Soraya Giaccardi, a junior at the University of Texas, was studying for a nutrition test on a recent morning in a quiet corner of the student union a few steps from the Cactus Cafe, a music venue and bar. Asked what she thought of the university's plan to close the 31 -year-old landmark, which has jump-started the careers of many singer-songwriters, she replied:
"I've never been to the Cactus. Actually, I've never really heard of any of my friends going there."
UT officials say that more than 85 percent of Cactus patrons are not UT students, and they say that figured strongly in their decision to close the Cactus at a time of belt-tightening. But it's far from clear how the Cactus will be reconfigured, or whether and how any of its traditional fare will be incorporated.
One proposal getting serious consideration from top university officials calls for creating a new student committee to oversee programming at a "repurposed" Cactus Cafe. The emphasis would be on student performances, including live music, spoken-word acts and comedy.
Although the proposal also calls for "preserving and expanding upon the illustrious 30-year history" of the cafe, it stops short of recommending continuation of the traditional offerings. The proposal was developed by the Texas Union's Student Events Center executive cabinet, which includes 15 students who lead various committees that line up film screenings, distinguished speakers, entertainment and other events.
The Texas Union's board, a student-dominated panel that advises top university officials, is scheduled to consider the proposal Friday .
"This really amounts to destroying the Cactus Cafe," said Reid Nelson, a lawyer in Austin and a leader of Friends of the Cactus Cafe, a group that wants to preserve the cafe in its current format, with professional rather than student managers.
Nelson's group has outlined a plan that would give students a wider role in running the cafe and performing there, while also ramping up fundraising in an effort to stanch red ink that UT officials cited as a primary reason for phasing out the venue. In addition, a fledgling student organization, Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe, has called for keeping the Cactus as a music venue under current managers.
Also on the table is an offer by the Ex-Students' Association, also known as the Texas Exes, to explore the possibility of incorporating the cafe into a planned expansion of the alumni center on campus.
"At this point, our offer is still on the table, and the administration has kept us in the loop on various proposals under consideration," said Jim Boon, executive director of the Exes. "It is our hope that the Texas Union will develop a plan to keep the Cactus open in its current location, but under more student control."
Juan Gonz?lez, UT's vice president for student affairs, whose portfolio includes the Texas Union, said he expects a robust discussion of various proposals at Friday's meeting but not necessarily a recommendation by the advisory board. He said it's likely that the board will want additional analysis.
But Gonz?lez said the executive cabinet's proposal carries considerable weight because the cabinet is charged with providing such input. In a UT blog posting, he said the cabinet's plan would "preserve traditional Cactus Cafe programming," with an opportunity for such fare "during time frames when most students are not using the space," such as winter and spring breaks and the summer semester.
Andrew Nash, president of the executive cabinet and a theater and dance major at UT, said any such programming would be up to university administrators.
"We're simply providing an opportunity for students to use the space for whatever they want to do with it," Nash said. "The Student Events Center has no specific plans for community use or traditional use, because we don't think it's our role to determine that."
The Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe contends that the executive cabinet's plan lacks sufficient student input and would effectively close the cafe. The group has developed a draft proposal that would retain the current operation while adding paid student internships, a student artists-in-residence program and community fundraising. The group plans a rally Friday on the West Mall.
Meanwhile, the community-based friends' group is collecting donations and signatures.
"We have set a symbolic goal of raising $66,000 — the purported shortfall that the Cactus Cafe currently operates under — and we want to raise $6,600 of that before this Friday's Texas Union board meeting," said Wiley Koepp, a leader of the Friends of the Cactus Cafe.