Saturday, January 30, 2010

UT Cuts the Cactus Cafe

In a classic weekend news dump reminiscent of Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre," UT's Texas Union Board of Directors announced that it is shutting down both the Cactus Cafe and Informal Classes program in August due to budget cuts.

The Cactus is a nationally renowned listening room that helped launch and sustain the careers of everyone from Lyle Lovett to Townes Van Zandt to Peter Case. The venue's reputation is due in large part to manager Griff Luneburg, who has run the place for almost 30 years. Clubs open and close, but you can't replace a room like the Cactus.

Although the Cactus is primarily known for presenting singer/songwriters, my pal Jonathan Toubin once somehow convinced Griff to book our old band Cheezus there on a Saturday night in 1991. We wore turtlenecks, drew black Sharpie goatees on our faces and made as much contrarian racket as we could. I thought it was pretty cool that Griff made room for an obnoxious, unpracticed punk band on his stage. I don't even think he complained about all the thrown cheese products.

Losing the Informal Classes program will also be a major blow. If it wasn't for their cost-effective adult education offerings, I wouldn't know how to half-ass my way through Adobe InDesign or a Texas Two-Step.

UT says the Cactus and Informal Classes had not been self-sufficient in recent years. Moreover, neither entity drew large numbers of UT students. According to Texas Union executive director Andy Smith, cutting the Cactus Cafe and Informal Classes will save about $122,000 annually.

Virtually every UT student forks over a fee to the Texas Union every semester, so I can understand why the board would want to make sure that budget cuts - which are a reality at all state agencies right now - don't impact the union's core functions for enrolled students.

Even so, shuttering these two venerable institutions will likely prove to be one of UT's historic blunders. It's a short-term budgetary bandage that will have a long tail in the form of more alums not giving and more Austinites not having any connection whatsoever with the burnt orange monolith in their midst.


Amanda said...

I didn't even go to UT and this makes me sad. I had a list of informal classes I wanted to attend at some point, and one of my first Austin shows was the Sirens in Boots performance at the Cactus. Sad... and stupid.

codex24 said...

Perhaps its too little, too late, but I am now enrolling my first offering in years. Perhaps if more Austinites did so, the programs would be "self-sufficient" and stay around.