition and appeal to have the concert held outside.
Pottak, who said over 500 signatures have already been collected for the petition, will continue to table with others and make students aware of the situation surrounding the concert’s location.
“The idea behind this is really just to motivate students. Administrators and bureaucrats in general aren’t generally impressed with petitions,” he said. “This is just a motivating tool for getting people involved and caring about this event.
As of press time, Nas will be performing in Elting Gym while what Patterson called “traditional Rock Against Racism programming” will take place on Old Main Quad.