From the President

A Spotlight on the Arts

One of the most joyous highlights of this past fall was the reopening of Baldwin Auditorium. Just as Duke Chapel is the focal point of West Campus, so Baldwin, with its graceful Georgian Revival dome, is the focal point of East Campus. Over the last two years, Baldwin has undergone a $15 million renovation in line with Duke’s philosophy of architectural renewal on campus: Preserve the historic exterior while creating state-of-the-art interior spaces to meet key campus needs. The renovations, funded by The Duke Endowment and recognized with a national architectural award, have given Duke a comfortable, inviting concert hall with acoustics almost beyond compare. One faculty musician remarked that until he played in Baldwin, only in Carnegie Hall had he had the experience of hearing every other instrument on stage with perfect clarity.

Today, Duke has what it never had before—a superlative performance venue. The arts have always been part of Duke’s history, but now we are beginning to train a spotlight on them. A pillar of Duke’s current strategic plan is a strengthened commitment to developing excellence across music, dance, theater studies, visual arts, and new media. This revitalization is dramatically expanding opportunities for students, faculty and staff members, alumni, and members of our surrounding community to engage with the arts.

As with Baldwin, home to Duke’s wind symphony and jazz ensemble, the new efflorescence of the arts at Duke begins with physical spaces. More than buildings, the new arts spaces on campus have made possible a new level of interaction and expression. This development began in 2005 with the opening of the Nasher Museum of Art, now a key cultural destination for the campus, the city of Durham, and the region. Other new buildings followed: Dance groups still love the airy highceilinged space of the historic Ark on East Campus, but now they also can practice and take master classes in the new Hull Avenue studios. The student-run Arts Annex, which reopened in February, welcomes students of any experience level to use the free, fully stocked art studios to explore their interests in ceramics, photography, and printmaking, even if they are not enrolled in visual studies coursework. Students led the vision for the renovations, helping to design spaces that would be maximally useful and appealing.

The new physical spaces provide the foundation for the arts, but at a major university, the arts also must be connected to the academic enterprise. At Duke, we see deep continuity between the arts and the teaching and research missions of the university. The arts are not a separate sphere of activity, but a place where crucial features of education, including creativity, teamwork, and critical thinking, are practiced every day.

Duke’s approach to the arts features a balance between theory and practice. Duke’s new master of fine arts degree in experimental and documentary arts steeps students in new media and advanced technology, training them to become sophisticated practitioners of documentary arts who are also conversant in its theory. On the other hand, Duke’s art history major requires students to take at least one studio course, in the belief that mastering an embodied skill like drawing, painting, or sculpture lends depth to a student’s understanding of art theory and criticism. Duke’s dance major allows a student to pursue the performance aspects of dance as well as the intellectual tradition, delving into dance theory and cultural history—making Duke the “college of choice” for a student who wants to pursue both academics and dance in a serious way.

When Baldwin Auditorium opened last fall, the Duke Wind Symphony printed T-shirts that featured a silhouette of the iconic dome with the words “Our House.” The slogan consciously echoed the pride and sense of ownership that leads the Cameron Crazies to chant “Our House” in the last minute of home basketball games. The analogy is apt. Like Cameron Indoor Stadium, Baldwin is a place where Duke students can perform at the highest level of excellence and where the whole university community can celebrate and be inspired by their achievement.

Students come to Duke to be stretched in every direction, to tap into potential they didn’t know they had. Increasingly, the arts play a critical role in fulfilling this ideal of a Duke education.

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