During the twenty-five minutes between classes, Duke students spend their time running between campuses, reviewing readings and stressing about squeezing into those last few spots on the East-West Express. If you have found yourself in a similar predicament this week, chances are you have also found some resonant relief in the pleasant pacification of a piano. Chances are you were also surprised to discover that this sweet symphony came from the subterranean musical talents of a fellow Dukie.
The two painted pianos, conveniently placed at the West Campus Bus Stop and the Bryan Center Plaza, were set up by the Duke University Union's Visual Arts Committee to blend visual and performance arts by showcasing students’ artistic talents. The spontaneous piano performances were not only a success, but are also part of the variety of creative celebrations that have comprised this year’s Duke Arts Festival. Hosted by the Duke Arts community, the festival has showcased student art to increase the visibility of the arts and to celebrate the artistic talents of our student body.
This year, the festival has been organized around the theme of “sustainability." With visual art celebrating nature, documentaries on the impact of mass consumerism and even an “Incredibly Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species,” this year’s festival highlights the ability of art to speak profoundly and persuasively on issues of social importance.
During a time when traditional models of education are being reimagined and repurposed (think reversed-classroom, Bass Connections and MOOCs), we have to wonder if this theme reflects a perceived need to couch artistic exhibition in non-artistic terms. Is the idea of “sustainable arts” just another version of Duke’s push for interdisciplinarity—a contrived connection to make the humanities more hip and practically relevant?
Although it is tempting to think in these terms, this week seems more about celebrating art than squeezing it into a pre-fabricated interdisciplinary framework. Art is often a reflection of culture and society in some way. Tying art to a social issue, such as environmentalism, does not degrade its intrinsic value. Rather, it offers a lens through which we can reflect on and critique imperative social issues, and it becomes a tool that lets us gain insights into ourselves, our civilization and our interactions with nature.
Furthermore, by tying art to the theme of sustainability, the festival has showcased ways to apply other academic fields to the arts. Students who pursue art for art’s sake are more likely to end up at a conservatory than at Duke, and the theme of the festival recognizes the multifaceted curiosities that engage Duke students. As a result, the theme has produced a number of thought-provoking artistic opportunities (who thought animal bones would make such a beautiful symphony?) and rallied the different members of the arts community around a cohesive and important idea—that the arts are about more than just art.
Topping off the festival, today marks the kickoff of the Duke Entertainment, Media and the Arts Network (DEMAN) weekend, featuring a keynote address by Adam Chodikoff, Trinity ’93 and senior producer for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Aiming to educate aspiring students on careers in the arts and to link them with industry professionals, this weekend will assuage students’ fears about the creative industries. It will remind us all that, even in a pre-professional culture dominated by a few visible internships, creative careers not only exist, but are attainable.
Although the Arts Festival will shortly come to a close, we applaud the Arts Community for hosting a wonderful showcase of events and thank our multi-talented peers for their willingness to grace us with their work. Not only have your talents continually impressed us, but they have also helped to build community. We hope this community will remain visible beyond this week’s celebration. Also, if there is any way do so, please keep the pianos!