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New wing in Smith Warehouse reflects changing form of Visual Arts department

Getting to the newly renovated Art, Art History and Visual Studies wing in the Smith Warehouse is no easy feat, but those who make the trek will consider stopping in more than once.

The Art, Art History and Visual Studies department is behind the barricade of Bay 10. The best way to circumvent the continuously locked doors is to walk to the back of Bay 12, climb the stairs and find the door that leads to the department.

Despite the somewhat rounadbout navigation system needed to get to the new wing, it easily rises to the top of my "obscure but comfortably cool study spaces" list.

Study rooms face each other, and long transparent windows create an open and inviting space. Comfortable chairs are arranged throughout the hall, providing niche places to talk and collaborate on projects. Projectors placed throughout the hall allow for students to project presentations on the white walls. And perhaps the coolest addition to the new wing is the 4K resolution television—the only one currently in North Carolina—that displays moving images created by students and professors in the department.

Funding for the wing came from outside funding, grants and other revenue streams, said Hans Van Miegroet, professor and department chair of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, who was responsible for planning the design of the new wing. The revamped wing cost more than $5 million.

The new wing not only gives students and professors a new place to work, but is representative of a shifting department that has developed over time to incorporate the sciences into the humanities.

"The idea is to bring together the theory and practices of the humanities, sciences and social sciences," Van Miegroet said.

The new name is currently waiting approval by the Arts and Sciences Council, but Van Miegroet is confident this initiative represents the changing direction of the program.

Bill Seaman, professor of visual studies, said that since he joined the department it has become more "multi-modal."

"[It's not just focusing on the visual. This represents what I call embodied practice," he wrote in an email Sunday.

Seaman added that new courses incorporate the computer as a creative tool for the arts and designs. This addition to the department that has developed over time served as inspiration for the change in the department's name, which is represented by the "+" in "Media Arts + Sciences."

"Big Data needs people that understand how to make visualizations and sonifications," he added. "Knowledge from the arts is essential here as are new forms of team-based practice, as well as how to design new forms of human/ computer interface."

Seaman added that the department has seen continuous growth each year, which is due to support from Information Sciences and Information Studies, the new MFA in Experimental and Documentary Art and even electrical engineering.

"The [new wing's] proximity also allows for vertical integration between undergraduates, MFA students, MA students, PhD [students] and visiting researchers," he added.

Seaman noted that it was this type of collaboration and resources available through the wing that sets Duke apart from more traditional art schools.

"It's unusual because we're based in the humanities," Van Miegroet said of the changing nature of the department. "We're trying to really redefine how humanities are done for the mutual benefit of everyone."

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