Eat. Drink. Beer. Bear.

    In addition to providing free alcoholic beverages and food, the A.S. Council’s first Bear Garden of the year also offered games such as the “Bear Ball Bounce” in an attempt to bring students of all ages together at a community event. (Photos by Will Parson/Guardian)

    The Bear Garden met its inaugural fanfare Oct. 20, 2006, when kinks abounded for the hosting A.S. Programming department: The event began 40 minutes late, nearby parking availability was slim and, perhaps the biggest thorn, councilmembers were unable to publicize the occasion to their liking. The cornerstone of council publicity was based on the event’s sale of alcohol, in addition to the presence of carnival-style games and music. But as a part of university policy, advertisements for campus events are barred from alcohol-sale promotion.

    “The policy and regulation exist in order to moderate the emphasis on and abuse of alcohol by students,” former Vice Chancellor Joseph W. Watson said at the time. “Alcohol should not be the principal reason why students attend an event sponsored by the university.”

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    And so the moniker “Bear Garden” was born. Keeping one letter away from policy infraction was effectively “hiding the fact that there is going to be alcohol at the event,” former A.S. President Harry Khanna said. Khanna, along with fellow councilmembers, expected the campus policy to paralyze any hopes for development.

    But what’s in a name? Even though the event has moved from site to site over the past year, and in fact has never been hosted under Warren College’s “Bear” monument, the size of groups flocking to Bear Gardens has ramped up. The event’s foremost quality is something more intangible, former A.S. Commissioner of Programming Di Lam said: “[I] think that as this event builds a better and stronger tradition over the next year, attendance will most definitely increase despite the existing policy.” Lam’s forecast was onpoint; the first Bear Garden drew 447 students, with every following Bear Garden drawing higher numbers. The Bear Garden’s “successful recipe” of community-building and interactivity, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary R. Ratcliff said, “seems to attract 100 to 200 more students than the last event.”

    The Bear Garden was originally conceived as a reincarnation of “TGIF,” one of UCSD’s longest-standing programs. But university officials realized the need to support a new breed of programming, one that was both realistic and left room for growth.

    “[A.S. Programming] didn’t want to just recreate the past, because as a campus we are not what we once were … that is to say a small and young university,” University Events Office Director Martin Wollesen said. “As the campus has grown there is a greater need to find ways of connecting, and the Bear Gardens were one way to address that.”

    The progress of the Bear Garden may signify a shift in the programming department’s attention. Large-scale, one-time events such as WinterFest, FallFest and Sun God Festival have remained the division’s heaviest affairs in money and manpower, but the Bear Garden now claims a chunk of the department’s agenda; the 2007-08 A.S. Council budget allots $40,000 to this year’s six planned Bear Gardens, $10,000 more than WinterFest. The hotter spotlight may be warranted, as Bear Gardens offer a different taste to the department apart from its normal battery of concerts, Wollesen said.

    “We and the A.S. Programming students are always looking for a way to bring students together,” Wollesen said. “Concerts are of course one way, but the Bear Gardens offer a low-key, social atmosphere for students from across the campus to get together.”

    At the Oct. 5 Bear Garden, entrance lines wound around Sun God Lawn. The picture is familiar for the often-overcrowded event, where some attendees wait for over an hour to enter. The culprit may be partly the transitory location; the second Bear Garden this quarter will be held at Matthews Quad across from Price Center.

    “A consistent location makes the event easier to organize and helps with marketing,” Ratcliff said. The event itself, he joked, was assuming a bear’s migratory habits, “moving from region to region of the campus.”

    Administrative binds over the Bear Garden may relax soon. Security presence, Ratcliff said, may be the first to see downsizing.

    “[A] ratio of security to attendees has existed for past Bear Gardens,” Ratcliff said. “However, since the events have proven to be mellow, I think it is reasonable to shrink the security levels; it would reduce the expense of organizing the program.”

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