Mission and History

Explore with us.

Duke Arts champions expansive, inclusive, and impactful arts programs that build meaningful connections between campus, community, and global audiences.


Duke Arts invites you to experience, create, and explore the arts with us. Duke Arts champions an expansive and inclusive approach to the arts on campus, throughout Durham, and beyond – showcasing world-class creators and performers, cultivating artists and scholars, and supporting the creation of new works. We foster the study and the expression of art at all levels, and across all forms of creative practice – including music, visual art, dance, cinema, theater, literary, and experimental arts. Duke Arts plays a critical role in building purposeful partnerships between our campus, regional, and global audiences, and brings to life the commitment that the arts are central to Duke’s mission to engage the mind and elevate the spirit.

2023 Duke Arts Highlights


Between 2007–2017, Duke University’s academic strategic plan incorporated an emphasis on the arts and appointed Scott Lindroth as Duke’s first Vice Provost for the Arts. During his tenure, Lindroth led a massive expansion of arts opportunities across campus and several capital projects—including the Rubenstein Arts Center.

In 2018, Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth tasked University Secretary Richard Riddell to lead a cross-representative team in delivering a vision of the future of the arts at Duke. The results included launching a search for the first full-time vice provost for the arts. In July 2020, John V. Brown was appointed vice provost for the arts and began to develop a vision that will make the arts at Duke more visible, collaborative, and accessible than ever before. In April 2021, Duke Arts and Duke Performances underwent an internal merger, and in August 2023, John V. Brown announced the rebranding of Duke Performances as Duke Arts Presents, a new chapter for professional arts presenting at Duke University.

Today, by linking arts experiences and creative practice to classroom inquiry, the Vice Provost for the Arts and Duke Arts work to embed art into the mainstream Duke experience.

Presenting the Arts at Duke

Duke University has a long-standing history of presenting the world’s leading artists to its community. J. Foster “Bishop” Barnes, Director of Chapel Music at Duke Chapel, founded and served as Director of the Duke Artists Series from 1931 to 1956. The Artists Series’ mission was to offer the finest in classical music, opera, and dance to the Duke and Durham communities. William J. Griffith III, Director of both the Student Union and Student Activities, followed Barnes as Director of the Artists Series, serving from 1956 to 1969.

In 1956 Griffith invited Ella Fountain Pratt to develop arts programs for the Student Union. Pratt ultimately ran the Artists Series as well as the Duke Office of Cultural Affairs from 1969 to 1984. During her years at Duke, Pratt presented artists as diverse as Leontyne Price, Itzhak Perlman, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and many others. Upon Pratt’s retirement in 1984, Susan Coon was named Director of the Artists Series, running the series through 2002. Coon also served as Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs from 1984 to 1993.

Founded in 1982 under the direction of James Applewhite, the Duke Institute of the Arts presented artistic programming and festivals for Duke and the Durham community. Michael Cerveris, Sr. served as the Institute’s first full-time director from 1985 to 1990, when Cerveris was succeeded by Kathy Silbiger. During her tenure, Silbiger presented guest artists, created an artist-in-residence program, and co-created programming with other arts-related academic departments at Duke. In 2004 Duke Performances was born out of a merging of the Institute of the Arts and the Artists Series.

Silbiger retired in 2006 and was succeeded in 2007 by Aaron Greenwald, at a point where the University made a significant commitment to the arts in its new strategic plan. Since that time the organization has commissioned, developed, and premiered major new work from numerous forward-thinking artists. Under Greenwald’s direction, Duke Performances evolved into a world-class university presenter whose mission serves three distinct initiatives: artistic quality, supporting campus and academic priorities, and playing a role in the renaissance of the City of Durham. Greenwald departed Duke in 2018.

In 2019, an arts planning group convened by Duke University President Vincent E. Price recommended that the Vice Provost for the Arts become full-time position to implement and further develop the university’s strategy in the performing and visual arts. John V. Brown became the university’s first full-time Vice Provost for the Arts in June of 2020. Under his leadership, Duke Performances, which was always a subsidiary of the Office of the Vice Provost of the Arts, was internally integrated with Duke Arts in 2021.

In 2023, Brown announced the rebranding of Duke Performances to Duke Arts Presents, and the appointment of a new Director of Programming, Aaron Shackelford.

Key Moments for the Arts at Duke


New Trinity College undergraduate curriculum announced with increased emphasis on arts & humanities.


Duke Arts introduces its new visual identity and rebrands Duke Performances to Duke Arts Presents.


Duke Performances is internally integrated into Duke Arts.


John V. Brown is appointed the first full-time vice provost for the arts for Duke University. Scott Lindroth steps down, returning full-time to Duke Music faculty. Trevor Schoonmaker is appointed the Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum of Art.


The ​Rubenstein Arts Center​ opens. The Ruby puts the arts at the center of Duke’s campus, helps define a Duke Arts District along campus drive, and enables students, faculty, visiting artists and other collaborators to come together in flexible project studios, hone their skills, and create new work. Duke’s Dance and Arts of the Moving Image programs relocate to the arts center along with WXDU, its student-run radio station.


The ​Master of Fine Arts in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis​ is launched. Seven students will be accepted each year, beginning fall 2019, for the two-year program. It will provide an exclusive collaboration with the American Dance Festival.


Duke accepts the first students into the ​Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology​ program in the Department of Music.


A major ​Page Auditorium​ renovation brings a new ceiling and cork floors, updated lighting and sound, refurbished seats and fresh paint to the 1931 lecture hall. The 1,170-seat space is the largest performance venue on West Campus and is in one of its oldest buildings.

A remarkable $25 million gift from David Rubenstein ’70 founds the ​Rubenstein Arts Center. ​The gift sparks other donors to help make a new home for the arts at Duke a reality.


A transformative renovation of ​Baldwin Auditorium​ is completed, creating a premier music performance venue on East Campus. New seats, lighting, acoustical paneling, stage and balcony comprise an ideal setting for classical, choral and jazz music by students and world-class performers.


An abandoned telecommunications facility just off of Campus Drive is transformed into the Arts Annex, Duke’s first dedicated space for student artists to create and rehearse.


A new ​Master of Fine Arts in Experimental Documentary Arts (MFAEDA)​ program welcomes its first class of students.


Smith Warehouse is renovated and becomes a home for the visual arts.


Duke Divinity School establishes the ​Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts​ as a vibrant interplay between Christian theology and the arts. At the heart of DITA is the insight that music, visual arts and literature do not just illustrate theology but are themselves modes of theological expression.


The ​Nasher Museum of Art​’s ​El Greco to Velasquez: Art During the Reign of Philip III was named of the the top 10 art exhibitions of 2008 by ​Time ​magazine and ​The Wall Street Journal​. It later traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and anchored the museum’s place in the international art world.


As part of the university’s new strategic emphasis on the arts, Scott Lindroth is named Duke’s first vice provost for the arts​​. Lindroth leads a massive expansion of arts opportunities for students, including participating in collaborative work between faculty members and visiting artists.


​The Nasher Museum of Art​ opens with ​Kimerly Rorschach​ as its founding director. As of early 2018, more than 1 million visitors, from 50 states and Washington, D.C., and 66 foreign countries, have walked through its doors.


Duke Performances was born out of its predecessor, the Duke Institute for the Arts. With a strategic commitment to the arts from the university, the organization commissions, develops and premieres major new work from numerous forward-thinking artists, becoming a world-class university presenter.


Documentary filmmaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning photo editor Nancy Buirski founds the ​Full Frame Documentary Film Festival​ as part of CDS’ programming. This prestigious festival screened 100 films to 14,000 attendees in 2017.


The Department of Music adds a ​Ph.D. in Composition​.


Through an endowment from the Lyndhurst Foundation, the ​Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University​ becomes the country’s first institution dedicated to documentary expression.


The ​Film and Video program​, the predecessor to today’s Arts of the Moving Image Program (AMI), is established as a certificate program in the English department. As of 2018, AMI has enjoyed freestanding status as a popular certificate program for two decades.


Kathy Silbiger is appointed director for the ​Institute for the Arts​, the predecessor to Duke Performances.


The Department of Music adds a ​Ph.D. in Musicology​.


The American Dance Festival​ moves to the campus of Duke University.


Jazz innovator, pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams is Duke University’s first ​artist in residence​. As of 2018, more than 70 visiting artists have had residencies at Duke.


The Duke University Museum of Art​ (predecessor to the Nasher Museum of Art) was founded with the acquisition of 200 medieval works from the Ernest Brummer Collection.


The Department of Music​ is established and begins offering the B.A. in Music to undergraduate students.


Duke University invites Ella Fountain Pratt to develop arts programs for its student union. Pratt brings artists including Pete Seeger, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead to perform on campus.


The Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies​ is founded.