If buildings help build community, then it comes as no surprise on a campus with massive and highly visible structures dedicated to the sciences and engineering that the arts at Duke are seemingly invisible. As a top-notch university that prides itself on the richness of its academic life and the diverse interests of its student body, it is unbecoming to have had such a blaring dearth of artistic space. Student dance groups had to schedule their practices between Zumba and yoga while only art majors and students enrolled in art classes had access to work studios. Such deficits stifled the creative energy of students and made the arts an elusive endeavor. Fortunately, with the opening of the Arts Annex last September, this paucity was partially addressed as the arts community now has a space to call home.
Prior to the Annex’s establishment, spaces available for aesthetic explorations were scarce.
Since the Annex has opened its doors, the space has been a hit. The facility opened in September, receiving approximately 400 visits a week in the Fall. Housing dance and art studios, the Annex now hosts more than 80 hours of practice time for dance groups and artists of different experience levels. Its facilities are open to all students, making the arts accessible and equitable. Anyone with a paintbrush can walk in to use the space. The Annex is also pursuing creative collaborations, eventually hoping to partner with Durham Public Schools to start student art programs. From these initiatives, students are creating fuel for Duke’s growing arts movement.
The explosive popularity behind the Annex is reflective of the great demand for artistic resources. While the Annex is surely a step in the right direction to giving arts the attention it has earned in proportion to students’ interests, it falls short of meeting the evident need. The expansion of these resources could include more space for visual arts, including a dark room or kiln, and space for other forms of expression, such as an a capella recording studio. Providing such additional resources will help ensure student artists can reach their full potential.
Encouraging and supporting students in their artistic endeavors is a win-win investment. By addressing this Achilles heel, Duke can fully support the interests of the students it attracts. Not only will this bolster the University’s appeal to prospective students, it will be rewarding for the students already here who can continue pursuing activities of fulfillment beyond high school. Art major or not, creating art can be personally rewarding (think self-expression, skill development, art therapy, etc.) and adds richness to the student experience. In the end, we all benefit from viewing the performances and works of our peers as it provides another medium of understanding and entertainment.
We congratulate the Arts Annex on a successful start in its opening year, and we congratulate Duke for placing a greater emphasis on the arts. While we are glad that this long overdue need is finally being addressed, we should be wary of assuming this effort is sufficient. As the art movement gains momentum, this new building will surely help build community, but Duke’s commitment to the arts should continue to evolve.