Alumni in the arts offer advice and insight
From Hollywood studio insiders and independent-film directors to first-time authors and professional artists, dozens of alumni working in the arts came to campus in late October for the second Duke Entertainment Media Arts Network (DEMAN) weekend. Sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association and the Provost’s Office, the weekend featured panel discussions, small-group conversations between students and alumni, alumni networking sessions, and a student art exhibition. The purpose of the weekend is to give alumni an opportunity to build professional networks with others involved in media, the arts, and entertainment; develop mentoring relationships with Duke students; and celebrate Duke’s commitment to the arts.
Regardless of their professional area of expertise, nearly all of the panelists emphasized the importance of perseverance, building connections, and being open to career possibilities that students might not be aware exist. During a Saturday afternoon session on the art of making a studio feature film, for example, panelists described the multiple phases of the moviemaking process, from identifying a script to hiring a creative team, scouting locations, devising budgets, shooting the film, shepherding postproduction details, and marketing the finished product. “Every one of these is a career,” said David Maisel ’84, an executive producer for Iron Man Films.
Returning alumni also discussed how their career paths evolved and the role Duke played in encouraging them to pursue their arts interests. Preston Whiteway ’04 noted that he initially majored in economics, thinking he would become an investment banker. But his extracurricular involvement in theater and the arts—Broadway at Duke, Hoof ’n’ Horn—was what really excited his imagination. He signed up for a theater studies class with producer and visiting professor Emanuel Azenburg, who became a mentor.
“Manny called me and told me that there was an opening at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center [in New York] for a general manager, and he gave me a name and phone number,” says Whiteway, who was hired and later promoted to his current position as executive director. “I absolutely have Duke and Duke professors to thank for where I am. So make sure that your professors know your interests.”
A number of students queried the DEMAN participants about the viability of a career in the arts. One young woman said that her father, an investment banker, couldn’t grasp why she was majoring in art history. Erika Field ’99, director of corporate relations of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who majored in art and art history, reinforced the value of a liberal-arts education—“you’re learning critical thinking skills, you’re learning how to write”—and urged the young woman to find out what other Duke alumni who majored in art history were doing professionally. “And even though it sounds like a cliché,” Field added, “there’s value in art for art’s sake. Art makes the world a more beautiful place and enriches our lives, whether that’s a piece of music or a beautiful painting.”
Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts and professor of music, says he was pleased at the commitment he heard from returning alumni to continue engaging with students seeking professions in the arts, media, and entertainment. He acknowledges that, in the future, he would like to see greater student turnout for DEMAN weekends. “One thing we learned is that with such density in arts programming, everyone has more claims on their time, and this may have had an impact on the student turnout for the alumni events, which should have been larger.”
Overall, though, “I was very pleased by the quality and quantity of student artwork we were able to present this year,” he says. “The visual-arts exhibit included over 200 works by undergraduate artists, as well as performances by student musicians and dancers in Perkins Library, Bryan Center, the Plaza, and the Marketplace. Hoof ’n’ Horn and theater studies had new productions running simultaneously. I couldn’t ask for a better demonstration that there is a large and enthusiastic arts community on campus.”