More ACF Post-Mortem

Posted by: | November 23, 2007 | 13 Comments

Maayan keeps nagging me to post. I never do. Quite frankly, there’s little UBC-related stuff that can raise my ire and I’m able to comment on in a public forum. This is one such issue.

There are two universal UBC experiences. Imagine UBC, and Arts County Fair. Seriously. Think about it – is there any event, beyond those two, that impacts essentially every student at UBC (well, the Vancouver campus)? Even if you’ve never gone to ACF, you’ve still gone to a res breakfast, or hung out with friends, or taken a day off because everybody else was partying. It’s campus-wide party, on a campus with a dearth of campus-wide cohesion.

That’s why its demise is sad. Very, very sad. Sure it’s a drunken booze-up, but this one was special. It’s as essential a part of the UBC year as literally anything else.

So, who’s to blame? First, not the AUS. They’ve been soldiering on for years, swimming upstream. It’s to their credit that they created a campus-wide institution, and kept it going so long and so successfully. I place blame in three areas:

  • The University Neighbourhood Association. All those condos around T-Bird stadium, along Wesbrook Mall? Those are filled with people who complain loudly every time there’s a loud concert at T-Bird, and every time there are drunk students stumbling around. Their constant pressure has resulted in massively inflated police and security costs, and additional planning headaches. Sure, nobody wants loud, drunken people around their property, but you moved to a university campus – what were you expecting?
  • UBC Administration. Several reasons. For putting up roadblocks to the event, rather than helping to remove them. For translating the UNA concerns into pressure brought to bear on the organizers. For shoddy financial aid and admission policies (see below).
  • Students. It’s a great event. Go to it.

There has been much said about the demise of the drinking culture. I don’t believe that, per se. But I’ve long had a beer garden theory of social engagement. Beer gardens weren’t about the drinking – they were about the community. Just happened to involve sweet, delicious beer. There used to be 6-7 on any given Friday. No longer. Their demise coincides with the tuition hike, and corresponding (relative) decline in need-based financial aid. People need to work more, maybe are more likely to need a part-time job that takes away their Fridays. Maintaining your scholarship becomes more important, so people are less likely to go out and party, more likely to spend Friday working on the essay. And you’re more likely to stay at home to save money, meaning you spend your Fridays with high school friends, not on campus.

I also reserve a special bitterness for the housing lottery. Peoples’ social networks moved off-campus when housing became lottery-based and people and their friends got kicked out of housing. People were less in tune with the campus social culture, and less likely to come out. By contrast, res was filled with 18 year-olds who couldn’t even get in to (the good parts of) ACF.

What’s the solution? There are two. First, the University administration can step up. Recognize the value of ACF to the campus and help support it. I’m sure the AUS could provide a fulsome list of ways the University could help. Second, perhaps other undergrad societies could step up to the plate. AUS will have some institutional memory, other campus groups could help absorb the financial risk, and, hell, maybe the event could even be bigger and better.

My big fear is that once this event is gone, it’ll be impossible, in today’s climate, to bring it (or anything similar) back.


13 Comments so far

  1. Kevin on November 23, 2007 12:46 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more Tim….

    A great post!

  2. David on November 23, 2007 2:34 am

    It’s never coming back. In all honesty, as someone who was fairly intimately involved with it over the past few years, it’s mildly surprising it lasted as long as it did. It was really only ACF 14 that kept the last two alive, when everything came together and we had K-os right after all his Junos and Matt Good (who love him or hate him, is a big draw in Vancouver) and the most beautiful day of weather combined to actually make some money.

    UBC doesn’t support the event, and you’re completely right about your three areas of blame. There has also been a shift in the music scene that makes it much more difficult to attract the kind of mid-level bands that are required – they simply don’t exist. Bands are either WAY too big for the event, or too niche oriented.

    It’s incredibly sad that the event is over, but I think that now that it’s dead, it isn’t ever coming back. And now the UNA residents will be able to go to sleep earlier on ACF night – even though the event ended at roughly 8:30 pm, and we turned off our cleanup music at 11.

  3. Paul on November 23, 2007 6:58 am

    When you say that there is no other event, beyond Imagine and ACF, that impacts essentially every student at UBC, I think you’re forgetting Storm the Wall. But that’s just a picky detail – good post.

  4. Tim Louman-Gardiner on November 23, 2007 7:13 am

    Dave –
    I thought about Storm the Wall. But I don’t think it’s quite as iconic as ACF, and quite as mandatory as Imagine. Storm is a wonderful, great event that everybody should do. And it’s not a slag on the event to say I don’t think it’s quite up there with the other two.

    Of course that doesn’t really impact the substance of the post, since the University Blvd development isn’t exactly doing Storm any favours, either.

  5. Anonymous on November 23, 2007 4:08 pm


    Good points in here, but I’ll contest your point on the drinking culture. Whether or not Stephanie is aware of it, the National College Health Association data for UBC actually does show a considerable reduction in the extent of on-campus drinking and, in particular, binge drinking (as medically defined, which is pretty tame). However, there is a significant skew between realities of drinking and perceptions – everyone thinks everyone is guzzling beers all day. The same goes for sex – perceptions and realities totally reversed. A lot of did does come down to the things you mentioned – less financial aid = more work, and higher admission averages means less socially-oriented people. There are also, of course, major demographic factors.


  6. Anonymous on November 23, 2007 4:36 pm

    I don’t think the need based financial aid people were ever a huge percentage of the beer garden attendees. If you poke around facebook, there’s maybe 1000 people who are somewhat social at ubc events (pit, storm the wall, etc). The rest are either chinese, hippies, or are so cool that they wouldn’t be caught dead at a beer garden.

  7. m.j. on November 23, 2007 9:08 pm

    higher admission averages shouldn’t mean less partying. anyone who has been to queen’s or any of the big american campuses can vouch for this.

    i think tim is on to something when he cites the need to hold a job, though. people live in town, and they socialize in town, too. somehow, ubc events only attract a certain crowd.

  8. leigh-anne on November 24, 2007 12:53 am

    Great post! It’s such a treat to see such a well thought out commentary on the topic after seeing so many that just blamed the AUS.

  9. Stephanie Ryan on November 24, 2007 10:40 pm

    I agree with Leigh-Anne, it is really so nice to see a fair and balanced account of recent developments. However, I’m not convinced that all students who don’t go to a beer garden on a Friday night simply don’t have the time to party. The U-PASS has made it significantly easier for those students who are still willing to party on a Friday night to go downtown for a club night, instead of to a beer garden.

  10. m.j. on November 24, 2007 11:51 pm

    the u-pass also helps people go home.

    with the amount of $ that someone has to blow in order to get wasted downtown, i really don’t think the $2.25 one saves using the u-pass is the determining factor.

    can we please get some economists on this thread?

  11. Anonymous on November 25, 2007 7:46 pm

    house parties…? it’s cheaper to drink at home than going to a club or beer garden. most students are broke.

  12. Amin on November 25, 2007 8:45 pm

    Good review of the issues.

    I don’t see the University stepping up to support the event, so my guess is only the other undergrad societies could help save the event.

  13. Anonymous on November 27, 2007 1:31 pm

    i think that you made some awesome points, and ACF is DEFINITELY a huge part of UBC campus life. But please don’t blame anything on tuition hikes… kids going to college in the states are paying about $45000 a year and they still manage to party

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