Bringing Us Together Again: The Power of Duke Performances and the Performing Arts

All photos courtesy Ari Redbord (pictured).

Lately, on his morning walks to work, through the streets of Washington, D.C., Ari Redbord ‘97 has been listening to the music that comforts and inspires him: namely the soundtrack to Les Misérables.

“It was the soundtrack of my childhood in so many ways. This time has made me appreciate the real power of music and the performing arts when it comes to finding comfort, community, and strength even in this impossibly dark time.,” he explained.

Redbord grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, just a forty-five minute drive to the stages of Manhattan. “I grew up in a musical theater-obsessed family,” he shared. “I think at a very young age I realized the power of the theater and the performing arts.  The arts can tell a story, provide an escape and entertain, but they can also teach us history, inspire us, and connect us to a moment and to each other.”

Redbord met his future wife, Kelley Pagliai Redbord ‘97, shortly after graduation (watching a Duke basketball game, of course). The couple are deeply engaged in supporting Duke as alumni. Ari was a founding member of the Young Alumni Development Council and later joined, and then chaired, the Annual Fund board.

Today the Redbords are supporting their passions at Duke. Kelley, a dermatologic surgeon, is a member of the School of Medicine Board of Visitors. Ari’s love of the performing arts connected him with Duke Performances, which immediately felt like home. Since 2017, Redbord has served as the first chair of the recently established Duke Performances Advisory Board. In this role, Redbord is able to champion the very art form that so deeply impacted his childhood. During this pandemic, supporting the arts feels more crucial than ever.

“I think the performing arts—and especially university presenters like Duke Performances—are going to make an extraordinary impact and play a huge role in bringing us back together. Physically back together, obviously, but also emotionally, through the stories artists are telling about what we are experiencing right now.”

He continued, “There is no one better situated right now to tell this story than a campus presenter with the support of an amazing university that prioritizes the arts. Duke and Duke Performances will weather this moment and be even more dedicated to creating a home for the community and for students, artists, alumni, and anyone passionate about the arts.”

Redbord family back at Duke for the Rubenstein Arts Center grand opening in 2018.

For its 19-20 season, Duke Performances presented more shows in downtown Durham than on campus and offered over 100 residency engagements to the community and Durham Public Schools. “Ideally we are very rarely presenting an act that is just coming to Durham for a couple of hours on stage at a venue,” explained Redbord, “We want to present artists who spend real time engaging with students and the community.”

This summer, Duke Performances worked exclusively with Durham-based artists to reinvent live performances for its Music in Your Gardens series. Drawing on the spirit of the annual tradition of outdoor concerts in Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a team of local filmmakers and audio technicians produced intimate concert films that air one-night only, with the musician joining the audience in a YouTube chat. This fall, Duke Performances will continue to present virtual performances and residency events and also use this “quieter” time to engage more deeply with students and community members wherever they may be.

“The bridge Duke Performances has built and continues to build between Duke and the Durham community is going to be even more important when we are finally able to be together again.” says Redbord. “Duke will be there every step of the way. We will rise to the occasion.”

“One important step as we strengthen our community through the arts,” says Redbord, “is to invite a remarkable new director to lead Duke Performances. I could not be more excited to welcome Bobby Asher to the family. He brings an extraordinary acumen for arts management, an excellent curatorial eye, and he will be a great leader for Duke Performances and an important emissary for Duke.”

“University presenters are going to be incredibly important to bringing us back together. I encourage alumni who are passionate about the arts to help in this moment. Duke alumni and passionate community supporters can have a real impact on the arts at Duke without being musically or artistically inclined themselves.  “All you need is a passion for the performing arts,” said Redbord. “I completely reject the notion that you have to be an artist to be involved in the arts.”

On his daily walks to work, Redbord has listened over and over again to this refrain from Les Miserables to frame the moment:

For the wretched of the earth

There is a flame that never dies

Even the darkest night will end

And the sun will rise

“We are in a dark moment for the world, and for the arts in particular. But there will be a new day when the sun will rise, and I really believe that Duke can play an important role in getting us there.”

Explore how you can make an impact on the arts at Duke!