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Catching up with the Ruby, two months after its opening

The American Ballet Theatre's three-year residency at Duke has been one of the major events in the Rubenstein Arts Center's first two months.
The American Ballet Theatre's three-year residency at Duke has been one of the major events in the Rubenstein Arts Center's first two months.

In the two months since the Rubenstein Arts Center opened, it has hosted two world premieres, an artist in residence and an opening attended by over 3,000 people. But the arts building still has a long way to go before it becomes the student space it is supposed to be.

“People do not hang out there a lot,” said sophomore Caroline Waring, general manager of WXDU. WXDU moved into new facilities at the Rubenstein in January.

Waring sees the space as out of the way and inaccessible for many Duke students.

Katy Clune, arts communication specialist at the Rubenstein, said she has been happy with the use of the Rubenstein so far, citing the use of the dance studio by various student groups. She hopes students will come to see the Rubenstein as a space where they can drop in.

Clune said she wants to sustain the buzz surrounding the Rubenstein following its opening.

“I think people are curious about it because it’s a new thing,” said Clune. “I hope we can continue to build ways to entice students and Durham community members.”

The opening of the Rubenstein comes at a time when the arts at Duke are more popular than ever.

Thirty-three percent more students major in the arts now as compared to 10 years ago, said Clune. Duke has 31 arts degrees, minors and certificates, 11 of which were added in the last 10 years.

The annual arts course enrollment at Duke is around 4,700 students, and 550 students in 30 classes come through the Rubenstein on a daily or weekly basis.

Nathaniel Dorsky, an experimental filmmaker, premiered his new 16-millimeter six-film cycle, “Garden of Light,” on Feb. 5. Dorsky showed his films at the Film Theater over four nights, concluding with a world premiere of his newest work on the last night.

“Dorsky would not have been able to show his work at Duke before,” said Clune.

The Rubenstein’s second world premiere, “THE_OPER&,” showed at the Rubenstein March 8 to 10. Music professor John Supko and art professor Bill Seaman created an opera using advanced computer programming to explore the modern age.

“I don’t think any other theater space at Duke could have pulled it off,” said Clune.

Duke has hosted 1,129 arts performances in major theater venues and sold a total of 238,045 tickets, with 87,192 tickets of those tickets going to Duke students. The addition of von der Heyden Theater at the Rubenstein will increase this number even more, said Clune.

Duke Performances has hosted four presentations in the von der Heyden Theater so far, with a final performance of the JACK Quartet taking place April 26. Aaron Greenwald, director of Duke Performances, sees the Rubenstein as an ideal space to stage smaller, more experimental performances.

Greenwald said he appreciates the accessibility of the Rubenstein to the general public, as compared to theater spaces on East or West Campus that might be a little harder to find for locals.

“Some of the public find West Campus a little forbidding,” Greenwald said.

In addition to the two world premieres, the Rubenstein featured an artist in residence this semester. Nina Chanel Abney will conclude her residency at the Rubenstein April 2. The Nasher Museum of Art hosted Abney’s first solo exhibition in 2017. Abney has returned to Duke to work in the Rubenstein’s painting studio, visit classes and collaborate with students.  

Greenwald said one thing the Rubenstein lacks is a common food or drink area.

“It’s crazy that there’s not a coffee shop in there,” said Greenwald. “That would be a huge step toward activating that space.”

The Rubenstein has recently started a series called “Ruby Tuesdays.” The series features free coffee in the Rubenstein lounge Tuesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. Clune hopes the series will help students feel comfortable dropping in and studying there. The Rubenstein also plans to host DEMAN networking events  in the future with arts and media alumni.

Clune said the Rubenstein is still learning how to balance who can use the spaces available at the Rubenstein. 

“I think the word is out for some departments that they can inquire about reserving the building for their use, but I don’t think we’ve extended that as far as we’d like,” said Clune.

Waring said that some student groups have trouble booking spaces at the Rubenstein because of frequent use by other organizations.

The Rubenstein is not done for the season just yet. Two students from Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program will display their work at the arts center until April 14. Hoof ‘n’ Horn will premiere “Chicago” at the von der Heyden Theater April 13. This performance will mark the first student performance at the Rubenstein.

American Dance Festival will hold a number of workshops, classes and performances as part of its residency at the Rubenstein this summer. Greenwald foresees the residency as a chance to see all that the Rubenstein can do.  

While the Rubenstein’s calendar is already booking up for next semester, it has a long way to go in convincing students to use it as a hang out and study space. Greenwald says students can only be in so many places at once.

“The question is what needs to happen to make [the Rubenstein] a place where Duke students spend time,” said Greenwald. 

Correction: A previous version of the article misspelled JACK Quartet and incorrectly stated that Duke Performances has hosted four performances in the Rubenstein Arts Center. The article has been updated with the correct spelling and to reflect that Duke Performances has hosted four presentations in the von der Heyden Studio Theater. The article has also been updated to clarify ADF's summer residency in the arts center. The Chronicle regrets the errors.

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