The Bren, Now and Then: UCI’s Event Center Should Bring Back Student-Focused Entertainment

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As UCI’s main events venue, the Donald Bren Events Center holds hundreds of events each year ranging from basketball games to cheer competitions and occasionally a concert. Conceived in 1981 and completed in 1987, the Bren Center was meant to serve students and host events that appeal to their tastes. However, in recent years, the number of student-friendly concerts have declined, making the Bren Center just another venue instead a convenient location for student-centric events.

Maintenance of the Bren Center is the result of a student referendum passed in winter 1987, which required $23 per student, per quarter. The center itself was named after Donald Bren, the chairman of the Irvine Company, who donated $1.5 million to the construction of the building the following year. This venue was created and partially paid for by students, yet it does not cater to what students want. There is currently no opportunity for students to request what kind of events they wish to be held on campus. This is reflected in the Bren’s lack of shows geared toward college crowds and generally expensive tickets out of most students’ budgets. While the Bren can be rented out for private use, it is a part of our campus and should remember its primary purpose: to serve students.

Hosting the UCI Anteaters athletics program is not enough to increase student engagement at the Bren Center. While the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the men’s volleyball team play their home games at the Bren Center, it also houses numerous non-sports events. Of course, having a place for our teams to play at home is important, but the Bren Center is no stranger to larger events. Concerts, fairs, conventions and even Broadway shows have passed through the Bren in the past. In 1999, the famous Californian rock band Blink-182 headlined a sold out show at the Bren. In the 2000s, artists like The Killers, Sublime, The Used, Relient K, John Legend, Taking Back Sunday, Death Cab for Cutie, Rise Against, AFI, Kelly Clarkson, Bob Dylan and many, many more had shows at the Bren Center. Even though the now-closed Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre was the largest venue in Orange County, artists were still coming to the Bren Center to perform because college students are the best crowds performers could ask for.

Artists of all genres played at the Bren Center, but sadly, that hasn’t been true in recent years. The last well-known artists to perform at the Bren Center in the past six years were Morrissey last year and Sheryl Crow earlier in 2017. While Morrissey did play two nights at the Bren, the venue was mostly filled with an older crowd and very few students were able to attend because tickets were pricey and sold out too fast. Similarly, Sheryl Crow’s concert was a charity benefit for UCI’s cancer research and despite the 20 percent discount given to students, ticket prices were still very high.

This is not to say that every event at the Bren Center has to be for students. In 2007, President Jimmy Carter spoke during his book promotion, and in 2012, President Bill Clinton spoke at a campaign rally for local Democratic candidates. In 2011, Compass Bible Church rented the Bren Center for its Easter Service. That kind of exposure is wonderful for the school and pulls in much-needed revenue, but in recent years, these non-student-centric events have dominated the space, and it doesn’t even feel like the Bren Center is a part of the campus anymore. No one is asking what events students want there. It’s a beautiful venue that should bring students what they want to see. Personally, I would love to see more music concerts, especially because there are few large local venues and going to either San Diego or Los Angeles is a hassle. Students would love the opportunity to see the sort of high-profile artists that frequented the Bren years ago, and UCI, as well as ASUCI, should make a larger push to attract such artists to perform.

The Bren can’t necessarily lower prices of tickets, but offering more student discounts, like the one offered for the Sheryl Crow concert, is a great way for students to feel like the Bren Center is part of their campus. Proactively asking students what events they’d like to see will generate a new appreciation for the Bren, and for the campus as a whole. As such a large venue in such a great location, the Bren should be a selling point for UCI, and bringing higher-profile events to the venue will make it just that.

Caitlin Antonios is a third-year English and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at cfantoni@uci.edu.

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