The Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative recently launched StudioDuke, a new program designed to help arts students develop and pitch their projects to the professional arts industry.

At the beginning of each fall semester, StudioDuke will open its application for arts submissions. Students will submit a short summary and description of their project as well as the project itself. These projects can draw from any field of art—from fine arts and film to animation and music composition. 

A StudioDuke leadership team will then select students from the applicant pool whose project is ready for professional development. The program will then assign each student an alumni mentor in the same field as their project. Once the mentor and student decide the project is ready for a professional pitch, StudioDuke will pay for the student’s travel needs in order to pitch their idea, including places such as Hollywood. 

“[StudioDuke] came out of the fact that I was noticing we were spending so many resources on translation for technologies and did not see the same amount of energy being put into students’ creative ideas,” said Kip Frey,professor of the practice of public policy and law and interim director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “I was thinking about how we might provide a pathway to a professional outcome to students who write screenplays or do music.”

Frey worked with Provost Sally Kornbluth, Amy Unell—director of arts engagement and partnerships for Innovation and Entrepreneurship—and the alumni association to turn his idea into a reality. A gift from alumnus Clifford Chanler, Trinity ‘82, provided funding for the first stage of StudioDuke.

Many Duke alumni were recruited by Frey to become mentors for the program. The alumni he contacted lived across the United States and were enthusiastic to be a part of StudioDuke, Frey noted. He wanted to include alumni from every segment of entertainment industry, including those from the agent and corporate community.

“It is going to enable a network of alumni mentors from all areas of the entertainment industry to come together for the purpose of helping our students,” Frey said.

David Garfinkle—Trinty ‘83, instructor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a writer and producer—agreed to be a mentor for StudioDuke. He decided to become a mentor because he said, “it’s really important to give back, to be at a place where you can work with and train people to be future leaders in the industry.”

He explained that StudioDuke is important because it places students in the real world and allows them to have their projects be recognized in a commercial setting, which is an invaluable experience and can lead to future opportunities.

Garfinkle referenced how Lin-Manuel Miranda, a three-time Tony award winner, began a creative project in college. This project eventually developed into "In the Heights," a Tony award-winning musical. This is one example of how StudioDuke can help students commercialize projects, Garfinkle noted. 

He added that Duke is forward-thinking and ahead of the curve in terms of arts education, as evidenced by the new arts center, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Duke Entertainment Media Arts Network and now StudioDuke.

“Arts is critical in terms of creating the kinds of people the University should be putting into the world,” Garfinkle said. “The arts in of itself are really important in terms of impact on society. So much culture has come out of the arts."

He said that modern culture and media helps society break stereotypes and come to terms with controversial issues. For example, TV shows like "Will and Grace" made LGBTQ+ dialogue more commonplace, and musicals like "Hamilton" taught America’s history in a creative way. 

Even if someone does not pursue the arts, the artistic mindset is important to other areas, Garfinkle noted. He explained how Galileo discovered that the moon had pits and mountains because he understood drawing techniques, which helped him notice shadows on the moon. 

Garfinkle said that if StudioDuke were available during his years at the University, entering the arts industry would not have been as difficult, adding that StudioDuke supports students who want to go into the arts so they do not have to create their own path.

Frey said that the program will provide a clear pathway through the tools and mentoring needed beyond classroom projects for students to seriously consider the prospect of producing their work professionally. The application for StudioDuke opened on Oct. 11 and will close on Jan. 5, 2018.

“I hope it provides a new avenue for students with creative projects to have their work developed as fully as possible and pitched professionally,” Frey said.