by Megan Pearson
[Editor's note: This is our chance to introduce Megan Pearson and her classmate, Isabella Kwai, two Duke seniors who have agreed to contribute pieces to our newsletters this year. Both are fine, thoughtful writers who will bring a student's-eye view of the arts and arts culture on campus. We couldn't be happier to have them on board.]
At first glance, art and entrepreneurship may seem like two fields that only superficially intersect, such as when a startup designs a logo or when an artist sells her work on sites like Etsy and Redbubble. At least, as a writer and dancer who sometimes feels out of place in the career-driven milieu that is Duke, that’s how it seemed to me. “Entrepreneurship” itself is a difficult concept to define. According to my dictionary, an entrepreneur is simply “a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” However, I’ve spoken to several student entrepreneurs at Duke who point out the limits of this definition.
My friend Becky Holmes (Trinity ’15) challenges the notion that entrepreneurship is all about business. She’s a dancer who is currently working full time on her raw food startup, ElloRaw. She believes that art and entrepreneurship actually come from the same place within a person. You don’t pursue either because someone has told you to. The inspiration for a project comes to you, and through hard work you make the idea a reality. To a large extent, your success is based on self-motivation and attention to detail. And hopefully, your finished product leaves the world better than it was before.
Until I heard Becky’s perspective, I’d always imagined art and business as the two endpoints on a “creativity continuum.” On the artistic end was spontaneity, emotion, and intuition. And on the business end, all I saw was a nebulous web of dark gray things like “soulless acquisition of money” and “deadline.” I knew that arts entrepreneurs existed, but until I met fellow students like Becky I had only a vague idea of how the two seemingly opposed disciplines intersected. The idea that art and entrepreneurship might actually be two embodiments of the same creative impulse was groundbreaking.
To find out how widely this perspective is shared, I spoke with current Duke students and recent graduates who are interested in arts entrepreneurship. This is the first in a series of profiles where I’ll share their perspectives and highlight their current projects.
HackKitty as Batgirl
The first person I talked with was Ashley Qian (Trinity ‘15), who is currently working in San Francisco for DIY, an online learning platform for kids. When she joined The Cube, Duke’s entrepreneurship-focused student living group, as a sophomore, she was discouraged by the enormous pressure she felt to immediately begin work on a project that could be traditionally recognized as a “business.” While this attitude has changed in recent years, she describes the organization’s original stance as being, “You’re not a real entrepreneur if you don’t have a company and you don’t have profits.” But to Ashley, the business side of entrepreneurship has always been secondary. The important thing to her is that it provides her with a platform to share her art and make the world a better place.
If you’ve heard of HackDuke, the 24-hour coding marathon where teams of students create projects for social change, then you’ve seen how Ashley translates her passions into real-life initiatives. She co-founded the hackathon in 2013 and created its brand and identity. The logo she designed, instantly recognizable on T-shirts around campus, features an adorable costumed mascot named HackKitty.
Ashley has been drawing ever since she was a kid. These days, she focuses on depicting minorities in positions that American society doesn’t often celebrate them in. She believes it’s especially important to present alternative social realities to kids because the futures they imagine for themselves are often influenced by the messages they’re surrounded with as they grow up.
These concerns are at the core of Ashley’s current project, a children’s book that explores white privilege and identity politics. It’s an outgrowth of a realization she had at the end of her senior year, which is that what she most cares about is the representation of women and minorities in tech.
“I wanted to make this really interactive game that’s story-driven and teaches concepts in math and science but through trial and error and experimentation. And all the characters are super diverse and have really rich stories that are inspirational for how things could be.”
Studies for a children's book
It was through sharing the sample designs for these characters on social media that Ashley was approached by Abhishek “Bobo” Bose-Kolanu, a PhD candidate in Literature at Duke, who liked her drawing style and wanted to collaborate on the children’s book. Ashley enthusiastically accepted. “Impacting kids through social commentary is more interesting and important to me than any company.”
At first, Ashley and Bobo imagined writing and illustrating the entire book from start to finish before sharing it with others. However, they soon realized that their work would have a greater impact if they took a more entrepreneurial approach. They’re currently working on a mini-version of the book that ends with a cliffhanger, to be released like a trailer on their social media networks. The idea is to build a fanbase and launch a Kickstarter campaign. This approach is not only an avenue for fundraising, it’s also a great way for the team to get lots of feedback during the creative process instead of afterward.
“A big thing in entrepreneurship is iteration and feedback,” Ashley says. “It’s super helpful to have, especially when you want your art to do something specific.”
In Ashley’s view, entrepreneurship is a mindset, just as the creative nature of art or the logic of computer science is a mindset. She tells me that the benefit of her education at Duke, where she majored in computer science and women’s studies, is that she’s learned how to enter into many different mindsets. This ability allows her to process and solve problems in multiple ways. While I’ve always believed that art is a powerful tool for tackling social issues, my talk with Ashley forced me to look beyond the creation of art itself and to consider the problem-solving exercise of commanding attention for the finished product.
“As an artist, you can create something, just put it out there, and move on,” she says. “But an entrepreneurial artist is like, ‘Wait a minute. If I make this art and no one looks at it, then how am I to say that I’m actually making a difference?’”
Megan Pearson (Trinity ’16) is an English major and an African American Studies/French double minor from Gastonia, NC. On campus she’s involved with Duke Dhoom, Duke Chinese Dance, the Duke Chapel Choir, and the Haitian Student Association. When she’s not choreographing or writing papers, she enjoys reading novels, frolicking in open fields (or parking lots), and having great conversations with the amazing people at Duke. She’s currently pursuing an honors thesis in Creative Writing.
by Isabella Kwai
[Editor's note: This is our chance to introduce Isabella and her classmate, Megan Pearson, two Duke seniors who have agreed to contribute pieces to our newsletters this year. Both are fine, thoughtful writers who will bring a student's-eye view of the arts and arts culture on campus. We couldn't be happier to have them.]
"I'm sorry for the bad reception," Meaghan Li apologizes through a patch of blurry pixels. She's skyping from a hot living room in Beijing, where she's currently visiting family. Last month, she was in the Netherlands attending a graphic design course. That was thanks to a Benenson Award she received before graduating from Duke last May. Next month, she thinks she might return to her native New Zealand. As an international student she's used to long flights and being away from her family. But her recent spurt of globe-trotting is the product of a graphic-design project that became internet famous—a project that she conceived in her last semester at Duke.
It all began in “Alcohol: Brain, Individual and Society", a course taught by Amir H. Rezvani, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. It's a popular course that focuses on the psychology of addiction (*). According to Dr. Rezvani, understanding the science of addiction and the reality of living with it is crucial to understanding drug use. “I don’t use scare tactics,” he says, “because they simply don’t work.” Over the semester, students listened to guest talks by former addicts and mothers of children with fetal alcohol syndrome. They also visited TROSA, a residential recovery program in Durham. Their final assignment was to explore addiction in their own terms.
“What people don’t realize,” Meaghan says, “is that ‘not discouraging’ is not the same as ‘encouraging.” She considers every word carefully – though she's a recent college graduate, she has the calm disposition of someone older. “The stance against drugs has become a moral issue, but it's really a health issue. Why can't we stay objective about it?” Her posters play off the scare campaigns of the 1980’s, when the War on Drugs initiated by the Nixon administration gained momentum under Reagan. One public service announcement made a particularly brutal and long-lasting impression. "This is your brain on drugs,” a man warns, dropping an egg into a frying pan and letting it sizzle until the egg whites burn. The campaign was revived in the 90’s with even greater intensity. “This is your brain,” a young woman says, holding up an egg along with a frying pan emblazoned with the word “heroin.” She smashes the egg with the pan and then flies into a destructive rage, smashing the dishes ("and this is what your family goes through!"), the sink ("and your friends!"), the clock ("and your money!"), and essentially the entire kitchen. The message is clear: drugs are destructive forces that obliterate lives, nothing less.
Meaghan’s posters, however, are more beautiful than frightening. While she uses the classic tag line, her approach to drug education is startlingly different from the old egg-and-pan trick. Simple and abstract, the posters are symbolic representations of what it might be like to experience a series of drugs. “I found a lot of articles, studies, and anecdotes about each substance. I wanted to distill all this research into one pattern or symbol to depict each drug’s psychoactive effect.” Some representations make the drug seem more benign than dangerous. MDMA is a glowing heart set on a pink background. Psilocybin ‘shrooms’ are shown as splashes of different colors rising from a flower pot. Others are spookier. Cocaine is represented as a thick, jagged line, while heroin is a ghostly, faceless shadow sinking into a dark background. Despite their minimalistic nature, they capture something that PSAs in the past have dismissed–people are drawn to drugs for a reason. Campaigns and education programs in schools have fixated on the damaging effects of drugs on the body and the behavioral changes they cause, but they've ignored a key question: Why do people take them? One can view her posters with interest, pity or judgment, but Meaghan believes they fill a void that's been left by the heavy-handed tactics of mainstream drug education.
Of course, Meaghan's project has received criticism as well as praise. Some have accused her of promoting drugs by romanticizing them while others say her posters are one-dimensional. “I can see why people may think that my posters are reductive,” Meaghan responds. “It's impossible not to be when tackling such a complex topic. But I don’t think that they encourage drug use. They’re educational in intent-I actually designed them with the idea of using them on the back of drug information cards.” In fact, a couple of health and policy organizations have approached her with that very purpose. Dr. Rezvani agrees. “Of course there are consequences,” he says, “but the reality is that all drugs are appealing in the beginning.”
The events that led to her posters going viral also reveal Meaghan’s ability to leverage technology and the power of social media. She first posted her work in the “Design” section of Reddit, a discussion forum where members can comment on each other’s work, photos and opinions. It was not her intention to let it go further than that, but the posters were well-reviewed and well-liked. Someone reposted them on Tumblr and they received thousands of shares over the next few days. From there, it escalated. The Washington Post and other media publications contacted her, intrigued by the attention her posters were receiving and by their underlying message. People, especially young, artistic people, were entranced by their visual nature and their accessibility. Everyone understands a picture, after all.
Meaghan credits much of her success to her experiences as an undergraduate at Duke. Her favorite classes have been centered on designing for the modern audience (“I loved Michael Faber’s class Graphic Design for Multimedia”). She also had plenty of practical opportunities to hone her designing chops while working as a graphic designer for the Duke Innovation Design Agency (DIDA), a resource that provides free design services to student organizations. In her first semester as a senior she studied in New York City and designed a highly-detailed rendition of the skyline. She was also a Policy Research Intern in Amsterdam for Transnational Institute’s "Drugs and Democracy" program. As more people recognize the power of design and art in policy and non-profit fields there is a growing niche for people like Meaghan.
Having graduated with a Public Policy major and Political Science/Visual Media Studies minor, Meaghan wants to do good things for the world in imaginative ways. According to her, policy doesn't have to be boring – it can be creative, passionate and geared towards an audience that demands to be treated without kid gloves.
What began as a school project has led her to consider a future in the graphic design industry. Since her encounter with Internet fame a month before graduation, she has been offered a variety of freelance work, from professors wanting to develop their websites to companies scouting for fresh talent. Next in store is an internship with M&C Saatchi, one of London’s top creative ad agencies, a spot she won over young designers from all over the world. But when I ask her what she wants to end up doing, she's still uncertain. There is one thing she is convinced about, though. “I want to find a way to apply my creativity and passion for design in a environment that also makes a public impact.”
(*) Despite its fifteen-year run, Dr. Rezvani’s course will not be offered in the spring due to a lack of departmental funding. He encourages interested students to petition the chair of the Psychology and Neuroscience Department to have it re-instated.
Isabella Kwai is a senior at Duke majoring in English Literature and Public Policy. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she moved to the States for college and has since broadened her scope of the world. Her writing can be found in the Duke Chronicle, where she is a regular opinion columnist and at www.bellakwai.com. Her favorite way of indulging in the arts is listening to music with a bass while finger-painting. You can contact her at email@example.com.
The Archive presents Salon, a night of poetry, music and a celebration of Duke’s literary scene, Friday, November 20, 7pm in Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room on the 1st floor in Rubenstein Library on Duke's West Campus.
The mission of Salon is to both showcase the extraordinary literary talent of both Duke's faculty and student population, and to encourage the appreciation and enjoyment of poetry. The program will include readings of Duke faculty Nathaniel Mackey, the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing, and Joseph Donahue, the Helen L. Bevington Professor of the Practice of Modern Poetry; graduate students Brenna Casey and Laura Jaramillo; and undergraduates Georgia Parke, Dimeji Abidoye, Andrew Tan-Delli Cicchi, Jazlyn Williams, and Spoken Verb performers Lara Haft and Ashley Croker-Benn. Salon is an event that highlights the creative power of poetry to express ideas and thoughts and connect poet and listener. Refreshments will be served.
Nathaniel Mackey works in the areas of modern and postmodern literature in the U.S. and the Caribbean, creative writing, poetry and poetics, and the intersection of literature and music. He is the author of several books of poetry, fiction and criticism, the most recent of which are Blue Fasa (New Directions, 2015), Bass Cathedral (New Directions, 2008), and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), respectively. Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25, a compact disc recording of poems read with musical accompaniment (Royal Hartigan, percussion; Hafez Modirzadeh, reeds and flutes), was released in 1995 by Spoken Engine Company. He is editor of the literary magazine Hambone and coeditor, with Art Lange, of the anthology Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press, 1993). His awards and honors include the selection of his first book of poetry, Eroding Witness, for publication in the National Poetry Series in 1985; a Whiting Writer’s Award in 1993; election to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets in 2001; the National Book Award in poetry for his fourth book of poetry, Splay Anthem, in 2006; an Artist’s Grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in 2007; the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize in 2007; the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society in 2008; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2014; and Yale University’s Bollingen Prize for American Poetry in 2015.
Joseph Donahue is an American poet, critic, and editor. Donahue was born in Dallas, Texas, on September 22, 1954 and grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended Dartmouth College for his undergraduate degree and went on to Columbia University and lived for many years in New York City. He now resides in Durham, North Carolina, where he is the Helen L. Bevington Professor of the Practice of Modern Poetry at Duke University. His poetry collections include Before Creation (1989), Monitions of the Approach (1991), World Well Broken (1995), Terra Lucida (1998), Terra Lucida XVI-XX (1999), Incidental Eclipse (2003), In This Paradise: Terra Lucida XXI-XL (2004), The Copper Scroll (2007). Anthologies edited by Donahue include Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (1996; with Edward Foster and Leonard Schwartz) and The World in Time and Space: Towards a History of Innovative American Poetry in Our Time (2002; with Edward Foster). Of Donahue's collection Incidental Eclipse, John Ashbery has written "Something is going under, something is coming to the surface; each is documented by two voices, one speaking in italics. There is little comfort here, but there is glamor in the inevitable, 'incidental' screen of darkness moving across the light. This sequence confirms Donahue as one of the major American poets of this time." Of the same collection, the poet Gustaf Sobin has stated that "In these sustained breath-strips, life's disparate, hopelessly disassociated elements find themselves spliced into single, all-inclusive sequences. In associating myth with matter, our deepest longings with our most dire anxieties, Donahue strikes an uninterrupted series of grace notes..."
For more information, contact The Archive Editors Chris Fiscella and Lauren Bunce at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us: Friday, November 20
From: 7:00 – 9:00 PM
In: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room Rubenstein Library, 1st floor
& start your Friday night in Duke literary fashion.
***Refreshments will be served.
Sponsored by The Archive Literary Magazine, The Undergraduate Publications Board with support from the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts.
Nathaniel Mackey photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald
View images from the 2014 Salon.
Durham mayor Bill Bell, Nancy Nasher, Sarah Schroth, and Richard Brodhead
Since its establishment ten years ago, the Nasher Museum of Art has had an unprecedented influence on the growth of the arts at Duke and the state of the arts in Durham. The museum is celebrating its anniversary both on site and in the community with a series of exhibitions and events, Nasher10. Among the highlights are two large-scale murals commissioned from abstract painter Odili Donald Odita. His wall painting inside the Nasher Museum’s Mary D.B.T. Semans Great Hall, entitled Shadow and Light (For Julian Francis Abele), is inspired by the African-American architect who designed most of Duke’s campus. It will be on display through September, 2016. The second mural is on the Foster Street wall of YMCA on Morgan Street in downtown Durham. That painting, entitled Time Bridge, was inspired by the city of Durham, which is, according to the artist, “a city that has an awareness of the complexity of its individual interests, and at the same time is open to allow those interests to thrive together as a community.”
The museum has also collected reflections from some of the people who have played crucial roles in its development. (Photos by J Caldwell)
“The Nasher Museum was the first large investment Duke made in the arts. Mr. Nasher sponsored half the cost of the project, so Duke had to step forward. The trustees had to think about the arts in a more serious way. The current integration of the arts throughout campus and academic life wouldn't have happened without the Nasher's success. The Nasher Museum was a big investment, but if it had fallen flat on its face, I doubt if the arts would have developed in the way they have.”
- Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum of Art (from Duke Today)
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead (right) cuts the Nasher10 ribbon at the entrance of The New Galleries with supporter Derek Wilson (T'86, B'90, P'15), Nasher Museum Director Sarah Schroth (second from right), Christen Wilson (second from left) and Trinity Wilson (T’15).
“The Nasher has given me such a continual stream of pleasures that it is quite a challenge to single out the best of the best. But here’s one thought: coming to the Nasher just after the graphic artist Dan Perjovschi had had his wildly impressive show at the MOMA to see his new show at the Nasher, and finding that he himself was just hanging out in the atrium—willing to engage with anybody, and just as easy, funny, and provocative as his work—and then doing new drawings with magic markers on the Nasher windows! It was art as product and art as process and art as living human creativity and exchange, all rolled into one. Just one example of the way the Nasher makes us feel more fully alive.”
─Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University
Nancy A. Nasher poses with the Duke Blue Devil in front of a mural by Odili Donald Odita at the Nasher10 Homecoming event.
“My father would often remark that art is like air and water—it is needed to survive and to enjoy life to its fullest. David and I are proud to support my father’s vision for Duke to have one of the best university art museums in the world. It has become our own vision.”
- Nancy A. Nasher, L’79, Chair of the Nasher Museum Board of Advisors
Nasher10 Photo Albums
Nasher10 News Stories
- The Nasher Museum celebrates 10 years with artist Odili Donald Odita
- Artist Odili Donald Odita Explains His New Mural in Downtown Durham
- Nasher Mural Work Completed
- The Nasher Decorates a Duke Bus
- The Nasher Museum's Big Year Starts
- Happy 10th Birthday, Nasher Museum
- Photos from the Work on the Odili Donald Odita Mural
- Follow Work on the New Nasher Museum Mural by Odili Donald Odita
- Nasher Museum of Art Plans Public Art Commission in Downtown Durham
Duke University Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts and the Council For the Arts are pleased to announce the 2015-16 Visiting Artists lineup. These residencies bring world-class artists to campus not only to present their work but also to engage with the community in classroom visits, master classes, talks, and social events.
Since 2006, this signature program has funded nearly fifty artist residences. Many of them have been collaborations between Duke Performances, the Nasher Museum, and Duke's performing and visual arts departments, but the program has grown into a campus-wide phenomenon. Departments not typically associated with the arts, including Mathematics, Chemistry, the Divinity School, the Sanford School for Public Policy, the Program in Education, and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, have been key partners. These broadly conceived residencies bring the challenge, inspiration, and insight provided by the arts to students across the spectrum of academic disciplines.
The four artists engaged for the 2015-16 season represent diverse artistic styles but share a commitment both to artistic excellence and engagement with students and the public.
Odili Donald Odita
A multi-visit residency by abstract painter Odili Donald Odita, who has been commissioned to create two large-scale murals as part of the Nasher Museum of Art’s ten-year anniversary celebration. One mural is in the Mary D.B.T. Semans Great Hall of the museum and the other is on the Foster Street wall of the Downtown Durham YMCA. The temporary murals will remain on view through 2017.
Rennie Harris Puremovement
October 19-24, 2015 • Performances October 23 & 24
Rennie Harris is one of the great veterans of hip-hop dance, having broken down barriers between the vocabulary of the street and the vocabulary of the concert hall for nearly forty years. His company Rennie Harris Puremovement comes to Duke for a week-long visiting artist residency and to perform for two nights at Reynolds Industries Theater.
January 27-30 and February 29-March 2, 2016
Performances January 30 (Chamber Arts Series) and March 2 (Duke Symphony Orchestra)
Violinist Jennifer Koh will come to Duke for a two-visit, seven-day residency during which she will perform a program entitled “Bridge to Beethoven” with pianist Shai Wosner and also perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major with the Duke Symphony Orchestra. A committed educator, Koh has won high praise for her performances in classrooms around the country under her innovative “Music Messenger” outreach program. Now in its 10th year, the program continues to form an important part of her musical activities.
January 27-30 and February 29-March 2, 2016
CANCELLED FOR SPRING 2016
A visiting artist residency by acclaimed choreographer Julia Adam will provide an extraordinary opportunity for Duke Dance Program to have direct experience with this acclaimed artist. Adam will make new work while in residence using her unique innovative approach, and also build on the broader Ballet Forward (re) thinking and (re)forming western classicism in dance initiative launched by Duke Dance Professors Tyler Walters and Julie Walters. Adam will also work with the Ballet Repertory students on a new choreography to be presented during the 2016 ChoreoLab.
The goal of the Visiting Artist Program is to support projects that will enrich the life of the university and broader community, augment the curricular efforts of a range of departments and programs, facilitate the interaction of artists and scholars, foster the reputation of Duke University as a place where the arts are vital and diverse, and contribute to the arts as a whole.
by Miriam Sauls
Some days he’s an artist who teaches and some days he’s a teacher who makes art, but either way, Professor Jeff Storer thinks it is a happy advantage that he can be both—for him and his students.
In addition to being a professor of the practice and chair of the Department of Theater Studies at Duke, Storer is artistic director of Manbites Dog, a professional theater company he co-founded in 1986. The company is dedicated to world and regional premieres of contemporary work and is an integral player in the thriving Durham arts scene.
Storer’s passion is to show students how theater can fit into their education at Duke and ultimately into the fabric of their lives. He is a case study of life interwoven with theater.
“What I teach in the classroom is never far from my own work,” he says. “I’m that guy who started a theater company 29 years ago, and that’s who I am as a teacher. I can teach by example, fueled by my own artistic work.”
On campus, his intent is to provide a safe environment so students can discover for themselves who they are and how they can grow into their own vision of themselves as artists.
Storer has seen time and again the transformation that takes place when a student finds a place in theater. Sometimes it happens during productions. Because theater is not one of the art forms you can do by yourself—dozens are needed to bring a show to the stage—chances to be a part of a show abound. His department presents two faculty-directed shows a year and there are many additional productions mounted by students.
“The discovery is like a light bulb going off when a student’s understanding goes beyond the intellectual reading of the text and moves into the realm of their voices and bodies. That’s when it becomes real for them. The student clearly understands some aspect of the human condition that was illusive—that’s what theater is good at.
“I am always thinking, how can we help them get from here to there? It sounds like a Dr. Seuss phrase, I know, but as their professors, we happen to be a part of their now,” he says. “We have to be part information and part inspiration to keep them moving toward their vision.
“Art is really hard and there are moments when what you say or do as a professor is the difference in whether or not a person has courage to go forward in their art.” Storer still vividly remembers saying to a student back in 1998, “You can have this if you want it.”
And even if he didn’t remember, that student, Aaron Lazar, reminds him when they visit backstage at whatever Broadway show Lazar is starring in at the moment—for instance, Mamma Mia!, A Little Night Music, Les Miserables, or The Light in the Piazza. (Lazar told his version of the story last November, after a performance of Sting's The Last Ship.)
“If I hadn’t been there and said that to him, would the outcome have been different?” Storer wonders.
Storer feels blessed he and his theater studies colleagues have had so many students who have done well professionally. He stays in touch with scores of them. That's partly because it is his nature to maintain relationships, but it also means that he is able to introduce his current students to alumni who have gone on to work in the field. The connections he makes can open doors.
Storer also creates opportunities closer to home through his own theater company. Manbites Dog has served as a laboratory for Duke over the years by offering chances to be a part of professional theater to current students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Through the company he has created many internships that allow students to get course credit. Some students have done their first professional work at Manbites Dog, as well.
Madeleine Lambert returned to Durham in March 2014 to perform in George Brant's one woman play Grounded (photo: Jon Haas).
“Jeff gave me the opportunity to perform at Manbites Dog Theater Company while I was a student at Duke,” says Madeleine Lambert (T’08). “Working at a professional theater further inspired me to pursue a career in acting.”
Lambert has indeed gone on to a successful acting career and, like many others, she has maintained a close relationship with her former teacher. “Jeff Storer is an extraordinary professor, artist, and mentor,” she says.
Storer believes he and his colleagues in the arts need to do a better job of communicating the broad value of the subjects they teach. That's especially true at a research institution, where scholars and administrators may not fully grasp both the intellectual and practical value of the arts.
"Theater skills are extraordinarily valuable skills.” he says. “Beyond acting and directing, theater teaches collaboration, problem solving, imaginative thinking, discipline. It teaches how to listen to narratives and stories of others and how to tell our own stories. I would suggest these are all things a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer need.”
Storer with students in his spring 2015 senior seminar, all theater studies majors. Back row (L to R): Michael Myers, Elena Lagon, Jeff, Quinn Cook, Jamie Bell, Kelly McCrum; Front row: Yara Alemi, Roxana Martinez, Kathryn Cooper, Austin Powers, Melanie Heredia
In addition, he points out, “we teach in a way unlike any other discipline. We teach by being interactive and embodying, by doing rather than talking. We need to do a better job of selling that.”
Of the students who discover theater for themselves, he says, "they tell us their experience with us is different from any other on campus and that they are better communicators, thinkers, and problem solvers as a result of that experience.
"The arts are integral to living in society. Theater has been central to humanity since that first cave man came back and reenacted the killing of the beast to the community around the fire. It maintains our collective memory about the human condition. How spectacular to be in a culture that contains the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare as well as today's stories!"
"We're only here a moment. Art takes that moment and freezes it so we can understand ourselves better and know we're not alone."
Jeff Storer and Manbites Dog were recently honored by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association with the 2015 Hardee-Rives Dramatic Arts Award for “excellent, exemplary work in and significant contribution and service to the dramatic arts in North Carolina.”