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StudioDuke mentorship program supports students in professionalizing creative endeavors

For students hoping to put the untapped potential of their creative projects into motion, StudioDuke can be the catalyst for new levels of artistry and imagination. 

StudioDuke is a two-semester arts mentorship program in collaboration between DukeArts, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Duke Alumni. Each member of the annual cohort is matched with an industry professional, many of whom are Duke alumni, who help guide the student through the creative process. The StudioDuke team matches each mentor to their student based on the nature, genre and industry niche of the project. The student-mentor pair then work to advance and refine the student’s project throughout the year. 

The program supports artists in nearly all senses of the word, whose work ranges from screenplays and  choreography to poetry and  comedy. Past undertakings, like  those from the 2020-2021 cohort, include varied projects,  ranging from children’s book to a podcast. 

James Robinson, Trinity ‘20, found StudioDuke a valuable opportunity to meld his talents with his academic pathway. The summer before his junior year, Robinson received a grant from the Center for Documentary Studies to create a film about “the impacts of land loss and climate change on indigenous communities in the Louisiana Bayou.” 

After being accepted into the 2018-2019 cohort, Robinson was partnered with Ryan White, Trinity ‘04, who helms the LA-based production company Tripod Media. The pair worked together to distill Robinson’s rough cut into a more potent short film.

Of the film, Robertson said, “I felt it had potential, but I wanted to cut it down. As a filmmaker working for mostly an online audience, I do everything I can to respect my audience’s time and make my films as succinct as possible.” 

Robinson states that his relationship with White proved invaluable because their connection provided him with his first job out of college, only a month after the film industry crawled to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Robinson has found continued success in other projects that had their inception at Duke. “Whale Eyes,” which started as his senior capstone project at the Center for Documentary Studies, was published last month in The New York Times. 

Arlene Arevalo, Trinity ‘21, is another former StudioDuke student with a creative journey centered around the mentorship program. When Arevalo initially applied, she thought she would be developing a collection of personal essays “making sense of my upbringing.” Once Arevalo started working with StudioDuke, she made the decision to transform her writing into an audio series. Amy Unell, the Senior Director of Arts Engagement & Partnerships at Duke Arts, supported Arevalo’s decision and directed her to resources that would help her craft her new vision. 

Speaking warmly of Unell, Arevalo said, “Amy supported me when I decided I wanted to pursue audio and podcasting as a career, and I'm now working at a podcasting production company!”

Arevalo also spoke of how StudioDuke was able to provide her with a healthy environment for artistic expression.

“It was incredibly affirming to belong to a cohort of students that are pursuing artistic projects,” Arevalo said. “It can be difficult to find that space at Duke — a space where you don't feel forced to turn your ideas into capitalistic outputs [or] career opportunities, and I'm glad I found StudioDuke at the time I did.”

The deadline to apply for the 2021-2022 StudioDuke program is Sept. 10. The application can be found here

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