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Duke Receives $2.5 Million Mellon Grant for Visual Studies

Visual studies is an institutional priority in Duke's recently approved strategic plan

Duke University has received a $2.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a Visual Studies Initiative, a broad-based effort to improve how visual images are understood and to foster research and teaching in this area.

 "This initiative draws on our strengths of interdisciplinary collaboration in the humanities and beyond," said Provost Peter Lange, the university's top academic official. "Our program will develop the visual literacy of undergraduates, prepare future faculty and support innovative research and teaching."

 Visual studies was identified as an institutional priority in "Making a Difference," Duke's recently approved strategic plan, and ties into the university's focus on the arts and humanities. The home of the initiative will be Duke's redeveloped Central Campus, which already houses the Nasher Museum of Art and is envisioned in the strategic plan as a hub for the arts at Duke.

The initiative will take advantage of the resources of the Nasher Museum as well as the Center for Documentary Studies and the Franklin Humanities Institute.

"It's exciting. There's a sense of possibilities," said Kimerly Rorschach, the Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. "Duke is being very strategic in putting all the pieces together."

Hans van Miegroet, chair of Duke's Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, said many students are well educated in reading and writing but are not visually "literate."

"The visual can have its own logic that can't be expressed in text," said van Miegroet, faculty director of the initiative. "Every society and culture has a particular set of visuals that have meaning, whether it's an AC/DC poster or the latest video game."

Part of the grant -- $2.2 million -- will allow Duke to hire five new faculty members; create new undergraduate and graduate courses and certificates in visual studies; provide funding for undergraduates to pursue summer research projects; fund collaborative projects; and enhance the library's digital resources. The grant also will pay for a series of short-term visits by scholars who will hold public lectures and events.

In addition, $300,000 will be used to establish graduate fellowship endowments and will be matched by $300,000 from Financial Aid Initiative Challenge, part of Duke's $300 million Financial Aid Initiative.

The planning period for the project will begin Jan. 1 and is expected to have full programming beginning in fall 2008. The university will continue to support the initiative after the grant ends in 2011. Including this grant, the Mellon Foundation has awarded $5.57 million to Duke since 2002.

The initiative at Duke will encompass the disciplines of art, art history and film studies as traditionally pursued, as well as the humanities and social sciences more broadly. It also will include both scholars who study the visual and the artists and other practitioners who create it. A distinctive feature of the initiative is its inclusion of engineering and the computational sciences as part of exploring and understanding the visual in a variety of disciplines.

"Creativity informed by knowledge and knowledge informed by creativity is one of the great legacies of the humanities," Lange said.

The New York-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a private foundation, with an endowment of approximately $4.7 billion, which makes grants on a selective basis in the areas of higher education, museums and art conservation, performing arts, and conservation and the environment.