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Panuccio takes over Union reins

This is the fourth story in a five-part series profiling various student leaders this year.

Attending 17 operas over the course of four months can do things to a man.

For Duke University Union President Jesse Panuccio, those trips to the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York last spring inspired the senior to take the helm of the largest arts and entertainment programming body on campus.

The Rockaway, N.J., native took part in the Leadership and the Arts in New York program, in which students immerse themselves in organizations that produce opera, theater and other artistic endeavors. Panuccio said the experience was eye-opening in the lessons he learned about leadership in the arts, especially in the face of struggle.

"The city got back on its legs [while we were there], and it was really interesting because the art scene in particular was affected by [Sept. 11]," Panuccio said. "Philanthropic giving went way down, and a lot of companies had to stop their programming. We got to watch an industry struggle to maintain its integrity during a time that support was going to be down, so I learned a lot about leadership there."

Luckily for Panuccio, the Union--which consists of 10 individual committees, such as Cable 13, WXDU, Freewater Productions, On Stage and Major Attractions--is on much steadier ground.

Under former president Brady Beecham's leadership, the Union reemerged last year as a major force in programming on campus, with popular events like a campus-wide scavenger hunt and bands in Armadillo Grill. Panuccio, who served as executive vice president of the organization last year and is a former chair of Major Speakers, spent the summer on campus readying for a full plate of programming this fall.

"Jesse and Brady were a terrific team last year, and they worked so closely together that he was really groomed to step in and take over," Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said. "It's really been a seamless transition."

Moneta said Panuccio's experience in New York honed his exposure to the arts, and he should be able to bring some of that to campus.

Panuccio, a public policy major with minors in history and English, said he hopes to continue to offer more "student village"-type programming, in the wake of the declining fraternity party scene and in anticipation of Moneta's vision for the heart of West Campus.

"The nature of Duke students is changing and the college experience, and this college's experience in particular, is changing," said Panuccio, a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. "I think we need to be providing alternatives to that scene because, frankly, in just my four years, that scene is either moving off-campus or is just not providing the fun and interest that it used to."

Along with its usual programming like Broadway at Duke and Freewater Presentations, the Union is planning to bring back its more successful offerings from last year like the concerts in Armadillo and the scavenger hunt. It also hopes to bring a weekly trivia night into Armadillo, similar to those held at the James Joyce Irish Pub.

Panuccio said the constant call for "bigger names" is difficult to satisfy with Duke's relatively small student activities fee, a large portion of which funds the Union's $392,306 budget. He said that fee might need to be raised soon, in order to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of bringing in top acts, as well as technical aspects of shows.

He also urged students to discover the smaller programs that the Union produces.

"Go out there and see the John Mayer concert and other things on that level, but also go see Arlo Gutherie, and go see Rent and South Pacific as well," Panuccio said, referring to events on-tap for this year. "Go to a visual arts opening: It's free and there's free food."

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