hulett jones said on April 19, 2010 at 5:54 p.m. i am unable to attend the forum on wednesday.
as an alum of this fine university, i must say i am appalled by how this whole thing came about and how it has been handled since. the graduate student assembly has voted to keep the cactus as currently managed. the undergraduate student government followed suit unanimously. the faculty would have except for a shill being thrown into the mix. the austin community clearly wants it to remain as is. there is a growing global community that wants it to remain as is. and i have joined a growing number of alumni who have vowed to no longer donate to the university if you change the cactus. this includes the KUT ridiculous proposal.
in a time when people are becoming more and more distrustful of those who have been placed in power to represent them, this whole thing is a debacle. enormous institutions NEED places like the cactus. they NEED small places/organizations that have a distinct personality. if you put a committee in here to oversee this, if you put KUT (which is also undergoing a debacle of change), certainly if you put ARAMARK in here (or any other third party business), you are essentially ruining the personality of this great university.
i worked at the cactus cafe for several years while a student at UT. lately, i have been trying to determine what i learned from working there. so many lessons, but perhaps the deepest was that i learned how to listen. i learned to listen to customers...the raggedly dressed person on the other side of the bar often turned out to be an elected official of an eastern european nation, or an expert on quantum physics. then the more obvious lesson in listening. the cactus is a listening room, after all. i learned how to connect with music, musicians, the people in the room, and with myself, in a way that i have rarely been able to find anywhere else. these lessons in listening taught me something very important... i am not the center. i have something to absorb here. and that lesson is at the heart of what being a student is. the cactus and what it promotes gets to the heart at what it means to learn...the PROCESS of learning...the MINDSET it takes to learn.
keep the cactus cafe as is. if you do anything differently, you are in effect telling all students, faculty and the community at large that you do not know how to represent them. that you have not learned how to listen. some are whispering, some are shouting, but there is a chorus of everyone you represent telling you to keep this place as is.
if you don't, i, for one, will no longer donate to my own alma mater.
tiffany walker said on April 19, 2010 at 3:44 p.m. On January 30, 2010, I sat in a dark and comfortable room, peering over a pitcher of beer as gritty voice filled with gall and doubt sang out, “I used to be somebody, but now I am somebody else / Who I might be tomorrow is anybody’s guess….”
Mr. Stephen Bruton’s lyrics could have been written about the Cactus Cafe; for what started out as a campus coffeehouse was transformed into a world class listening room, and yet nobody but you knows what fate lies ahead for this venerable venue.
Those lines did not open a show at the Cactus Cafe, however, but rather the movie Crazy Heart, and I first heard them at the Alamo Drafthouse as I watched the tale of Bad Blake play out on the silver screen. Walking out of theater, as our eyes struggled to adjust to the late afternoon sun, a friend and I were hit with news that was much more difficult to adjust to: the Cactus Cafe was closing.
My immediate reaction was a mixture of dismay and disbelief, as if I’d been told a dear friend of many years was suddenly dying of a terrible disease. It was awful, and it just didn’t make sense. I went to Todd Snider’s show at the Texas Union Ballroom that night, and when I saw the worried face of one of the Cactus bartenders, I knew that the news was true. Rumors were flying as I left the Texas Union hungry for answers as to why the University, from which I earned two degrees, would even consider closing the Cactus Cafe. My late night Google searches lead me to the “Save the Cactus Cafe” Facebook group. When I joined the group in the wee hours of Sunday morning, the newly formed group had nearly 50 members. By 1:45 Sunday afternoon, there were more than 1,000, and by the following Saturday, more than 20,000 individuals had joined the effort to “Save the Cactus Cafe.”
As details regarding the decision to close the Cactus came to light, my initial sadness and disbelief turned to anger and frustration. How could the decisions of a handful of University employees destroy one of the true gems of the UT campus? Even worse was the apparent attempt to pass the decision off to the students.
My frustration has only intensified with the University’s subsequent recommendations to “repurpose” the Cactus. For despite the outpouring of support from the Cactus community, it seems that you all still don’t quite understand. You set up the Cactus conversations under the auspices of seeking input from the community, and have proceeded to arrogantly and blatantly ignore what the community is saying. Nearly 25,000 individuals did not sign up to save a Cactus Cafe that is run by students, run by a radio station, or run by a third party vendor. The outpouring of love and support from students and alumni alike is for the Cactus Cafe that existed on January 29 and that exists today.
The Cactus Cafe is a treasure, and the University should promote and protect it, not attempt to compromise or kill it. There are few, if any, live music venues in the world can match the storied past of the Cactus Cafe. Consistent operation and management, strict attention to detail and adherence to the artistic vision of the Cactus’ management and staff is what made the Cactus an iconic venue. As a result of the Cactus’ history and reputation, it attracts music legends like Guy Clark, Richard Thompson and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, as well as the stars of today and tomorrow. Ryan Bingham is just one recent example of “what starts at the Cactus changes the world.” Several years ago, Ryan caught the eye of Kim Buie of Lost Highway records when he opened for Joe Ely at the Cactus. The moment he walked off stage, Kim gave him his first big record deal, and this year he won an Academy Award for his song “The Weary Kind”. Who knows which new artists playing the Cactus stage today will become the legends of tomorrow?
Furthermore, years of quality Cactus programming have cultivated a literate and sophisticated audience. Songwriters live to play venues like the Cactus, and connoisseurs of live music prefer to see artists play the Cactus over any other venue in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Perhaps more importantly, because the Cactus is housed on the University of Texas campus, it exposes students to the great songwriters and musicians of today and tomorrow, providing them with a world-class education in live music. In short, today’s Cactus fits perfectly within the University’s spirit of excellence, standing beside winning athletic programs and world-class libraries and museums and promoting a more enlightened society. Loyal Cactus patrons will accept nothing less, and it is for this reason that the University should build upon the Cactus of today.
The University proffered two justifications for closing the Cactus Cafe: (1) a lack of student involvement, and (2) the financial losses sustained by the Cactus in recent years. None of the three options currently under consideration for “saving” the Cactus both address these concerns while saving the Cactus Cafe’s “fundamental character”, heritage and tradition of excellence. In fact, two options compromise today’s Cactus Cafe so severely that future generations will be left with nothing more than a bastardized remnant that is the Cactus Cafe in name only.
I realize that the solution isn’t easy. However, building on the current model is an excellent basis for meeting the University’s needs while addressing the concerns of loyal Cactus supporters. First, encourage the SEC to work with current management to book shows that students want. Second, add a student internship program to give students the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and experience of the professionals that have made the Cactus an iconic institution. Finally, establish a nonprofit funding mechanism to enable the leagues of loyal Cactus supporters to provide financial support. Saving today’s Cactus Cafe is the only way to ensure that the necessary financial support will be forthcoming.
Doctor Gonzalez, you hold the fate of a rare gem in your hands. The Cactus is truly an irreplaceable institution. If it is killed or compromised, it cannot be resurrected. It will live only in the hearts and memories of the artists who played there and the patrons who came to listen over the past 30 years. The Cactus’ history, heritage and reputation are worth saving. Rather than tear it apart, build upon the foundation that was so carefully constructed so that today’s Cactus can continue to cultivate artists, educate audiences, and bring recognition and respect to the great University of Texas. I beg of you, save the Cactus Cafe of today for the Longhorns of tomorrow.