At the Night at the Nasher event last Saturday, part of the Orientation Week schedule, hundreds of freshmen crowded into the Nasher’s lofty central atrium to mingle among many installations at the art museum. The event is annually the first time that freshmen attend a formal event together and most are dressed in their finest, flowing through the current exhibits this year including “Rauschenberg: Collecting and Connecting” and “Containing Antiquity.”
Standing out from the refinery, though, was a person in an orange, mascot-style fox costume sitting behind a typewriter writing poems on the spot based on single words provided by freshmen passersby.
The figure, a local poet playing the aptly-titled Poetry Fox, appeared as part of a new and innovative attempt to attract affinity for and involvement in the arts across campus called Artstigators.
The project, as abstract and undefined as an artistic endeavor itself, is aiming to spread the arts around Duke through spontaneous events and social media.
“Students are kind of the core,” said Amy Unell, who works in arts entrepreneurship in the office of the Vice Provost for the Arts Scott Lindroth and is one of the main proponents behind the Artstigators.“We want students to tweet and hashtag and come up with ideas and be a part of it every step of the way.”
Starting the project with Unell is Bill Fick, visiting assistant professor of the practice of visual arts.
“We weren't given a mandate or given a charter. We want it to be spontaneous and quick,” Fick said of the project.
Their plans to continue “artstigating”—a newly coined verb—across campus and involving students will unfold in various ways throughout the whole school year.
The fox was an attempt to get students, especially first-years, excited about arts and get to know each other in the process, Unell said, by taking pictures and sharing posts on social media to feel that they are a part of something. By participating and involving themselves in the arts, students can make themselves into Artstigators.
“We wanted to support students in discovering the arts at Duke and beyond,” Unell said. “They’re part of the community. We want Artstigators to be crazy for the arts.”
This week will also feature two more events to kick off a year of "artstigating." Thursday, during the First Big Weekend, will feature a concert in Duke Gardens with performances by Lost in the Trees, Bombadil and Diadem. Fick and Unell said that RAs in freshmen dorms will hand out bright orange cameras with “#artstigators” written on them to their residents to be used at the outdoor show. Afterwards, they’ll turn the cameras back in to the Artstigators team, who will choose the best photographs to be voted on by students. The winners will then receive prizes and have their photos displayed gallery-style in the Marketplace.
Then, on Friday at the Activities Fair, Artstigators will be running a biker bar for student to pedal around campus and see what arts resources are available to them. Students will also get an arts community “swag bag” provided by arts organizations on campus.
Unell pointed out that the Artstigators hope to show the arts at Duke are present in various different mediums and outlets—from academic classes in visual arts and dance to organizations like the Duke University Union Visual Arts committee and musical groups.
They will also be handing out fliers and calendars featuring upcoming events on campus related to the arts, such as Google Hangouts with alumni in arts and media, and sports and social media workshops later this Fall.
Artstigators is trying to cultivate its own social media presence on Twitter as well. It has tweeted out a series of pictures of statues across campus, photos from the Nasher and aesthetic images of color and fabric.
Posts like the latter, Fick said, are examples of the art and artistic elements people at Duke can find without looking too far around them.
“If students want to tweet, ‘Something like this is art,’ we’ll tweet it and put it on the artstigators page,” Fick said.
They are also promoting the #artstigators hashtag, which appears on their flyers and materials as its own logo.
Students, in addition to participating in artstigating activities as they pop up on campus and making a showing on social media, can reach out to Fick and Unell to pitch their own ideas, such as a performance at a bus stop or other spontaneous manifestations of art.
“Hearing student ideas is exactly what we want,” Unell said.
Artstigating is a means to involve themselves on campus, but students can also work with the project managers to take their art interests to the next step. Fick and Unell work in career counseling for the arts and media and students who are interested in finding internships or jobs in the arts can go to them to help find their way into the field, Unell said, making Arstigating more than tweets and poetry foxes.
“We want the Artstigators to be a place where we can help… and take them further,” she said.