ARTS + Sustainability

The 2013 Duke Arts Festival invites student artists to imagine how their paintings, prints, sculptures, videos, photos, media, music, dance, poetry, and theater might address sustainability.

UPDATE: Submissions are now closed! Thanks to everyone who submitted their work, and be sure to stop by the Festival October 25 - November 3!

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The centerpiece of the Duke Arts Festival is the exhibition in the Bryan Center of more than 200 works by Duke students. Works cover a variety of media including painting, photography, sculpture, graphic design, printing, digital art, and film. The students come from all areas of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Along with student visual art, the festival features spot performances by student performers. We accept a variety of submissions, including music, dance, theater, and spoken word. The goal is to make student art on campus as visible as possible, so these performers will be seen in the Bryan Center, Perkins Library, the plaza, at the West Campus bus stop, and in the Arts Annex.  Students perform solo and in group such as in sing-along folk groups, solo violinists, DefMo, Sabrosura, troops of students from Hoof ‘n’ Horn, and much more. These performances also occur in pop-up outdoor sites throughout the week of the Festival, and may include the East Campus bus.

Why have a theme for the festival?

One of the signature strengths of the arts at Duke is that students and faculty find unexpected and exciting ways to link the arts to other areas of academic inquiry.  Programs in Chemistry, Mathematics, Divinity, and Brain Sciences have hosted visiting artists in residence in recent years to inform expand understanding in those areas of study.  Many students who major in the arts also pursue majors in other academic subjects.  In recent years, faculty artists, visiting artists, and student artists have shown amazing imagination, ingenuity and a growing interest to make art that addresses sustainability.  Collaborations with this theme are among the signature events in the Nicholas School for the Environment, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Music, Dance, Theater, and the Nasher Museum of Art. 

How can we cultivate sustainable use of our precious natural resources, and what role can the arts play in making us understand the urgency of this problem?

Several special events will reinforce our theme:  Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan will visit Duke on October 30-31 to share with the Duke community his powerfully rendered artworks about consumption and preview his film "Midway: Message from the Gyre", which was screened this past September at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.  Local environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck will work with students on the art installation "Falling Water: Plastic Sea" in the Bryan Center that uses discarded plastic bottles as source material.  Pinar Yoldas, a graduate student in Visual and Media Studies, will mount her incredible “Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species” in Brown Gallery in the Bryan Center.  Her work is “a roaring wake-up call” for all who inhabit planet earth. Jordan, Holsenbeck, and Yoldas will also participate in a panel discussion about mass consumption and how art can draw attention to critical issues of today

We encourage students to take this year’s theme as a provocation to synthesize what they study in the classroom with creative expression through the arts.

The Festival kicked off on Friday, September 20, when students, staff and faculty joined in a day-long project and helped build Fort Duke, a structure made entirely of cardboard boxes collected during move-in.  Volunteer participants came together to construct a cardboard labyrinth on the Chapel Quad on West Campus. Duke competed to break the national record for the largest recycled cardboard building in the US, which was held by Naperville, IL. Our goal was to use 3,500 boxes and we did!  We broke the world record!  Fort Duke was a creative way to shed light on the impact of student move-in and opportunities to reduce waste during this busy time of year.  If you have any questions about the event please contact

The Duke Arts Festival, Sustainable Duke, and Duke Sanitation and Recycling Services are partnering to develop new programs that utilize the arts to educate the campus community about their ecological footprint.