Cries of “what the actual fuck?!” could be heard all over campus last week as news spread of this year’s new five-dollar Dancing Bear admission fee. Or at least that’s what I heard from my room as my roommates and I tried to imagine a justification for such a brazen act of highway robbery.
Many have speculated as to the reason for the new admission fee. Some suggested the organizers were putting the money toward a taxidermic bear outfitted with a complex animatronic system that would move its limbs and hips to replicate dancing. A more common rumour pegged the toll as a way for organizers to cushion their spending in light of the SRC’s overdrawn recreation budget. Others thought that the money would go towards getting a more expensive (read: better) headliner.
None of these projections prepared me for the explanation I received from Dancing Bear organizer James Blumhagen. “The fee was designed to increase student accountability,” said Blumhagen. He explained that the fee was imposed on the organizers by Student Affairs and Executive to address issues of drunkenness and misbehaviour observed in previous years at what is meant to be an event for the greater Squamish community, not just an end-of-year celebration for Quest students.
Blumhagen assured me that the money collected from the fee would be allocated toward student safety measures (increased security and hired emergency medical services) and infrastructure for the Community Market (30 vendors, 3 food trucks, busking stage, etc.). He maintained that the SRC-funded budget covered all other expenses before this fee, and that the income from student-tickets was supplementary. Blumhagen also said that the increase in price to $10 per ticket two weeks before the event is purely a marketing strategy.
A five-dollar fee to increase student accountability? But isn’t the event already being funded by the $100 student association fees that every student pays with tuition? And exactly how does this additional money make us more accountable?
“The basic way that the fee increases accountability is it forces students to think about their entry to Dancing Bear on a more obvious monetary scale,” Blumhagen explained. “By paying for entrance to Dancing Bear, you are now more aware of the fact that you are paying for the event.”
This answer, though technically true, did not satisfy me. So I went to speak with Manager of Student Leadership Programs, Adrienne Dalla-Longa, who has been mentoring the Dancing Bear organizers.
Dalla-Longa said that the possibility of an entry or re-entry fee was brought up at the end of last year as a possible way of addressing concerns related to excessive drinking and students going back to their dorms to drink more during the event. However, she stressed that the implementation of the fee was not a Student Affairs directive. “In terms of the five-dollar fee, that is something you’d have to speak with the event organizers about,” she said. “I don’t want it to be perceived that it is something the university is imposing.”
So if the university isn’t imposing the fee on the organizers, and the only reason the organizers are imposing the fee is because they think it’s being imposed on them by the university, we can just get rid of it, right?
The only compelling suggestion I’ve heard for the fee is the need to address the extremely low volunteer turnout for clean-up and take-down of last year’s event. “Last year [event coordinators Jessie O’Sullivan and Jason Ames] essentially cleaned up the entire space,” said Dalla-Longa. Since our interview, Blumhagen has posted on the Quest Students Facebook page saying that 40-50 volunteer spaces have been opened for students who “have issues with paying $5 for a ticket” to help clean up after the event in exchange for a reimbursement.
Aside from the fact that there is clearly some major communication block between the organizers and the school administration, the question of how this fee is meant to increase accountability remains a mystery. Granted, the fee will make 40-50 students accountable for cleaning up. But what about the binge drinking? Is the fee trying to put a dent in our booze budgets? Is the increased security going to be escorting students to and from the event space to monitor consumption? Doesn’t an entry fee create a sense of entitlement more so than ownership? When does the stuffed bear get here and what kind of moves will it have? Question it all, folks. Question everything.