Smile Politely

An important vote for university students begins today

Do you reaffirm the continuation of the $17.28 student fee per each fall and spring semester to support programming at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, which provides multiple free events and a minimum $5.00 discount to U of I students on performance tickets? (text of 2013 Student Ballot)

In 2000, I was in a long distance relationship with my then-partner (now husband). We were ready to move in together, and were trying to decide where we wanted to live. I was pushing heavily for the east coast. I didn’t know exactly where yet, but I kept repeating the same mantra: north of Virginia and east of Ohio. In that area somewhere. I favored Massachusetts, actually. Or maybe D.C.

My spouse, who is from Oakwood, Illinois, was pushing for Champaign-Urbana. All I knew about C-U is that one of the editors of Volume II of my Norton Anthology of English Literature taught at the university. But second only to the Deep South of places I did not want to live was the Midwest. So to convince me that I’d be happy in Champaign-Urbana, he would occasionally send me links and articles about the culture here: speakers that had come through; the local music scene; the University Library (this is before remote storage gutted the place, you understand); the Urbana Free Library; Bogarts (alas, Bogarts); Babbitt’s Books (alas, alas); and, finally, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

The university library opened my mind to the possibility of moving here. Krannert Center decided it for me. I wanted to move to a place where there was no lack of culture of all kinds, and I wanted it to be high-quality. But more importantly, it had to be affordable. Obviously, Krannert Center isn’t alone in providing culture to C-U’s citizens, but it is a major leader. It sets the standard. It’s one of the top reasons I moved here, and it’s the reason (among many) that I’ve never regretted my decision.

After I moved to C-U, I decided to attend library school at the university. Those were lean days for my spouse and me, but even then, because of the Krannert Center’s amazing discounts for students, we could afford to see every show we wanted. While a student, I attended numerous events (too many to list here, but Kaki King – rawr!) — plays, concerts, speakers, symphonies, dance — all made possible because Krannert Center is not just affordable for the average audience; the student discounts that I took advantage of made it a steal.

So last week, when I learned that the Krannert Center student fee was actually up for a vote, I panicked. The fee is up for a vote? How? Why? We all know that the democratic process is fraught with peril and can sometimes lead to disaster. So, I decided to write about it, because if there is any small way that I can help, if there is any small way that I can persuade students on the necessity of this fee, I want to do it. Seriously, it’s not hyperbole to say that the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts makes Champaign-Urbana, and all of Champaign County, a better place in which to live.

And KCPA isn’t resting on its well-deserved laurels either. The Krannert Center Ambassadors, students working as liaisons between KCPA and university students, have organized Push 4 Art in order to inform university students about the wealth of culture, education, opportunities, and savings that they receive throughout the year from KCPA, and to also remind them to vote (and inform them how).

Smile Politely contacted the Krannert Center Ambassadors and asked for an interview, and on Sunday I found myself sitting at a table with friendly, enthusiastic, and extremely well-spoken students (that’s what the arts will get you).

Krannert Center Ambassadors: Alison Rhoades, Josh Brickman, Charles Miericke, Linda Remaker, and Hridi Kamal (not pictured: Student Adviser, Anni Poppen)


Smile Politely: I’ve only just recently learned about your group, the Krannert Center Ambassadors. Can you explain to our readers what you actually do?

Josh Brickman: It was founded two years ago, as an extension of the original volunteer program. We had the Krannert Center Student Association, but it was an idea to move beyond just student involvement in a volunteer sense, and help them realize that there’s not only the dance, the theatre, the music majors. There are employees who work in Intermezzo; there are people behind the scenes working in patron services. Everyone who comes to see a show, volunteers for a show, all those levels of involvement.

So we thought, why don’t we just promote a full 360 degree Krannert Center involvement? Say to them, ‘Come in the door and then find out which path is for you.’ We could reach out and be the ambassadors for Krannert Center.

Charles Miericke: We’re basically a student marketing group for the Krannert Center, where we work on student engagement, trying to get them to engage on all levels. So, not just students or employees, but all of us are trying to get together and enjoy what happens here because it’s such a great thing to have as a university student.

Hridi Kamal: I’m a new member, and when Anni [Poppen] recruited me a few weeks ago, she was telling me that people come into Krannert Center and they don’t really know what’s going on, so as an ambassador, I think it’s extremely important — especially right now where I am — to just simply get the word out to other students, campus, students in FAA, and any college really about what’s going on at Krannert Center, what’s going on with the students, with the programs, and how they can be more involved, whether it means coming to a show, just seeing what’s happening, or actually working with us and volunteering.

SP: It’s good that you’re letting students know that there are other opportunities to be involved with the Krannert Center outside of performing. They may think that their only options have to do with performing the events themselves: acting, playing an instrument, making costumes. But that’s not the case.

Kamal: Right.

SP: How often does this vote take place?

Brickman: This is a new … in prior years, I think it was 1992 or 1998 — I don’t remember the exact year — but they decided to put the collective fees up for an annual vote, and students could just walk in and re-fund them. Then, in order to group those costs and spend the money a little more wisely, they put them all together, and they were able to knock a few dollars off each one. And in that process, they made them nonrefundable. But in order to allow them to be nonrefundable, every four years, students have to reaffirm each specific fee. We’re in the trial process in this program. We just happen to be first on the docket.

SP: So the next vote won’t be for another four years?

Brickman: Right. The following year, it’ll be another…

Miericke: It’s rotating.

SP: Do the students also vote on their athletic fees?

Brickman: Not to our knowledge.

Miericke: We vote on things attached to that. So right now, on the referendum is an increase, or a new $25 fee, for the Assembly Hall. So we’re voting on that. But, as far as the existing fee, it’s not something that we vote on, because once it’s already in, unless it’s grouped into this section of fees that are every four years … I’ve only been here for three, so I don’t know. It may come up next year; I’m not sure. But this is the first time I’ve seen this rotation.

SP: So this is the first time the students will be voting for this?

Miericke: For the Krannert Center student fee? Yes, except for 1992, when they instituted the fee.

SP: Is there any danger that this won’t pass?

Kamal: To be honest, I don’t think so.

Miericke: Well, there’s always a danger it won’t pass. But, we’re pretty confident that…

Brickman: There are enough students on campus that, even if they haven’t engaged in events at Krannert Center, know what it is and they think it’s a valuable resource.

Miericke: Right.

SP: Do you have a contingency plan if it doesn’t?

Miericke: That’s not necessarily our…

Group: [laughter]

Kamal: We’d curl up in a fetal position and cry.

Miericke: That’s pretty close.

SP: Just through discounted tickets alone, as far as the fee goes, students make it back tenfold.

Anni Poppen: But we’re lucky if students even know that we’re here.

SP: How many students attend events at Krannert Center? And I mean aside from the drama and music majors. Is there a large student audience outside of performance arts majors?

Miericke: There was some research done that took a five-year average over the last five years, and they discovered that there were, per year, 14,000 student tickets purchased each year, making up 33 percent…

Poppen: Twenty-five percent for one and thirty-three percent for the other — paid events versus free.

Miericke: Twenty-five percent for free events, thirty-three percent for paid. And the student fee also helps promote the free events.

SP: Do you have any information on which of these ticket sales were voluntary versus those tickets that are class assignments, such English majors having to attend, say, Shakespeare plays?

Kamal: I think that, aside from all the people who are in the college of Fine Arts and do these things regularly, there are plenty of other students — whether or not they’re associated with any of the arts — who do have art backgrounds, and they care a lot about it, and they’re quite a large population. So those are the people who are coming to these shows and inviting other people to them. But, there is still a very large population that doesn’t even know that Krannert Center offers $10 student tickets.

Poppen: And that’s the larger population. We’ve got lots of students coming here, which is fantastic, but we’re not reaching everybody.

Miericke: In fact, we’re not reaching about 60–70 percent of them.

Poppen: I find it hilarious, but I think it’s even considered an inconvenience to get over here, which could be only a block away, but it’s in a different direction than they’re comfortable with. We’re up against a lot.

SP: But … the Green [MTD bus] goes right by it, about a block from Illinois St.

Miericke: The Green, the 22, the Teal, the Silver … it’s not hard to get to.

SP: That 6070 percent is a high number, but it’s not all on you. People who live here for years even one year and don’t know about this place? That’s on them too.

Poppen: There is so much white noise as a student because they’re being bombarded with everything. So our goal as ambassadors is to make it stand out from the rest. And I think that was a missing piece previously. Krannert Center does amazing marketing; everybody on the team does really great work, but there’s something unique about students speaking to students, and the thought process behind how we market to those students.

SP: My next question speaks to this topic of marketing and also demographics. There seems to be a misconception about who the Krannert Center is for and who its audience is. Even Smile Politely’s readers and writers have, to my chagrin, made jokes about ‘the olds’ who attend shows here. As student ambassadors, what is your response to the myth that Krannert Center is only for the gray hairs.

Kamal: Krannert Center, being a performing arts center and partnering with the school, prides itself on preserving tradition, but also in driving culture forward, learning new things from other people, and sharing it with everyone that they possibly can. So, if you’re attending a performance of Brahms and you see forty elderly people and just a few students who are there for the sheer joy of it, I really wouldn’t be surprised, but then what kind of audience would you expect at a modern dance performance? Mainly younger. But, I think it’s great that Krannert Center has something for everyone, and it’s not just the old arts that are appealing.

SP: I think the old arts should be appealing to younger audiences too, but…

Miericke: I just read a study not too long ago that was published in 2012, and it was mainly a study about Chicago, but it talked about the trends of the performing arts and who’s going to see what. And it was something like forty percent of the entire Chicago audience base was age forty and under, and made less than $60,000 a year. So, it’s not just that Champaign-Urbana attracts the blue-haired crowd. Everybody thinks that everywhere in the country, those are the people who go out and enjoy the arts. But that study does a great thing of actually saying, no, there are plenty of younger individuals coming to these events, and they’re not all millionaires either. The arts aren’t just for the rich.

SP: That’s another misconception, especially when it comes to the students. That it’s too expensive.

Miericke: That’s the great thing about the student fee; it promotes student activity in the center.

Brickman: It breaks away the barriers of entry and actually says, ‘This is your avenue; we’ve just made the path easier; we’ve paved it for you.’

Miericke: Krannert Center offers over 100 free events a year. The student fee, when it was originally initiated, was supposed to provide at least a $5 discount on tickets. And if you look at it right now, you’re getting up to a $43 discount on tickets. That’s a great return on investment, in my opinion.

Poppen: It think that what’s frustrating for us about the student fee also, is that as students come in, it’s our responsibility to expose them to the arts, and have a way of being able to diversify their normal boundaries or give them global awareness. And to take funding away from something that they don’t understand, will remove that balance. They might ask, ‘Why would we fund something if we don’t go to it?’ Our answer is, ‘But you’re funding something that we’re exposing you to in order to make you more of a global citizen.’

That kind of delicate dance that goes between the two is so important and so hard to articulate to a group of students who might not even know this building is here.

Kamal: I think that’s part of our job as ambassadors: to kind of dispel the myth that the arts are a highbrow, elitist group of people who are untouchable to the students. We can speak to them on their level and said say, ‘Hey, there are a lot of cool things here for you, and you should try them out because you’ll grow as a person because of it.’

As Anni said earlier, students are bombarded with so many different messages from all over the place, and I think something like the ambassadors creates an environment of unity. We can send one, clean, clear message to the students saying, ‘Come here; look at this; we have a lot of options for you,’ rather than from all different venues, saying ‘come see this one show.’ So it’s easier for us to reach out to them. And it’s going in a really good direction. I think that Push 4 Art is going to be extremely effective.


Voting to reaffirm the student fee to support programming at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts began today at midnight, and continues until tomorrow, March 6 at 11:59 p.m. All information for voting can be found here, or at the Krannert Center Ambassadors’ Facebook page (linked above).

So, students, please approve this pittance of a fee. It’s less than $35 a year. It’ll make you a better person. And it’ll make your world (indeed, everybody’s world) a better place. And once you’ve paid that fee, make the money back by taking advantage of those discounted tickets. The KCPA has something for everyone.

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