Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Funds Ambitious, 3-year Arts Initiative at Duke

Rubenstein Arts Center. Photo by Robert Benson Photography.

The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and the Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian Trust have awarded Duke Arts with a $500,000, 3-year grant to redefine arts education in film, music, and dance.

With the support of this gift, Duke students will learn from, and collaborate with, accomplished visiting artists. This gift will also extend the impact of artist residencies beyond campus through partnerships with Durham Public Schools and community arts organizations. Programming in all three areas kicks off in Fall 2018.

Since the Duke Arts initiative was established in 2007, Vice Provost for the Arts Scott Lindroth has helped fund more than 70 artist residencies. “With this gift, and the Rubenstein Arts Center, we will continue to build our arts curriculum through engaging practicing artists in meaningful residencies,” Lindroth says. “Through collaborations with departments, presenters, and local partners, we will turn the Ruby into a hub where artists, students, faculty, and the community can explore the creative process and make new work together.”

The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation is a longtime supporter of the arts at Duke and in the region, and Jenny Semans Koortbojian was Mrs. Biddle’s granddaughter.

“Duke has demonstrated its commitment to arts education,” says Mimi O’Brien, the foundation’s executive director. “Of particular interest to the Koortbojian Trust and the Biddle Foundation is the opportunity to position the Rubenstein Arts Center as a resource for the wider community.”

Students at the Center for Documentary Studies. Photo by Theo Martins.

Film: The Documentary Moment

Visiting filmmakers will work with Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts, the Center for Documentary Studies and its Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the undergraduate certificate in the Arts of the Moving Image. The spaces at the Ruby—including a film theater with archival-format projectors, a video production studio, and an editing suite —allow for ambitious film programming.

“We hope to establish screenings at the Ruby that connect with undergraduates,” says Full Frame Director Deirdre Haj. “We will also explore how our teen program, the School of Doc, might find new filming opportunities during live performances that will take place at the Ruby.”

Center for Documentary Studies Director Wesley Hogan expects Duke to take full advantage of the larger role documentary film is currently playing in the wider culture.

“The documentary form has taken on particular significance and urgency in a time when fact and reality-based evidence are routinely distorted and manipulated,” she says. “This grant provides a unique opportunity for Duke undergraduates, faculty, and staff to interact with, and learn from, documentary artists who help us sort out meaning and truth.”

The JACK Quartet plays music by Duke composition students in 2017. Photo by Robert Zimmerman.

Music: The Future of Music

With this support, the Department of Music will invite professional musicians and composers to campus for multi-visit residencies. Together with these contemporary musicians, students and faculty will explore how to pivot classroom learning towards public engagement.

“Music is the sound of a culture, its emerging energies as well as its history,” says Philip Rupprecht, Chair of Duke’s music department. “The sounds of these residencies—performing and teaching live in many different settings—will reach far beyond the undergraduate and graduate programs on Duke’s campus, deep into surrounding communities. Our existing neighborhood partners (including Duke University String School, Kidznotes, and El Sistema USA) have led the way in bringing contemporary music of all kinds to new audiences. We look forward, in the coming years, to amplifying the resonances of those projects through collaborative art making with a roster of extraordinary visiting musicians.”

ABT Studio Company practices at Duke in February 2018. Photo by Alex Boerner.

Dance: American Ballet Theatre

The Biddle Foundation also supports Duke’s partnership with the American Ballet Theatre announced earlier this year. The gift is designed to deepen the community impact of this three-year residency that is co-hosted by Duke Performances and the Duke Dance Program.

The ABT partnership includes a significant public-facing dimension. ABT’s Studio Company —comprised of twelve elite pre-professional dancers — will visit Duke and Durham for two weeks each year of the residency. During those visits, choreographer Stefanie Batten Bland will create new work for the Studio Company’s repertory, leading to a world premiere during the residency’s third year. Master teachers from ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School will also visit campus to provide masterclasses open to both Duke students and the Durham community. And during the residency’s second year, ABT’s Main Company will make its first visit to North Carolina in over 50 years to perform Giselle at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

“This is a win for Duke. It is our roadmap to re-energize on-campus programs with new artistic talent and be innovative with how we link our work to wider communities.”—Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts

“The opportunity to engage in this residency has enticed a lot of interest among prospective and current dance students and community artists as well,” says Purnima Shah, chair of the Duke Dance Program. “Moreover, inspiring state-of-the-art spaces at the Rubenstein Arts Center will provide a wider aesthetic scope for new innovative works to be set on the Company and advanced Duke dance students. The ‘glass cube’ studio will become a beehive of ABT activity for the next three years.”

This fall, led by Duke Performances, Duke will seek local partners to co-host immersive ABT workshops focused on ballet and dance literacy, as well as masterclasses in ballet technique for students in Durham and throughout the Triangle. Duke will also explore local collaborations with artists, scholars, and practitioners that aim to expand access to both ABT’s work and to ballet writ large. “We hope to congregate a robust and diverse community around ABT’s historic 3-year engagement with Duke,” says Aaron Greenwald, director of Duke Performances. New on-campus collaborations may also take shape—for example, ballet could bridge Duke Arts and Duke Athletics.

“This is a win for Duke,” says Lindroth. “It is our roadmap to re-energize on-campus programs with new artistic talent and be innovative with how we link our work to wider communities.”