Q&A with Outgoing Duke Arts Administrative Fellow Marika Niko

The Arts Administration Fellow provides support for Duke Arts projects and events with a focus on campus and community engagement and student engagement. In addition to engagement support, the Arts Administration Fellow gains experience in the areas of marketing and communications, programming, engagement, development, and business. All recent graduates are encouraged to apply!

You provided Duke Arts with extensive support through communications, outreach and event planning. What project did you enjoy working on the most?

I had a wonderful experience working with my former thesis advisor, Michael Kliën, on his new work 11th Organ I, presented at Duke Arts in December 2023. I was personally part of the core research group member to dream up the choreographic structure of the work, but I also worked in the production and engagement side of the project for my work at Duke Arts. Working on both ends of the work was a special time that blurred the lines between making and facilitating, conceptualizing and organizing, that helped me make choices that were rooted in a deeper understanding of the work.

The moments of joy for me also came in between meetings or artist visits, where I got to talk to the artists outside of the formal work engagement.

I shared wonderful thoughts and knowledge with Ben Duke from Lost Dog Theater on UK funding infrastructure surrounding the arts, with Wen Hui on generational and selective recollections/amnesia of wartime memories, with Eiko Otake on all things aesthetics/representation/movement, and with Zoe and Barges on navigating politicization of bodies and movement; not to mention the artists that are present within the Duke Arts office like Anna Wallace on motherhood, ceramics, and artmaking.

The people I met and the dialogue I wove through with them inspired me to work further, questioned my assumptions, exposed an unthought thought, or seeded ideas and passions within me.

What new skills or interests did you develop throughout your fellowship?

The university setting works on a completely different scale of financial and material resources, has a vast and complicated structure as a university institution, and has a strong focus on the educational component with direct access to the knowledge production process. I learned from each staff member at the Duke Arts office on how they make their everyday choices – such as which artists to invite and when, what programming you would do for students, or how do you respond to the social and cultural atmosphere surrounding the arts – which really showed me how to materialize intention, as well as all the nuances that goes in between.

As part of the Duke Arts team, you expanded your project, Meshroom, by branching out into new spaces and communities through collaboration with the Duke Arts team. Can you share a few highlights from your Meshroom experience over the past year?

Meshroom is an experimental social choreographic work I co-conceived with Leo Ryan and developed during my MFA program at Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis. The one-year fellowship felt like an extended MFA program, where I got to implement the theories and thoughts I’ve cultivated during my studies and to simply practice, practice, practice.

The highlight of this year was the fact that I was able to experiment by introducing different variables to the work, almost like a “proof of concept.” I was able to branch out of the site-specific quality that Meshroom had by hosting the event at other venues like the von der Heyden Studio Theater in the Rubenstein Arts Center or The Fruit and saw how locality, spatial design, and venue characteristics affect community and movement. I also experimented with working with other collaborators – Caitlyn Schrader, kt Williams, Lee Walton, and Savannah Jenkins at University of North Carolina Greensboro – by offering the Meshroom framework for them to construct their own UNCG Meshroom and saw how a social choreographic project was localized and contextualized in a communal context that lived outside of my immediate belonging.

“Meshroom” in von der Heyden Studio Theater on February 9, 2024.

How has this fellowship role influenced your career path?

From the MFA program to the fellowship, it has allowed me to slowly unpack how social choreographic theory develops into artistic practice, expands and grows through repetition, and finds ways to work with institutional structures.

I became more passionate about the role of a choreographer that is also an artistic agent, a curator, a facilitator, a community member, a producer, and realistically and oftentimes an administrator. In the three years at Duke, I experienced the spectrum and embodied how roles collide within me and how to actively resist categorizing these roles for yourself.

My experience here offered me a natural progression to what I will be doing next; I am returning to Japan to work at Aichi Prefectural Art Theater as a dance producer, working in producing, presenting, and community engagement, hopefully making choices rooted in social choreographic thought.

The Duke Arts Fellow position is currently open for new applicants. Do you have any advice for someone who is considering applying for the role?

This fellowship had a great balance between taking initiative in your own work, which for me came in the continued development of my project Meshroom, and supporting the projects at the Duke Arts. I worked with wonderful people, each of whom are caring, supportive, and open to each other’s work.

As a recent graduate of an arts practice program, it was a great environment to immerse yourself in, maintaining an opportunity for artistic thinking while learning the practical sides of operating/supporting an arts organization.