Northrop summer concerts get the ax

After 56 years, the University of Minnesota is hitting the mute button on the free concert series on Northrop Plaza.

Northrop summer concerts get the ax

Miranda Taylor

 The free concert series on Northrop Plaza was created to make campus livelier during the summer, but after 56 years, the University of Minnesota is hitting the mute button.

Next year, the series will operate with a budget 25 percent smaller than this year’s $75,000 allocation of student fees. In 2012, the series is set to receive no funding at all.

Wednesday’s noon performance by The May North is the last free concert of the summer for the Northrop concert series season.

The “free” summer concerts at Northrop cost every fees-paying student enrolled in summer classes a little less than $12 under the category of Summer Cultural Programs, said Michelle Koker, director of Summer Session, which is one of the two University departments that oversee summer concerts at Northrop.

Concerts are supported solely by student services fees, while food and other donations are funded by businesses such as Jimmy John’s and Qdoba.

Kenny Kapphahn, chairman of the Student Services Fees Committee — the group of students that decides which programs around campus student fees should fund — said in an e-mail that “the committee was especially concerned in knowing what percentage of concert attendees were fees-paying students.”

Because that information was unavailable, the fees committee originally proposed to eliminate all funding despite the concert series’ request for $75,000 in 2011 and $77,500 in 2012.

That proposal was later transformed into a funding cut in 2011 and zero funding in 2012.

Koker said the cuts could mean “fewer concerts or … holding off on replacing tents or other equipment that probably should be replaced.”

Early next year, the concert series will have a second chance to prove its raison d’être when Summer Cultural Programs goes back before a new Student Services Fees Committee to submit an off-year
funding request for 2012.

The series will have to provide evidence that students believe the concerts at Northrop are a good use of their money.

In order to accumulate that proof, surveys are being distributed on Northrop Plaza during concerts, students are canvassing for support, signatures are being collected on a petition and more than 180 people have joined a “Save Summer Concerts at Northrop!” Facebook page.

Summer concert series organizers have also experimented with show times.

“This year we’ve had five total concerts on Friday nights,” said Cari Hatcher, director of marketing and publicity at Northrop.

Added to the series’ standard lunch-hour concerts, the evening performances have been a success, said Melissa Wray, a fifth-year University student and intern with the summer concert series.

From a rough head-count by the house manager during shows, “[evening concerts] have been about 90 percent students,” Wray said.

Afternoon shows, on the other hand, “can vary anywhere from 10 percent to 30 or 40 percent [students],” Wray said. “It depends who’s playing.”

Four University students at Monday’s noon showing of CarolZ and Friends noted the lack of students present at the day’s event.

One of these students, Jessica Oster, a global studies senior who is paying fees this summer, expressed a love for the summer concerts at Northrop, but pointed out that “If it is for students, then no, I don’t think it’s serving its purpose.”

“There’s not usually a ton of students, to be honest,” she added.

The need for better advertising and more college-student-friendly music were also concerns of Oster’s.

Wilson Santiago, a graduate student at Monday’s noon showing is not paying student service fees this summer. He felt that the concert series would be well worth its price tag if he were to pay student service fees.

“It’s a nice break in-between looking at the computer screen and reading articles,” Santiago said.

And that’s exactly the type of feedback both Northrop and Summer Session are looking for.

“Whether good or bad, if a student wants to let us know that they think this is a ridiculous way for their money to be spent, we need that information,” said Koker.