From seeing a TikTok star perform live to doing yoga with goats—downward dog while balancing a kid on your back, anyone?—it’s no wonder Art Attack is the University of Maryland’s biggest entertainment event of year.
After two years of pandemic-related cancellations and changes, Student Entertainment Events’ signature concert is back on May 7 for its 38th
edition, featuring Billboard chart-topping rapper Polo G and TikTok sensation Flo Milli at the Xfinity Center.
They’re the latest in a long line of performers, from Weezer to T-Pain, OutKast to the Chainsmokers, to come to College Park for a night of raucous fun as the semester winds down, giving students a chance to cheer and scream and sing along as finals loom. During the day, a plethora of activities and giveaways offer a music festival vibe, from face painting to a petting zoo to tie-dye stations.
Though moving the concert indoors makes some things easier—no more dashes for cover in the concession concourse, like when a thunderstorm interrupted Nelly’s performance at Maryland Stadium—the multitude of moving parts means SEE preps and plans for a whole year. Maryland Today spoke to Concerts Director Aliya Daniels ’22 and Venue Director Abby Callas ’22 about what it takes to find the best performer, accommodate the strangest requests from artists and measure the event’s success.
Daniels: My only experience with Art Attack was as a freshman, so I’m excited to have it come back this year. Once the university announced that we were fully resuming in-person classes for the next school year, we started planning for a big concert again. We started thinking of the craziest names, anyone and everyone, and then we see who’s available.
It’s such a challenge to find someone relevant that the campus wants to see. We’ve looked at people from the U.K. or other parts of the world, but with COVID there are more roadblocks.
Callas: We have a great research director, Drew Fuentes ’22, who conducts polls and does surveys after events. We also have a general body for SEE that that gives us input.
Daniels: Once an artist is like, “I’m down,” we send out the bid and they have to accept it, then we go into contracting. Though we start a year ahead of time, it’s never until late fall or early winter that we can actually get things moving.
Historically, Art Attack has been held at Maryland Stadium or even McKeldin Mall. This year we’re at the Xfinity Center. At the start of the spring semester, we lock down the venue, and we start doing walkthroughs. We have a lot of groups on campus we work with, like Transportation Services and Facilities Management (FM), and we start communicating with them about two months out.
One of the first steps is safety. We work on an exit plan, life safety plan, look at capacity, and once that’s squared away with the fire marshal and UMPD, we move forward with FM.
We depend on them for a lot. For example, for the Homecoming Comedy Show, we got the stage, tables and nontechnical equipment like piping and draping. Since Art Attack is even bigger, we also bring in some outside vendors. Our tech director oversees all the audiovisual equipment, and they reach out to multiple vendors that bid based on the artist’s requests.
Daniels: We have advance calls with the artist starting the first week of April, then again two weeks before the show, to hammer out details, from what they want in the green room to what they need for their entourage and for the performance.
We usually get requests for Maryland gear, like hoodies, or maybe a newspaper to “read” on stage. My favorite example of a rider—I heard this happened at a neighboring school, not at Maryland—was when a rapper brought a jewelry artist with them, saying, “You never know when you need new accessories!”
Callas: SEE recently did a documentary about our last 50 years, and there’s a story in there about an artist in the 1980s who requested a “comfy chair” and wouldn’t go on stage without having it. So one of the directors had to drive to their house, bring in his own couch, and the artist sat in it for 15 seconds before going out to perform.
For the production team, set-up mostly happens the day before the big event. We get our tech vendors and facilities to prepare the stage and venue, so all the heavy lifting is done that day.
Daniels: On the day of, I’m the point of contact for the artist and entourage. As soon as they land or leave their hotel—hopefully on time—I’m the first person they’ll see. I help them find the venue and the green room, then hand them off to the hospitality director.
Callas: Art Attack is an all-hands-on-deck event. We spent the spring training our new board, so between our current directors and incoming ones, we have about 40 of us working. We might be guarding the green room, getting last-minute items or floating around Xfinity. It’s amazing to say I had the opportunity when I was 20, 21 years old to work with big-name artists on major productions, surrounded by such great people at SEE.
Daniels: By the time we finish, it’s 2 a.m. and everyone is at their wit’s end. We just want to sleep for 24 hours. A couple days later, we have our banquet, and it’s a great way to kick back, relax, and top off the end of the year.
It’s hard to measure success. Is it selling out? Is it getting a Grammy-winning artist? I just hope people who attend the event have a great time. During COVID, I did an online concert with Finneas. We wondered if it was worth spending money on a national act, but people were so grateful to get their minds off of being isolated in their rooms. It was gratifying to see the response and see what we’re doing matters.
This is part of a monthly series that looks behind the scenes at “what it takes” to keep the University of Maryland humming and create a vibrant campus experience. Got an idea for a future installment? Email [email protected].