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Throwing parties on campus requires time, money

From the classy and elegant Nasher Noir gala to the festive Springternational carnival held annually on the Main West Quadrangle, students have partied all over campus this year.

But to throw the on-campus party of the year takes a fresh idea, a great deal of dedication to the project and deep pockets, said several organizers of this year's big events.

Seniors Rachel Weeks and Haley Hoffman, organizers of DukePlays: The Party!, said coming up with the idea for the event was the easy part.

"[We tried] to think of the library as a place of history-repositioning it not just as a place of work, but as a place of play," Weeks said. "[We wanted to] draw attention to the breadth of play that defines our social lives at Duke."

A few conversations with Ilene Nelson, director of communications for Duke University Libraries, was the inspiration for the well-attended soiree held in the stacks of Perkins and Bostock Libraries and the von der Heyden Pavilion, Weeks said.

"It took about two and a half really intense months [to plan]," she added. "It was pretty much my full-time job."

Weeks and Hoffman had to pitch their idea to a plethora of groups to solicit donations, eventually obtaining the support of 30 sponsoring organizations, each contributing anywhere from $25 to $5,000.

"We initially thought that the libraries would fund it, but that ended up not being the case," Weeks said. "The hardest part was the fact that we were not a student organization."

Weeks declined to give an exact figure for the cost of the party, but she said DukePlays operated on a "Nasher-like budget," with the party's exhibition alone costing $10,000.

Although DukePlays was able to use the library space for free, a handful of on-campus venues charge a rental fee.

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens is offered at a discounted price of $700 for Duke-affiliated groups for six hours, and the Nasher Museum of Art charges $1,000 for the same period of time.

Student organizations must pay for all expenses with their own funds, said Deborah Hackney, a senior program coordinator for the Office of Student Activities and Facilities.

The bulk of the costs of such parties, however, comes from additional event necessities, including catering, equipment, security, entertainment and decor.

Although the organizers of Springternational were able to use the West Campus Plaza and the Main West Quad for free, they had to pay for performers, vendors and equipment, which brought the event's total price tag to approximately $15,000, said sophomore Charisma Nelson, co-organizer of the event and chair of the Duke University Union special events committee.

The majority of Nasher Noir's $14,000 budget last fall was spent on catering and security, The Chronicle reported in November.

In addition to the costs, some students said it was difficult to find the perfect date and location to host events.

"[Planning the event] was the only thing I did this past semester," said senior Meng Gao, special projects coordinator for the Union, which hosted Duke Royale-a cocktail party in the Gardens. "Picking a date was the hardest part for me because there are so many things going on at the same time."

Once students secure a location and finalize a budget, they must choose from a selection of University-approved contractors to provide the necessary services for the event, Hackney said.

Although many of the on-campus events have been very successful this year, some students said they prefer hosting parties off campus.

Venues such as George's Garage have no rental fee but charge a cover at the door for attendees instead, said sophomore James Holcombe, social chair of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

When Holcombe tried to obtain the necessary equipment for a barbeque on Crowell Quadrangle, he said he was shuffled back and forth between OSAF and Residential Life and Housing Services.

"It's actually easier to throw something at George's than something on campus," he said "All the real work it takes is advertising."

Nevertheless, organizers of large, on-campus social events emphasized the need for the on-campus parties to unite the student body.

"Events like Springternational are important because it's necessary for students to have a space where they can be heard and where they can be seen," Nelson said. "It allows us to form a sense of community."


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