Benenson Awards in the Arts

Summer funding for Duke students pursuing arts training, research or projects.

The Benenson Awards in the Arts provide funding for fees, travel and other educational expenses for arts-centered projects proposed by Duke University admitted undergraduate students, including graduating seniors. Students who plan to pursue a career in the arts or creative industries are especially encouraged to apply.

Graduate students, DKU visiting students, and other inter-institutional students are not eligible to apply. If you are a Robertson Scholar who has declared an arts credential at Duke, you can apply for consideration and your recommendation must be from a Duke faculty artist.

2024 Student Arts Awards Committee

Jules Odendahl-James (Theater Studies; Director of Academic Engagement for Arts & Humanities), Chair
Roseen Giles (Music)
Iyun Harrison (Dance)
Stephen Hayes (Visual Arts)
Meesha Maren-Hogan (Creative Writing)
Tom Rankin (Documentary Studies)
Raquel Salvatella de Prada (Visual Arts)
Jeff Storer (Theater)

Browse Past Benenson Projects

What have other Duke students done with support from a Benenson Award in the Arts? Check out previous awardees.

For 2024, applicants are asked to provide additional details regarding summer plans:
  1. For example, what else are you planning to do this summer: coursework, employment, research (formal/informal), internship(s), study away, etc. Failure to disclose the full range of your plans, (just as you are asked to include other funding sources pursued or obtained) could nullify your application.
These elements continue:
  1. Students are asked to designate funding requests in one of two categories: an award for $2500 or an award for $4500. The committee will make awards in one of these two amounts, so while your budgeting can be general, it must be logical based on the project proposed. If you have a summer arts project where the funding need is significantly lower than $2500, reach out to Dr. Odendahl-James (jao@duke.edu).
  2. Students who have a declared arts degree credential (major, minor, certificate) need only provide one letter of recommendation from an arts faculty mentor. If you are undeclared or are not pursuing an arts degree credential you need to provide two letters of recommendation and one should be from a Duke faculty member who has knowledge of your creative work.
  3. Students can propose projects that include travel (international or domestic) but you must coordinate travel plans with Duke’s Global Travel Support. You want to pay particular attention to the list of “restricted regions”, which is continually changing and for which you can submit a petition but there are key timelines for such a process.
  4. Students will also be asked for back-up plans (with specifics) in case plans have to change (this includes not being able to travel, not being accepted into a specific training program, etc.)
Before you begin your application, you should have:
2024 Awardees have been announced. Applications open in February 2025 for next year’s Benenson Awards.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, you are strongly encouraged to meet with an arts mentor (former instructor, the advisor to a student arts organization, a more experienced peer), or the Director of Academic Engagement for the Arts and Humanities to get their feedback on your plans, particularly budgeting. For any other questions, email benensonaward@duke.edu.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can students apply multiple times for a Benenson?

Yes. If you do not receive funding one year, you are encouraged to apply again the next year. There is no guarantee that repeat applications will be funded and it’s wise to address how funding for a repeated aspect of a previous project will have a different impact. Graduating seniors who have received funding previously should expect to be competitive especially if they are clear about how their proposal relates to their overall arts goals.

The application requires you to identify other sources of funding you are pursuing and you are encouraged to find other lines of funding such as competitive of end-of-year awards within your major/minor/certificate departments or programs; competitive awards outside of Duke; awards from Duke Libraries for creative writing; or Dean’s Summer Research Awards from the Undergraduate Research Support Office and for 2023 the English department has a process to apply for funds to support summer research/creative projects. If you do not know if your major/minor/certificate department or program has awards for student work, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Program Coordinator for details. Some departments list competitive awards information on their website (including English and Theater Studies).

What projects have been funded in the past?

You can browse Benenson projects completed in Summer 2022 and afterwards here. Other recently funded projects include:

  • Student artist participation in creative writing intensive programs such as Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, Clarion Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop.
  • Student artist participation in performance/training intensive programs such as the Dance for Parkinson’s Program, the National Theatre Institute at the O’Neill Center, Second City, Michael Howard Studios Acting Intensive, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the World Youth Wind Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Festival, the Stevenson Gallery of Cape Town, Kuchipudi Dance study in New Delhi, the Clazz Festival, the NY Film Academy of France.
  • Student artist research towards or the creation of visual art installations or exhibits (in mediums like photography, digital video, environmental sculpture); documentary, experimental, or narrative film; creative or non-fiction writing (short or long form, including plays or musicals).

Can students apply for a Benenson if planned project details (such as workshop acceptance) have not been confirmed?

Yes, but you should be clear about your status in your application and you are already required to have a feasible back-up plan to submit as well. Students are required to alert the awards chairperson if your plans change. If a student receives a Benenson Award but is not accepted into their proposed program and their back-up plans do not materialize, they must return the funding.

I’m an international Duke undergraduate student, can I apply for a Benenson?

Duke admitted international students are absolutely eligible for the Benenson and encouraged to apply. But keep reading into the next question, because the tax burden for international students can be significant.

What kind of tax impact does the award have? Could it affect my financial aid?

Benenson award funds are taxable and reported to the IRS. Your tax liability will depend on your total income and many other things, but all applicants should consider it when budgeting.

For international students, the tax burden is likely to be especially large—from 10 to 40% depending on your country of origin. So, for example, if you apply for a $4500 award, know that about $500 of that amount will go to pay taxes taxes. Read here for more information and support about tax penalties.

If you are concerned about how your funding at Duke will work in relationship this award or other summer programs/opportunities, contact your financial aid counselor for further information and advice.

Can Benenson funds be used for projects during fall or spring semesters?

No.

Must Benenson awarded projects be completed by end of summer?

The Benenson funded portion of an art project must be completed by end of the calendar year in which it is granted. Project development can continue past the summer but at the start of the fall semester you will be asked to submit a reflection and related media. These materials are shared with the Benenson family and the Duke Arts community as they become part of student project features on this page.

Can I apply to Benenson in support of an internship?

Benenson funds cannot be used to support internships that are required for majors (like Public Policy, which has its own Leadership in Arts Policy Internship program) or that are part of Duke In programs (like Duke in NY, Duke in LA) or other study away or summer coursework that will be used towards your Duke degree.

Proposals to support internships or apprenticeships in arts fields or with institutions that are arts practice in nature (such as theater companies, museums, galleries, recording companies, dance festivals, music festivals to gain training/experience in acting, directing, writing, producing, filmmaking, curation, performance) can be competitive Benenson applications.

If you have applied to an opportunity but do not know your status yet (see the second question above), you can make a proposal to Benenson but you should outline a back-up plan within your proposal and keep the committee chair (Jules Odendahl-James, jao@duke.edu) updated as to your status.

Proposals to support internships in arts marketing, fundraising/development, and arts management typically are not competitive for Benenson awards. If you have interests in those domains, you should check out:

What kind of portfolio materials should I submit in support of my application? Should I submit a portfolio?

This varies from arts discipline to arts discipline. It is a good question to ask of your faculty recommender or an arts faculty who has knowledge of your work. Portfolio materials are not required; however, examples of work can help make the case for your preparedness to achieve the project you are proposing particularly if you are a newer student at Duke or newer in the field of study/experience you are proposing.

If you have already submitted your work/a portfolio to an outside entity (say, you have submitted a film reel and resume to an Acting for the Camera workshop) and you’ve been admitted, it is less critical that you submit that same material to the Benenson committee.

If you are proposing a more independent plan of work – creating your own series of photographs to display at an on-campus gallery – then it might be more relevant for you to show the Benenson committee some examples of your work in that vein to demonstrate your ability to conceive of and complete a project.

Your letters of recommendation will speak to your artistic work and skills; however, portfolio materials can be wise supplements to include particularly if you haven’t yet had a chance to interface with many arts faculty at Duke because you are a rising Sophomore or you’ve just started taking arts coursework.

SUGGESTED PORTFOLIO TYPES AND LENGTH FOR BENENSON PROPOSALS:
  • Writers: a piece or pieces totaling no more than 500 words, any genre (poetry, short story, novel, non-fiction, play, screenplay).
  • Performers (dance, music, theatre): two contrasting pieces, any genre, each no longer than 3 minutes in length
  • Visual artists: three examples of work with no more than 100 words of context
  • Filmmakers: a treatment (no longer than 500 words in length) or scene no longer than 5 minutes in length.

Proposals to support internships or apprenticeships in arts fields or with institutions that are arts practice in nature (such as theater companies, museums, galleries, recording companies, dance festivals, music festivals to gain training/experience in acting, directing, writing, producing, filmmaking, curation, performance) can be competitive Benenson applications.

If you have applied to an opportunity but do not know your status yet (see the second question above), you can make a proposal to Benenson but you should outline a back-up plan within your proposal and keep the committee chair (Jules Odendahl-James, jao@duke.edu) updated as to your status.

Proposals to support internships in arts marketing, fundraising/development, and arts management typically are not competitive for Benenson awards. If you have interests in those domains, you should check out:

My professor says they’ll write me a recommendation, but how are they supposed to submit it?

Equipment expenses (this includes computers, cameras, phones, props) should not be part of your budget. Travel expenses can be part of a budget; however, remember that the focus of your budgeting should be arts-centered and frugally conceived. Think hostel stays and red-eye flights so that you can do more with less.

If you always wanted to take a trip to the Amazon and you’d like to take some nature photographs while you’re there, even if you’re an excellent photographer, that on its own will not make a competitive Benenson proposal. If the rapidly changing landscape of the Amazon is the focus of an independent study course you’ve done as a photography minor you’d have a stronger rationale for Benenson funds to be used to travel to the Amazon to capture events on the ground.

If you’ve never created a budget for an arts project, it’s wise to consult your faculty recommender(s) or another mentor or peer for advice. There’s also this helpful step-by-step guide from Format. (Step 7 includes other hyperlinks to budgeting strategies for artists in different fields.) And this article from the Canadian Broadcasting Company might help you think through the artist grant application process overall.

If you have additional questions, please email benensonaward@duke.edu.

Benenson Announcements and Q&As