A Behind-the-Scenes Look at SPA

Student tuition has many hidden facets, like a gym membership, for example.

Another included fee that makes SPA performances free is the “student activity fee,” as SPA’s current concerts chair and future president, Sammy Whitney, says.

SPA is the Student Programming Association that puts on free shows and performances, events — all with the display of a student ID.

Ever wonder how they choose the artists they do? What it’s like to be in the org?

As stated by SPA’s website, the organization’s mission is “to serve the student body by providing diverse activities, programming assistance and resources, which enhance a student’s overall co-curricular experience."

Whitney explains that SPA has multiple subdivisions in charge of different events, including: special events, Noontime, lectures, concerts and LateNight.

Other groups include marketing and logistics, according to Whitney.

“The chairs have their own budgets that they must figure out and plan out for the year. Without students volunteering to load in and load out sets for concerts, without students volunteering to pick an artist that will make fellow Penn Staters happy, SPA wouldn’t be what it is,” Whitney (junior-journalism) said. “We also try to be diverse in our pickings so that we can appeal to all students, with all different tastes.”

Whitney’s job in particular role tasked her with dividing SPA’s budget among concerts.

“My role is to help pick where and when and how many concerts we’ll have in the year,” she said. “Normally, the average is one major concert per month. Those are the ones held in Alumni Hall and Heritage Hall.”

SPA uses a democratic approach to picking an artist, with the process involving multiple layers.

According to Whitney, they focus on picking well-known and niche artists to perform.

“We have weekly meetings where we plan, budget and choose if we want to go after crowd-favorites like rap and pop artists, or if we want to do something like alternative rock or R&B,” she said.

Nikki Halloran, next year’s concert chair, says that picking an artist takes some time.

“We send out a Google form and survey where people pitch an artist. The list is narrowed down to the top 20, then to the top seven and then to two and then to one, about,” Halloran (sophomore-biology) said. “We always have a brainstorming meeting where we look at new releases of an artist, how many Spotify followers they have, their social media accounts and their live videos. Everyone’s opinion is heard.”

Dejanae Gibson just joined SPA this year and has been working on the Noontime series, where artists come to perform at the HUB almost weekly.

Gibson shared that Logic came three years ago for a major concert, but now his fan-base has more than tripled.

Halloran shared that Black Bear came once too, but now is even more famous than he was back then.

“We have a common saying here at SPA involving the fact that we pick people who will one day make it big,” Gibson (sophomore-journalism) said, laughing. “We always say ‘We make them famous’.”

SPA may be student-run, but the students also have advisors who keep them on budget and ultimately get the request over to the chosen artist.

“We take the time to pick artists we think students will really enjoy and since the concerts are free, that really gives incentive to go,” Gibson said. “We advertise in stall stories, posters around the HUB and our Facebook group. It’s our goal to provide entertainment and fun to students.”

Halloran loves being a part of SPA, as she has a deep love and appreciation for music. She finds that the organization actually provides a community of music-lovers she can relate to.

“I love music and concerts and to be a part of a group where people share that passion with me is definitely amazing,” she said. “My first truly memorable concert was Demi Lovato in eighth grade — I just remember the atmosphere being so inspiring.”

One of Halloran’s favorite groups is a pop-punk group called Mayday Parade and SPA happened to have them come in last year.

“It was so special for me to be around people and see people care about a band I loved so much — it’s just such a community,” Halloran said.

Whitney is going into her senior year next semester and is going to miss the friendships and bonds that have formed within the club.

“SPA has molded my Penn State experience. We’re constantly creating memories. When I met John Mulaney, he asked me for a Red Bull and I remember just freezing and him asking me pretty much if I knew what a Red Bull was,” Whitney said, smiling.

Gibson just joined this year and has been loving her experience. She got into the club when last year, in one of SPA’s raffles, she won two tickets for a Kanye West concert. She hopes to be a production assistant after graduation so SPA has been a great addition to her resume.

“It’s so rewarding for me to be a part of something this big, something that makes students happy. In the future, I want to continue doing the backstage work and do the paperwork for shows,” Gibson said. “I have made so many friends here, too, and it’s awesome to see us all work together and reach our full potential together.”

Whitney reveals that major concert setups, like those for the Block Party and Homecoming Weekends, are a 12 hour haul.

“Again, we’re all volunteers with a heart for music. We love what we do, even though the hours can get long,” Whitney said. “SPA really is here to serve the students and make their Penn State experience that much better.”

And that’s the behind the scenes look!