More than 35,000 visit Nasher

Art is making its mark on Campus Drive.

Only four months have passed since the Nasher Museum of Art opened in October, but staff said they are pleased with museum's successes so far.

More than 35,000 visitors-students, community residents and art lovers from all over the world-have already entered the museum's doors.

"The first three months have been wonderful, exhilarating, exciting, tremendous," said Kimerly Rorschach, director of the museum.

An initial publicity campaign, ranging from print media advertisements to 50 banners placed in Raleigh-Durham International Airport, raised interest and attention.

Attendance peaked during the opening festivities, which drew 14,595 visitors in October alone. The museum has since attracted more than 1,000 people almost every week.

In comparison, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Ackland Art Museum welcomes around 3,500 visitors each month, roughly half Nasher's average.

Rorschach estimated that between 25 and 30 percent of the Nasher's visitors are connected to the University, while an another 50 percent reside in the Triangle.

Bringing in Durham residents, whose visits are subsidized by The Herald-Sun, can help to foster good town-gown relations, Rorschach noted.

Some visitors have complained about the need to pay for parking-a policy intended to prevent University students and faculty from using the Nasher lot.

"People have complained a lot about the fact that they have to pay for parking," Rorschach said. "They've seen that as very unfriendly of Duke."

Nasher officials said they also recognize a need to work on attracting student visitors.

"We've had good success with Duke students, but we can do better," Rorschach said. "There are many students who haven't visited the museum yet."

The presence of the Museum Café has helped bring students to the facility.

"At the beginning, we didn't have as many students as we would prefer," said the café's chef Amy Tornquist, who also founded Sage and Swift Gourmet Catering.

She has tried to appeal to the museum's diverse visitors with varied menu options. More students are coming now, especially during the café's Thursday dinner opening hours.

Undergraduates also come to the museum to attend the handful of classes hosted there or to see-or work-on student-organized exhibitions.

Richard Powell, professor of art and art history, is working with undergraduates to complete the exhibition "Conjuring Bearden," honoring artist Romare Bearden, which will open in March.

"The facility is 10 times better than our previous facility," Powell said, referring to the former Duke University Museum of Art that once existed on East Campus.

Such educational activities are major components of the Nasher's mission.

Patricia Leighten, professor of art and art history and chair of the department, described the museum as an integral part of a broader administrative initiative to more strongly emphasize all the arts at the University.

At the moment, Leighten said, the visual arts program suffers from a lack of both faculty and funding, which has resulted in large waitlists for many classes.

"[The Nasher] is kind of a spearhead to bring attention to the visual arts at Duke," Leighten said. "We're hoping that faculty positions will be central to the vision... of improving the profile of the arts at Duke."

The Nasher's collections and exhibitions have been major draws for visitors and boons in the University's push for an enhanced arts community. An exhibition of former Duke and NBA basketball player Grant Hill's collection of African-American art is expected to attract more visitors when it opens in March.

Despite its initial successes, the Nasher is not settling. In addition to seeking even more visitors, it will expand its permanent collection, which Rorschach described as strong but "disparate."

She said she intends to acquire mainly modern works, noting that Nasher is courting several potential donors with contemporary art collections.

"We want to do everything better," Rorschach said. "But you learn by doing."


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