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Arts Weekend debuts at Duke

A student gazes at the student art on display in the Bryan Center during the inaugural Duke Arts Weekend, which featured art work from alumni, as well as undergraduate and professional students.
A student gazes at the student art on display in the Bryan Center during the inaugural Duke Arts Weekend, which featured art work from alumni, as well as undergraduate and professional students.

Students who want to be bankers, consultants and government diplomats have all had their chance to network on campus. This weekend, it was the aspiring artist’s turn.

Duke Arts Weekend aimed to “expose the artistic talent on campus,” said Vice Provost for the Arts Scott Lindroth, who oversaw the organization of the event. DART was also a chance for students who want jobs in a media field to talk to Duke alumni who have made careers in arts, entertainment and media.

After dedicating substantial time to art in high school, many students turn to professional training at Duke to pursue a practical career after graduation, Lindroth said. The arts showcase was an effort to allow students of all majors and professional interests to integrate art into their lives again.

Cameo Hartz, assistant director of the Career Center, said organizers tried to bring recent alumni with jobs in the arts to DART weekend in order to help students find careers in the arts.

“They have a lot of insight into the transition, the decision making and the uncertainty,” she said.

Amy Unell, Trinity ’03 and a panelist at DART weekend, said she decided to go into television journalism after taking a course on the topic at Duke. But because there were few people at the University involved in the field, Unell said she had to carve out her own path to a job through multiple internships.

Unell is now an NBC producer and said she came back to Duke because she wants to help students interested in a career in television journalism.

“I was in their shoes not long ago,” she said.

Unell said she picked up a lot of her skills working for Duke’s Cable 13.

She advised students who aspire to media careers to be persistent and realize that the first few years after college will consist of hard work and little pay.

Unell spoke at the “TV and Film Creation” panel Saturday in the Bryan Center. The panel was one of eight discussions, featuring a painter, a photographer and an actor, as well as a lawyer, businesspeople and consultants.

Lindroth worked for more than two months with the Duke Alumni Association, Duke Entertainment, Media and the Arts Network, the Office of Student Activities and Facilities and the Career Center to create DART weekend.

The concept for the weekend originated from senior Andrea Coravos, an avid photographer and a former Chronicle columnist, who wanted to create an outlet for student artists to “get recognized or make money.”

Last Spring, she helped found UniTee, a subgroup of Duke Venture Forward. UniTee was an entrepreneurial organization on campus that hoped to allow students to purchase their peers’ artwork in a showcase. The project was abandoned when they had difficulties with charging students on Flex, but the idea was not forgotten. Coravos mentioned it to Lindroth, who then “took it to a whole new level” with DART weekend, Coravos said.

Beyond alumni panels and an art showcase, DART weekend included a networking dinner Friday night and performances by Duke’s Latin Dance troupe Sabrosura and two student musicians.

Approximately 130 students and 23 alumni attended the networking dinner in the Levine Science Research Center, Lindroth said.

Students who want to pursue a career in the arts are a minority on campus. In 2008, more than 200 students graduated with degrees in economics, but only three majored in visual arts, according to data provided by University Registrar Bruce Cunningham last year on first majors.

Adelyn Wyngaarden, a sophomore who plans to major in visual arts, said she has always been interested in visual arts, but decided to come to Duke and receive a more practical education.

She changed her mind when she realized she enjoyed visual arts more than other subjects. Had she known her current interests, Wyngaarden said she would not have come to Duke because “Duke doesn’t do enough [for the arts]” and focuses more resources on “practical” majors like economics or public policy.

But DART weekend is “a step in the right direction,” said Afftene Taylor, a sophomore who hopes to own a film and media production company.  

Taylor said that although there are fewer film opportunities here at Duke than at a film school, she is happy at Duke because “any type of life experience can totally help” a person pursuing a career in film.

“There is no prescribed path to becoming a professional artist,” Lindroth said.

Lindroth, who knew he wanted to become a composer at the age of 12, studied at Eastman School of Music and Yale School of Music. But he said this kind of path is not the only road to a career in the arts.

Lindroth said “perseverance and discipline” will improve a Duke graduate’s chance of finding an arts job. But there are no guarantees, he said, adding that if students are not willing to take a risk, “this is not for you.”

He knows students who did not start pursuing careers in the arts until taking a course with a great professor and finding that they were talented. Although these students made their decisions later than others, they are “nevertheless promising,” he said.

Lindroth noted that other students pursue professional training, only to later realize their love for the arts.

He said he knows one student who went to medical school and then became a professional violinist.

For those who have a passion for the arts, but are hesitant to pursue it for fear of worrying about next month’s rent, Lindroth suggested finding a mentor in an arts department who can give “clear-eyed advice” and honestly evaluate the student’s “ability and likelihood to succeed.”

Junior Caitlin Cook attended the “TV and Film Creation” panel because she wanted to gain insight on how the film industry works and how to break into it. She is writing her first screenplay, a science fiction piece set 15 years in the future.

 “Eventually I would like someone to look at [the screenplays] and see if they are interested,” she said.

But if they are not she has a plan B—she is a psychology major on a research track.

Sophomore Zoe Wright-Neil, a transfer student from Sarah Lawrence College, said Duke is more supportive of students pursuing the arts than her previous school.

She said the “TV and Film Creation” panel informed her of the lifestyle she would have and the sacrifices she would need to make in order to reach her goal of becoming a script writer. She added that she is glad there is a network of Duke alumni who can help her.

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