Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Save the Cactus Cafe

An open letter to University of Texas President William Powers and The Texas Union Board of Directors:

To the Powers that Be,
It is with much concern and respect that I write to you this morning, having learned of the potential fate of the Cactus Cafe. I cannot imagine the degree of responsibility,expectation and pressure that must come with your position. I am a songwriter and a carpenter. My days are relatively simple. Spent by turns with a guitar or hammer in hand. I cannot and do not claim to know or understand the managerial inner workings and fiscal machinations of such a massive institution like the University of Texas. It must be daunting to be faced,on a daily basis, with decisions that will affect the lives of thousands of people in a myriad of ways. I do, however, know the affect that has already been had on thousands of people at the very idea of shutting down the Cactus Cafe. At this very moment, in cafes and clubs and living rooms from Austin to Amsterdam, from Tokyo to Terlingua, there are conversations and laments of concern, sadness and anger at the possibility. I do not know your personal passions or interests and I am sure that you must temper them by degree so as not to allow them to weigh in on policy and decision making regarding the interests of the University. But I would ask that each and every one of you listen deeply and consider greatly, the concerns of those who are in disagreement with this proposal. For a great wave of resistance is headed your way. The idea that a legendary venue like the Cactus would be reduced to a "budget cut" is staggering. The Cactus Cafe is one of the most respected and revered venues world wide by both audiences and performers. The table of our city and it's very image is supported by four main legs of industry. Education,government,hi tech and live music. The city is repeatedly sold to tourists around the globe as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Many believe the Cactus Cafe to be the very heart of it. I have toured for many years across this country and others and can tell you that the Cactus is a very special and unique place. What lies before you as a name on a list to be drawn through and marked off due to cut backs, is nothing short of sacred. What takes place in the space within those four walls transcends "entertainment."
There are many voicing concern over the exorbitant salaries of the coaches at UT and the extreme imbalance of finances between departments in general. I certainly can't claim to know how much of that ,if any, actually comes to play in all of this, but you must recognize the inevitable comparisons that will be made. And while I do not belittle the value and merit of the sport of football and it's provision of joy,entertainment and cultural bonding for the masses, I would call into question it's bulldozing,(whether blatantly or covertly) over the interests and passions of others, be it music,science art or history.
I realize that in the scope of hardships and tragedies that humanity has and will endure, by comparison, the loss of a musical venue is a paltry concern. But what is potentially being lost and fought for here is so much more than a piece of real estate or usable space. Broken hearts and homes have been healed through music and the sharing of the human experience through the medium, through the ages. People on the brink of stepping away from this world have been brought back to it through the power of song. Melodramatic as that may sound, it is the truth. Thousands of people through many years have been moved, comforted and recognized by a story or sentiment, sung or spoken ,with wit or sorrow, from that stage. I have been witness to that at the Cactus Cafe, both as listener and as a performer. The Cactus has been home to the exchange that happens in a darkened room full of strangers who have come together in anticipation, with all of their hopes,hurts,dreams and doubts. A shared experience through melody, word, laughter and tear. A community of spirit. The worth of that is immeasurable. For that reason alone the Cactus should be left undisturbed to remain the spiritual meeting place that it is.
So I ask you all, out of respect for the storytelling tradition, the legacy of the Cactus Cafe and the stirring of hearts and minds through song, please reconsider the proposal before you and maintain the honesty and integrity of our city slogan, "The Live Music Capital of the World."


Nathan Hamilton


lucy calhoun said...

Awesome letter! I would add that it's like cutting down an old growth redwood tree, it took lots of time to make the cactus what it is. That kind of sacredness doesn't just happen in a new place, it's not the same at all. So much of Austin has already changed, these time-earned characters of place cannot be brought back.

William said...

That was a great letter Nathan. I'm glad you wrote it.I'd like to believe that it would be read and considered by those making the decisions. As much as I try not to by cynical, I'm very saddened that we may be watching the end of a great piece of Austin.

Anonymous said...

Without providing even a reference to a valid study of why the Cactus is to be closed appears to be a biased personal decision and seems reckless and self serving to the bureaucracy’s agenda. The Cactus Café is an icon and something UT should be as proud of as the HRC. What is the world coming to when we can pay millions for sports but can’t scrounge what amounts to pocket change for the campus living room? -Cary Peele BBA 1983

Anonymous said...

E. F. Schumacher coined the phrase “the tyranny of economic calculus” which means that if an endeavor doesn’t make a profit then it can’t possibly be worth doing. Seems the Cactus Café is doomed by this short term and not uncommon thinking. Students quoted saying the Cactus doesn’t meet their needs are being myopic. They won’t be students all their lives and some day after graduating and moving to Houston or Dallas they may return to the 40 acres. The Cactus Café is a great place to reconnect with campus. If the Cactus is closed on Mr. Powers' watch he will certainly be remembered... and I doubt this type of decision will encourage thousands of alumni to donate money to the University when it cannot be trusted to protect a beloved and symbolic place that is embedded in our culture and consciousness - the Cactus Café. Mary Gordon Spence said it all, “this is the last straw.”