Risk, Passion, and the Arts: Stories from Alumni in the Arts World

Alumni encourage students to pursue arts careers

The panelists came from different parts of the art world, but they shared the same message: It is difficult to advance a career in the arts, but despite the risks, students with a passion should follow their ambition.

The Friday afternoon panel at the Nasher Museum of Art was assembled for the Duke Entertainment Media and the Arts Network (DEMAN) Weekend, organized by the alumni association in conjunction with the 2012 Duke Arts Festival.

Moderated by former "Good Morning America" host David Hartman, '56, the panel included columnist and etiquette expert Steven Petrow,'78, filmmaker and former "Today" producer Amy Unell,'03, and Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer and music producer Chip Shearin. Despite their diverse backgrounds in the arts, entertainment and media industries, all four panelists spoke of the need for perseverance and hard work.

"The idea of (a career in music) not working out never crossed my mind," Shearin said early in the discussion. "Risk just can't be a part of your passion," he said.

Although each panelist recalled working on weekends, low pay, and even self-doubt, all four agreed the only thing that really mattered was how much they loved their careers.

Hartman warned students considering arts and media careers to leave financial aspirations out of the equation."If the goal is just to make money, you're going down the wrong path," Hartman said.

Unell urged current students to check out equipment and hone their filmmaking skills, especially in today's competitive arts and media job market.

"It's amazing, just around Duke, that you can rent cameras from multiple departments and use state-of-the-art studios," Unell said. "The fact that you can get these resources for free and develop your skills as students is huge. Take initiative." 

Petrow reminded students that he and other Duke alumni are always willing to talk to and help current students. 

Fourth-year student and aspiring music industry employee Mallone Lynch spoke with Shearin both during and after the discussion about her career ambitions. She said she received encouragement from the opportunity to engage with such well-connected and successful alumni.

"It's nice to know there are adults who don't think what you want to do is too risky to even try," Lynch said. "It's nice to have role models who say we can be successful."

Held in conjunction with 2012 Duke Arts Festival, the DEMAN weekend connects students with alumni working in the arts world for discussions and art showcases. For more information about the weekend, visit the Alumni Association website.