There’s a sign by the bus stop between Swift Ave. and Smith Warehouse, with an arrow that leads up a winding path and past a fence to a building covered in bright, colorful designs that seem out of place in the wooded surroundings.
It’s the Arts Annex, where students can be creative, make a mess and take a break from the stresses of college life. And every week it’s a place where students can learn new art forms through the DukeCreate Arts Workshop Series.
The workshops started about two years ago and, according to graduate assistants Lexi Bass and Sarah Riazati, have expanded their offerings over time to include more digital media workshops, such as tutorials on Photoshop. With the new Arts Center slated to open in January 2018, the digital media workshops will relocate there, while the fine arts workshops, including painting and ceramics, will stay in the Arts Annex.
“We kind of think of [the Arts Annex] as a dirty space,” Bass said. “And you don’t necessarily want paint and technology to mix.”
Bass said the workshop topics do have a stable schedule, with ceramics generally on Thursdays, drawing and painting on Wednesdays, printmaking on Mondays and digital media on Tuesdays. There are also special topic workshops, such as a session on creating table lamps from found objects that took place last Friday. Any fluctuations in the schedule are reflected on the DukeCreate website and Facebook page. Within the topics, too, there are differences between each workshop, as Bass said each instructor has “their own take.”
The instructors come from the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program as well as the local and national art network. Bass said one instructor this semester even hails from Nebraska.
“As artists, we tend to be wired into the network of other artists,” Bass said. “So we just search them out, call them up.”
Sophomore Joanne Zheng and junior Grace Cai attended a screen printing workshop Sept. 11. Zheng said she had been to some of the Arts Annex’s larger events before, but never to a workshop. She thought the instructor taught well, and she enjoyed the opportunity to have a “crash course” on screen printing.
“I used to do art in high school,” Zheng said. “And I just haven’t had the opportunity to do anything super creative at Duke because of time constraints, but seeing [the workshops] as an option, seeing that as something I’d never tried before, I just thought it was a pretty cool opportunity.”
Unlike Zheng, Cai said she has been able to make time to go to the Arts Annex. She said she likes to make Christmas cards and take advantage of the free supplies.
However, Cai said she had never been to an actual workshop either and thought it was a great way to learn to use the machinery involved in screenprinting. She said the workshop also introduced her to a new art form that she hadn’t thought much about before.
“It was very eye-opening,” Cai said. “I remember looking at the work that the professor had created and thinking, ‘I can’t look at normal digital posters again because they’re just so beautiful.’”
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In this way, Bass said, the workshops allow people to get involved in the community through the artists who teach. Riazati also said the workshops help people explore the Arts Annex itself—although the path is right off the C1 bus line, the building can be a bit difficult to find, and the workshops encourage people to visit later and use the different resources.
Zheng said the workshop showed her the some of the available resources and taught her to use them.
“It’s motivating me to come back and do it myself,” she said.
Although the DukeCreate workshops will shift some locations and adapt to interest, they will continue to provide a space for students and staff to engage in the arts through the practice of creating art and connecting with professional artists.