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MFA program broadens artistic horizons

This semester marks the first year of Duke’s new Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts degree program, a two-year course of study that seeks to expose graduate students to experimental artistic production across traditional and digital mediums. The program has already started off strongly by enrolling 15 graduate students—the enrollment goal for the first year.

The program developed last year as a result of an interdisciplinary initiative between the department of art, art history and visual studies, the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image and the Center for Documentary Studies. This combined focus synergizes the existing strengths of Duke’s art faculty and produces a truly collaborative experience for students. The small size of the program should foster intimate interactions between students and faculty, enhancing the quality of learning for both groups.

In an editorial last year, we praised the MFA program for its potential to change the perception of the arts at Duke. The creation of the MFA program follows a stronger emphasis on the arts in our community, from the opening of the Nasher Museum of Art in 2005 to the revitalization of the Duke Performances series. This increased focus on the arts could poise Duke to become a leader in our region by drawing in stronger arts faculty and students.

We remain hopeful that the MFA program will not only further the knowledge of graduate students, but that it will lead to a trickle-down effect that will benefit undergraduate students at the University. Because MFA students already possess a wealth of knowledge about the areas of art that they specialize in, they can become resources and potential mentors for undergraduates with an artistic bent. And exhibitions of student work across Duke and Durham will give Duke students more scope to whet their artistic appetites.

The MFA program also has the potential to build stronger relationships between Duke and the city of Durham. In addition to educating artists about the different mediums at their disposal, the program also seeks to introduce more art into Durham through student projects, enhancing students’ artistic understanding along with Durham residents’ exposure to new forms of art. This emphasis on working within the surrounding community is a selling point for students who are interested in furthering their education in the arts, but also want to maintain ties in the community. It enables MFA candidates not only to learn, but also to serve as teachers.

Moving forward, the MFA program must ensure that it continues to provide a strong, focused curriculum that emphasizes intimate learning opportunities. Based on the current success of the program, 15 additional students will be enrolled next year—bringing the total to 30. While an expansion of the program could increase the program’s impact, it must occur slowly to ensure that faculty are able to continually provide a quality experience for participants.

The new MFA program fills a previously open void in arts education at Duke. We remain optimistic about the ability of the program to enhance knowledge of the arts for graduate students, undergraduates and Durham residents alike.

Correction: The matriculation will remain consistent at 15 students enrolled annually—not 30—so that at any given time there are 30 students total enrolled in the program across two years. The Chronicle regrets the error.