A close look inside RUPA
The Rutgers?University Programming Association discloses its operating budget
While it may seem like buying a burger at a student center is just lunch, a percentage of the expense goes toward the generated revenue of University Student Life — a source that provides funding for the Rutgers University Programming Association.
This generated revenue comprises any money generated by student centers or Student Life, including food caterings from a vendor in a University student center or a room reservation, said Adam Helgeson, RUPA president.
RUPA receives $535,000 from Student Life-generated revenue, a baseline budget set by Student Life’s executive director, directors and business office, said Carey Loch, associate director for Programs in Student Life.
“That’s the bulk of our budget,” she said. “Then we have $150,000 of money that comes from [the Rutgers University Student Assembly] allocations. That typically was the $150,000 that went toward Rutgersfest.”
Kerri Willson, director of Student Involvement, said $38 from the campus fee charged on term bills each semester goes to RUSA allocations.
Off the top of the $38, $3.25 is directly allocated for special programming, Willson said. Historically, special programming included Rutgersfest, and non-RUPA events like Rutgers Day and Dance Marathon.
RUPA continues to get the $150,000 that was allocated for Rutgersfest, despite former University president Richard L. McCormick canceling the annual campus music festival in 2011, Willson said.
Loch said RUSA continued to designate that money to RUPA with the understanding that it would be spent on two large comedy shows and two large concerts a year.
She said the larger events are typically a State Theatre comedy show and concert, and a comedy show and concert held in the College Avenue Gym.
“We typically kind of say $75,000 goes to the Comedy and Movies [Committee] and $75,000 goes to the Concerts and Coffeehouses [Committee], and they put it toward the overall cost of those,” she said in reference to the RUSA-allocated funds. “They spend a lot more than that on large events like that.”
RUPA faces a challenge each year because of limited venue options on campus, Loch said. The largest audience a RUPA event can hold is about 1,800 people in the State Theatre.
Venues are limited to the theater and the gym because only those have the proper acoustics for a concert, she said.
Bringing big name artists like Jay-Z to campus could attract thousands of students to the event, but RUPA does not have a venue large enough to sell the amount of tickets needed to compensate for a program that would cost a few million dollars, she said.
“We don’t want to charge so much that you wouldn’t want to come,” she said. “To bring that large of an artist, you would have to have such high ticket sales for the limited number of seats we have in our venues here,” she said.
Loch said living in the tri-state area gives students the ability to see those artists in New York City or Philadelphia, and pay less than if RUPA brought a high-profile artist to campus.
She said it would cost less for students to see a well-known artist in New York City because they would be seeing the artist at a larger venue like Madison Square Garden as opposed to the State Theatre.
“They’re selling thousands of tickets. We can only sell 1,800,” Loch said.
Loch said RUPA remains within the confines of their $685,000 budget to provide the University with about 240 programs a year.
In addition to RUSA funds, the Concerts and Coffeehouses Committee receives $150,000 from the Student Life-generated revenue, while the Comedy and Movies Committee receives $105,000, she said.
The organization prepares for most of this semester’s events in the spring and summer months, and is currently working on scheduling events for spring 2013, with most of the agenda set in November, Loch said.
RUPA will present Childish Gambino tonight at the State Theatre. Student tickets for the show range from $5 to $25, Loch said.
Childish Gambino, the stage name for actor, comedian and rapper Donald Glover, charged the organization $50,000 as an artist fee, Loch said.
“If we can get some of that money back in ticket sales, then that helps us justify spending that kind of money on an artist like that,” she said.
In addition to paying for the artist, RUPA also pays for the sound equipment, security, staging and food, she said.
RUPA also looks for entertainment that is not always mainstream because of budgetary limitations, she said.
Through putting a larger percentage of the budget toward comedy shows and concerts, RUPA aims to charge students as little as possible to come to an event, keeping in mind that State Theatre tickets cost more because it is not a University venue and also charges ticket fees, Loch said.
“We never make enough money [from the shows] to not have spent above what we make, so it subsidizes the cost essentially — the ticket fees do,” she said. “Students typically have to pay for events where the fee to bring an artist is such that we couldn’t afford it without some sort of revenue.”
Bringing comedian Aziz Ansari to the University cost $65,000 in artist fees, she said, an example of a show that sold out but charged for tickets to help cover some of the costs.
Loch said when doing cost amortization, RUPA tries to pick a percentage of sales that they would want to sell out.
“It’s just hard sometimes to pick the right artists because of the limitations we have on venue and what we can spend,” she said.
Reaching out to an artist’s agent, seeing the artist’s availability and contracting make up the framework to book an artist, Loch said.
RUPA also does a minimum of three reference checks with local Universities to see how an artist performed and how much students paid for the event.
“We compare ourselves from a programming standpoint a lot with places like Ohio State and Penn State,” she said, whose campus events contrast with the University’s because the schools have larger budgets.
Because of the University’s location, Loch said it opens doors for RUPA to capitalize on the fact that some artists or lecturers they want to bring are in the New York and Philadelphia area.
Loch said knowing where an artist is geographically when trying to book them is beneficial for negotiating purposes.
RUPA works with Concertideas.com, a college talent buyer and booking agency, to get a sense of how much it costs to bring an artist to campus and negotiate prices.
“Negotiation isn’t just the cost,” she said. “It’s also travel, it’s also the flexibility of their schedule, how many dates they can give us to choose from. It’s definitely a puzzle, for these larger events — there’s a lot of things you can negotiate beyond price.”
RUPA will present Bo Burnham for the Homecoming comedy show next month, “The Onion,” after Election Day and based off student surveys, RUPA is looking for an electronic artist for the spring, Loch said.
HOW RUPA WORKS
RUPA is in its fifth year of programming events, said Helgeson, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
When the University’s colleges merged, RUPA was formed to program events for all five campuses instead of each campus having its own programming committee as it was in years past, he said.
RUPA is made up of 32 members split into six committees: arts and culture, comedy and movies, concerts and coffeehouses, human resources, marketing and public relations, operating and tradition and community, Helgeson said.
The arts and culture committee hosts craft events, informative and educational lecturers — like last year’s zombie lecture — and cultural events, he said.
The human resources committee focuses on internal aspects like recruitment, training and branding, Helgeson said.
The traditions and community committee deals with traditional University events, like the bed races, he said.
The comedy and movies committee hosts movie screenings on campus and comedy shows, while the concert and coffeehouses committee programs larger concerts on campus, he said.
The marketing and public relations committee comes up with ad campaigns to spread word about RUPA events, he said.
Each committee proposes a budget and researches the cost for various proposed programming events, and a discussion between the RUPA executive board and advisers takes place before deciding how the Student Life funding of $535,000 is distributed, Loch said.
The arts and culture committee receives $75,000; comedy and movies receives $105,000; concerts and coffeehouses receives $150,000; human resources receives $44,000; marketing receives $40,000; operations receives $31,000; public relations receives $10,000; and traditions and community receives $80,000, she said.
Although there are six committees, the money is divided into eight parts, Loch said. The operations portion is not for programming purposes, but executive training and office purposes.
RUPA offers students many free events, Loch said. Members of RUPA do not expect for students to like all the events RUPA hosts, but hope they can find something that interests them during the year.
The organization reaches out to students through Facebook and Twitter, but also seeks student requests for artists and feedback about events, Helgeson said.
Ariel Herrera, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, said she thinks RUPA should bring bigger artists to the University.
“I think they should make it more mainstream because this school is so huge,” she said. “You can’t please everyone, [so] you might as well focus on what everyone has a liking of.”
But Albert Ibrahim, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the organization should mix it up when hosting concerts.
“There’s a lot more genres out there,” he said. “Rock is something you don’t hear anymore. Honestly, bring that back.”
While RUPA programs multiple events each year, they also work with other student organizations to co-sponsor events, Helgeson said.
RUPA does not allocate money to student organizations looking for funding, but does sign on as a co-sponsor with other student organizations. This means the association sometimes gives funds to another group after the executive board reviews an online application request, Loch said.
“Once RUPA signs on to be co-sponsor, they’re all in,” she said. “They’re going to be at the event, they’re going to help the program ... beyond just giving them a certain amount of money that they may have asked for, because they’re committed to the programming piece of it.”
Helgeson said RUPA is still trying to figure out the logistics of providing balanced programs throughout the campuses.
“We don’t want to under-represent the students at Cook [campus], where the venues are not necessarily what we could hold a concert at,” he said. “Busch [campus] is a better place for lectures than it would be for an arts and crafts event but [we also want to host] an arts and craft event [on] Busch.”