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Duke University Arts

Aug 25, 2015

Sidney D. Gamble in China, 1908-1932


From the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Photographs of China from the early twentieth century are relatively uncommon. Of those images that survived the unrest, most were taken by foreign travelers whose photos returned home with them. Such was the case with the extensive photographic work of renowned sociologist and China scholar Sidney Gamble (1890-1968). This exhibition, curated by Duke faculty, library staff, and students, provides an intimate view of China during this important historical period. Curated by Professor Guo-Juin Hong (AMES) and Luo Zhou, Chinese studies librarian, this exhibit runs from thru November 1 in the Photography Gallery of the reopened Rubenstein Library. 

An opening reception will be on September 3 at 4pm in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library, 1st floor. Please register at

Photographs from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


Aug 24, 2015

Pedro Lasch's Curricular Intervention in Venice

A new piece by visual art professor Pedro Lasch, HOW TO KNOW: The Protocols and Pedagogy of National Abstraction, was presented recently as part of the 2015 Creative Time Summit at the Venice Art Biennale. It is part of a larger series of highly collaborative projects called Abstract Nationalism & National Abstraction. The first installment, which drew on the expertise of a number of artists, performers, and scholars at Duke, was presented last year at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

HOW TO KNOW, a new work by Pedro Lasch, frames the 2015 Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum at the Venice Biennale, and is part of a larger series. Social interventions, visual compositions, flag displays, and musical works enable audiences to understand national anthems of other countries in their own language, while their own anthem becomes incomprehensible. For those speaking several languages, or having strong associations with more than one anthem, the experience is even more layered and representative of today’s cultural pluralism.

Each of the forty-eight flags of the installation at the Teatro alle Tese, in the Arsenale, combines four countries, so that all of the world’s countries are represented, in alphabetical order.

The flags are set in motion through simple choreographed movements by members of a color guard, here called the curricular guard for the multilingual terms and phrases that appear on their shirts; together the flags and color guard propose a re-envisioned curriculum for All of the World’s Futures.

Aug 18, 2015

DukeCreate Arts Workshop Series

The Duke University Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts (DukeArts) and University Center Activities and Events (UCAE) have worked with the Arts Annex, duARTS, VisARTS and Artstigators, to organize a new series of FREE workshops for students where they can learn and practice studio art techniques.

The DukeCreate Arts Workshop Series (calendar PDF) will include instruction in photography – digital and dark room, screen printing, ceramics, and painting and drawing. The workshops will start the first week of September and end in late November, in keeping with the academic calendar. Instruction will be offered by local arts professionals, MFA|EDA students and Duke faculty. The workshops will be held in a creative and supportive environment with an emphasis on skill development and practical experience.

The purpose of the workshops is to create an extracurricular educational experience, connect students with on-campus student arts organizations and opportunities, foster a forum for dialogue and dynamic community building in the arts on campus and with local arts organizations in the triangle area.

The workshops will also expose participants to the academic opportunities available in the arts on campus, including courses, majors, grants, independent study, internships, mentorships, and create collaborative interaction where students gain practical guidance about careers in the arts. 

  • DukeCreate Arts Workshop Series will run from early September through late November.
  • Workshop are FREE and on a first come-first served.
  • Sign-in is required at Arts Annex Information Desk. Walk-ins are welcome. Class size is limited.
  • Workshop hours:  6-8pm Wed & Thur + 2-4pm Sat. Workshops begin promptly at designated times.
  • For more information about DukeCreate Arts Workshop Series contact the Arts Annex at (919) 613-5116.

The Arts Annex is located just off the C1, C5 & CSW bus stops on Campus Drive. 404 Gattis Street, Durham NC 27708, Tel: 919-613-5116. Hours: Sun–Thur 10am–12am & Fri–Sat 10am–8pm,

This program is sponsored by Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts (DukeArts), University Center Activities and Events (UCAE), in cooperation with the Arts Annex, duARTS, VisARTS, and #artstigators.


Jul 31, 2015

In the Spotlight: Aaron Greenwald and Duke Performances


(photo by D.L. Anderson)
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When Aaron Greenwald came to Duke in 2007 to be interim director of Duke Performances, concerted efforts to raise the profile of the arts at Duke were in their early stages. As executive director, he’s led the organization through a time of great change and expansion. Duke Performances now presents about 80 shows per season—a "willfully eclectic" mix of music, dance, and theater—in a diverse collection of venues. It’s inviting the community to campus, as it always has, but also meeting its audience in the community. And it’s finding creative ways to make connections from the performing arts to academics across the curriculum.

A key part of Greenwald’s strategy as director has been to cultivate an eclectic set of venues to suit his eclectic lineup of shows. With the transformative renovation of Baldwin Auditorium two seasons ago and renovations on Page Auditorium nearly complete, Duke’s on-campus performance halls are sounding better and looking better than they ever have, but that doesn’t mean that they’re ideal for every show. For example, none of them have the capacity and reach of the Durham Performing Arts Center or the nightclub ambience of Motorco Music Hall, to name two off-campus venues that are in regular rotation.

Duke Performances' 2014/2015 season by the numbers:

  • 80 presentations
  • Total audience of 35,000
  • 8,000 $10 tickets sold to Duke students, subsidized by the Office of the Provost
  • 50 artist residency events serving over 3,000 Durham students and community members

The match of show and setting has been especially important for Duke Performances’ distinctive commissioning program. For instance, the first new work performed in Baldwin Auditorium was a piece commissioned from renowned pianist-composer Billy Childs for the celebration of 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University. It was just a few weeks after the hall's grand reopening that a capacity crowd filled it to hear Dianne Reeves, one of the premier jazz vocalists of our day, sing Childs’ somber, challenging composition. A few months later, Duke Performances produced an “indie pop puppet opera”—a collaboration between then Duke theater professor Torry Bend and the Durham-based band Bombadil. Its four shows filled the Durham Arts Council’s auditorium—the epitome of a community performance space—with families and fans eager to see what these local heroes had dreamed up. (It was a pretty wild ride.)

As a presenter at an academic institution, an important part of Duke Performances’s brief is to connect artists to the curriculum. To that end, it arranges campus residencies for some of its artists during which they give workshops, open rehearsals, and talks, to visit classes, and to mix informally with students and faculty. The interactions extend beyond the obvious pairings of instrumentalists with student composers, choreographers with student dancers, and so on. For instance, the theme of the play that theater troupe Rude Mechs presented at Duke in 2014 was evolution by natural selection. As part of their residency, they visited the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center to discuss the art of communicating scientific concepts to the public—increasingly a concern in scientific circles.

I spoke to Greenwald in mid-April about his vision for Duke Performances, his background, and how he keeps all these balls in the air. A few weeks earlier I had a small part in the residency of violinist-vocalist-composer Jenny Scheinman. She was on campus to perform music she’d composed to accompany film of mid-twentieth-century life in the Piedmont—a documentary montage assembled from archival material in Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. A few days before her show she visited the songwriting class I teach and several of my students performed songs for her. She’s an artist with tremendous focus, and the friendly, incisive way she engaged with the students and their songs was a pleasure to watch. The whole project, which took material from Duke and returned it much enriched while engaging regional history and the documentary arts, is a testament to Greenwald’s vision and to the value Duke Performances brings to campus.

-Robert Zimmerman

The Model

Billy Childs with Dianne Reeves and the Ying Quartet premiere Childs' composition "Enlightened Souls" (photo by Michael Zirkle)

As the director of Duke’s premier presenting organization, what’s your basic approach to the job?

We’re somewhat unusual as a presenter in that we offer things from very, very small to quite large. We do that because we think that the little things are as good as the big things. We do that also because we think that bachata music can be as great as a Beethoven string quartet.

Jul 20, 2015

The Beverly McIver Experience Comes to Duke

It's nearly the end of Beverly McIver’s first semester at Duke since joining the faculty as the first Esbenshade Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts, and her intermediate painting class is in session. The students are working in an atmosphere of calm concentration, many of them brushing paint onto bold, larger-than-life versions of themselves for their final assignment, a self-portrait. As McIver circulates from one to the next making introductions, she points out their accomplishments and describes their background and their painting style. Also, she tells stories. She teases. She throws her head back and laughs. The rapport between her and her students is something to see.

Photographs by Jon-Sesrie Goff. See more of McIver's work at the Craven Allen Gallery.

The story on senior James Ferguson, for instance, is that he showed up after the start of the semester hoping to join the class. McIver regretfully informed him that it was full. “He took a seat on a bench and started drawing,” she says. “Obviously he was not going anywhere.”

“You hadn’t told me a definitive no,” Ferguson shoots back, smiling.

Ferguson has finished his self-portrait, which is the middle in a strip of three panels showing him with his mother and father. Families are often portrayed with, say, their dogs or their bible or their musical instruments. Ferguson’s painting shows his family bobbing in the water, swim masks and snorkels pulled up over their foreheads—a take on the tradition that’s as novel as it is charming.

With the portrait finished, Ferguson has moved on to irises. McIver warned him against it. “You don't want to do that,” she said. “Flowers are too hard to paint.” But looking at his work she has to admit that “so far it's turned out pretty swell.”

Jul 9, 2015

The Story Behind the Esbenshade Professorship in Visual Art


Harry “Hap” Esbenshade III
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It was a confluence of interests that led Harry “Hap” Esbenshade III to endow a chair in the arts, but it started with a trip. He and his daughter were looking for a college with a strong visual arts program. They toured a lot of schools and what they found was a large concentration in the northeast and a few in the south. But, he says, “there’s really nothing in the southeast.” That’s especially true if you’re looking for a strong arts program at a liberal arts college.

To Esbenshade, a business-minded alumnus (class of ’79) with a long record of philanthropic and volunteer service to Duke, the void looked not so much like a problem as an opportunity – a chance, he says, for Duke “to distinguish itself by becoming the truly exceptional school in the arts in the southeast.”

Steps had already been taken in that direction, starting with the founding of the Nasher Museum of Art, which gave Duke much-needed credibility in the arts arena. Still, Esbenshade says, “compared to many other areas at Duke, we have farther to go to bring the arts up to the same status as the rest of the university. I wanted to do something to help move us in that direction.”

The Vision, Realized

This past spring about a dozen students took the first painting course made possible by Esbenshade's gift to Duke. Their professor, Beverly McIver, is a significant presence on the contemporary American art scene with an inspiring life story that began in the projects in Greensboro, North Carolina. It turns out that she is also an experienced, exacting, enthusiastic teacher who has tremendous rapport with her students.

Read more about McIver and her students.

Esbenshade is, in his description, an unlikely patron of the arts. “I’m a specialty contractor,” he says. “We do roofing, sheet metal and mechanical contracting, and have shops. What do I know about art?” Considering that his daughter is a talented painter and his mother was an artist, as well, he may be selling himself a little short. But in any case, he clearly knows something about artists and about arts education, and he’s troubled by what he sees.

“We delay discovery of the arts in public schools through underfunding,” he says, “so unfortunately it may not come until college. And then the students get in and they say, ‘Wow! I wish I could have gotten this sooner, but now I’m going to get as much as I can.’”

That thinking informs his gift. Duke has long offered introductory classes in painting and drawing but little beyond that. Esbenshade stipulated that the professorship he endowed is for an artist who will teach intermediate and advanced arts. It’s meant to give students that opportunity to dig deeper. It also gives college applicants with an interest in the arts more reason to seriously consider Duke.

The Esbenshade Professorship of the Practice of Visual Arts, then, is a strategic investment by Esbenshade in Duke’s program of expansion in the arts – an endeavor he sees as important and promising. It’s “a very small but corrective step” for arts education in general. And it’s a way to honor the creative passion of both his mother and his daughter.

The gift is also a challenge. “If a contractor from West Virginia can do this,” Esbenshade says, “what could you maybe do?” For his part, he adds, “I’ve never missed a dollar I gave away.”


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