Nasher event aims to promote campus culture

Tonight the new freshman class will gather for a night of art, class and chit-chat at the Nasher Museum of Art. Running for its second year, "A Night at the Nasher" is an orientation event meant to expose students to the campus arts scene, which has taken a new lead in campus culture as a tenet of the University's strategic plan, "Making a Difference."

A plan for greater investment in the arts-including creating more on-campus venues and bringing in leading faculty-was outlined in "Making a Difference," the strategic plan released last October. There is also a push to bring arts to the forefront of undergraduate campus culture, said Steve Nowicki, dean of undergraduate education.

"The arts are sort of the hidden treasure here," he said. "What we want to do...is make it a centerpiece of the Duke experience."

Although the strategic plan was released after orientation last year, the orientation team knew the arts objective was a major aspect of the plan, said Associate Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi. "A Night at the Nasher" was created with that objective in mind, and engages students through a contest with questions about the exhibits.

"We bring them into the museum to show them some of the great resources we have," Lombardi said. "We don't just want it to be a cool place to have a party, we want it to be an art museum-and that's where intellectual curiosity is based."

He said he expects a greater focus on the arts for future orientations.

Nowicki said there are both big and small ways to enhance the arts at Duke. He added that he would like art to begin to inhabit many arenas of campus life, from live performances and events to paintings and sculptures around campus. "We all want to make it so Duke students have a broad range of things to engage them here at Duke," he said.

In an effort to strengthen the arts, Provost Peter Lange appointed Scott Lindroth as the University's first vice provost for the arts, effective in July. And Lindroth is brimming with ideas, from a collaborative arts grant for faculty to documentaries about joint work between students and faculty to be shown around campus.

Lindroth added that this year's programming for Duke Performances is the first to include a series, which makes it easy for faculty to bring the arts into the classroom. He added that there is also a search for a permanent director of Duke Performances with whom faculty can collaborate.

"One of the things that we're interested in is to link events more substantially to the arts curriculum, so we have faculty who are part of the planning process of programming at Duke Performances," he said.

In planning the season's events, there has been a "conscious effort to bring programming that meets the student population halfway," said Aaron Greenwald, interim director of Duke Performances.

Greenwald said "strategic funding" from senior leadership has allowed for programs that are more conducive and popular to students. "The whole season of programming is slightly more accessible and less esoteric," he said. "It tries to provide context in a way that Duke Performances hasn't in the past."

Greenwald also pointed to the Thelonious Monk 90th anniversary series planned for this semester, which he said "tells a story and has a thrust behind it [with which] you're better able to engage the student population."

A jazz fan and patron of the arts, Nowicki said his job in the coming year will be to work extensively with students in continuing to build an art scene that students will enjoy.

"Those ideas need to be driven by students," he said. "If there's not the right place, my job is to build it and if there is not enough money, my job is to find it."

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