Duke Arts Festival seeks to challenge the typical 'Duke experience'

The annual Duke Arts Festival begins Friday and features a Senior Night at the Ruby, among other arts-centered events.
The annual Duke Arts Festival begins Friday and features a Senior Night at the Ruby, among other arts-centered events.

For many Duke students, the arts are an integral aspect of their lives — academic or otherwise. Often, though, there is dissonance between the numerous artistic disciplines on campus, and Duke’s artists are aiming to bridge that gap through collaboration. This year, the annual Duke Arts Festival will take place from Friday to next Saturday, April 14, in an attempt to unify the arts and bring together students of varying academic interests. 

“Students have expressed to me that the arts don't talk to each other: that a cappella groups do a cappella things and dance groups work exclusively on dance showcases, while visual artists typically work alone in studio settings,” said senior Kelsey Graywill, president of duARTS. “We have a lot of great spaces including the Rubenstein Arts Center, Smith Warehouse, the Arts Annex and the Nasher Museum, but students are often unsure of how each of these fit together to form a broader arts community at Duke. This is something we are trying to help mitigate through Arts Festival this year.” 

The Duke Arts Festival is comprised of over 50 events across Duke and Durham, ranging from student exhibitions to art workshops to concerts and film screenings. The festival will take place in the midst of Full Frame Film Festival, Duke Coffeehouse's Brickside Music Festival and Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s production of “Chicago.” The week also includes DEMAN Happy Hour, which invites students to interact with alumni in arts and media industries. MuralDurham’s Satellite Park, a community event featuring murals painted over large satellite dishes, will serve as the festival’s closing celebration. 

“Duke Arts Festival is sort of an amalgam of administrative and departmental programming and student activities and showcases. So we have this very vertically integrated array of events where all aspects of Duke are contributing to the festival,” Graywill said, pointing to events like Friday’s kick-off party, Monday’s Senior Night at the Ruby and next Wednesday’s Night at the Arts Annex. “Students can pick and choose from our extensive calendar of events the activities they are interested and can go out and experience something new or exciting.”

The festival’s Senior Night at the Ruby will include senior showcases in dance, visual arts and film and an appearance from President Vincent Price. This event will offer students the opportunity to reminisce upon their Duke experience and to celebrate the Class of 2018. Another staple event, the Night at the Arts Annex, will allow students to familiarize themselves with the space and create works of art.

“It's really cool that there is more infrastructure now for the arts and that the university is investing in physical resources and spaces for students to partake in the arts. Even so, I think many students have expressed that although the physical resources are great, there is a need for greater administrative support for the arts,” Graywill said. “Although we have these new spaces, the programming and attitude toward the arts has remained largely the same within the student body. The question now is: How can we fill all of these new spaces and bring life to them?”

The Duke Arts Festival also seeks to unite arts and STEM by organizing Art of Science Day, featuring a “STEAM” panel — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — where individuals across disciplines will discuss the intersection of arts and sciences. The “Art of Science” gallery will also be open to students, highlighting innovation at Duke through artistic representations of scientific research. 

"Interdisciplinary involvement in the arts is important to duARTS, not just in the sense of artist collaboration within the arts but also intersecting STEM fields as well. We have plenty of STEM students at Duke who are not only interested in the arts but also profoundly gifted,” Graywill said. “Many of them are not really aware of events connected to the arts or have relegated the arts as hobbies, so we really are trying to engage students who aren't encountering arts in their daily lives to come out and participate in something that is really meaningful.”

Graywill contended that the arts should be an integral aspect of the “Duke experience,” providing not only fun and relaxation but also a break from Duke’s hyper-competitive academic environment. For those looking to take a break from their hectic schedules and demanding classes, the Duke Arts Festival offers a time of respite.

“Art has so much value in its ability to help people facilitate introspection, help students relax and involve themselves in something that is not tied to a grade or the competitive nature of this institution,” Graywill said. “Art provides the opportunity for students to break down the order and structure in their life and express themselves. Physically creating art and being confined only by the limits of your own imagination is very antithetical to the structure of the classroom for many Duke students.”

The festival is an opportunity for avid artists and timid beginners alike to explore and engage in the artistic sphere across mediums and forms. The arts can provide a supplement to a sometimes overbearing academic load and both fascinate and educate the willing spectator.

“Duke does a great job shaping good students, but I think the arts makes good people,” Graywill said. “Students have this ability to think critically and engage in philosophical and ethical discourse but I find that the arts fill the gaps in our understanding of the world and of the human experience that science alone cannot fill.”


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