'Artstigators' Go Crazy for the Arts

Student-driven project highlights arts on campus 

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Potential artstigators tour East Campus art buildings on the bike bar. Photos by Megan Morr/Duke University Photography

Students no longer have to join an official organization to appreciate or participate in the arts, they simply have to be willing to "artstigate."

Artstigators is a community of students, faculty, staff and alumni bringing together the organizations and individuals who make up Duke’s vibrant arts culture. The newly coined word "artstigating" can mean anything from sharing photos of campus art on social media to creating large-scale events.

For one, there was the Poetry Fox at the Nasher Museum of Art. The Night at the Nasher event on Aug. 23 featured local poet Chris Vitiello donning a fox costume. Vitiello composed original and spontaneous poetry on #artstigators letterhead for the students on a typewriter during the event.

“People loved the Poetry Fox,” said Wendy Livingston, manager of engagement and marketing at The Nasher Museum of Art. “They were walking around with the poems that he typed up, and the students seemed really thrilled to have something written especially for them on the spot.”

The event was typical of how the artstigators are creatively raising the profile of art in small and large ways around campus. Sid Gopinath, sophomore computer science major and graduate of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center’s Duke in Silicon Valley program, said Artstigators is accessible to anyone who likes music, watches movies or just thinks about the arts, regardless of their major.

“Duke hasn't really had a unifying art or arts theme for the campus,” Gopinath said. “By making Artstigators visible without being glaringly obvious, it becomes something everyone wants to do. And that makes the arts something that everyone wants to do.”

Bill Fick, visiting assistant professor of the practice of visual arts and a driving force behind Artstigators, said he hopes artstigating will become a commonly used word on campus and events will become more spontaneous and driven by student passion rather than institutional efforts.

“It would be fantastic to see kids artstigating somewhere on campus, like painting the bridge,” Fick said.

Since Artstigators began in August, it has collaborated with Duke and Durham organizations to expose the students to different ways to get involved with the arts.

Artstigators worked with Associate Dean for East Campus Lisa Beth Bergene to distribute special #artstigators orange disposable cameras to first years during Duke Performances' First Big Weekend concert in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens Aug. 28, and their photos will be on display later in the semester. During the activities fair on Aug. 29, upperclassmen enjoyed Locopops and toured budding artstigators around arts buildings on East Campus using the Biker Bar, a 14-person bar-bike vehicle.

Follow the artstigators on Twitter or Instagram. You can take part in their "Duke to Hollywood Challenge" that will send one Duke undergraduate to Hollywood for a VIP tour of Paramount Studios and to a live film set.

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“One of the biggest things we heard in addition to we want to grow a community was we want to know where things are and how to get to them,” said Amy Unell, who works in arts entrepreneurship in the office of the Vice Provost for the Arts Scott Lindroth and is one of the main proponents behind the Artstigators. “We want to be the resource that really connects you to all the wonderful things on and off campus.”

Beyond “pop-up” arts events, Artstigators also strives to connect students with alumni and professionals in fields ranging from visual arts to music to journalism, Unell said. They provide an array of examples of potential careers for any student interested in the arts, regardless of major. Many of the events feature jobs students didn’t even realize existed.

“Nowadays it’s a tough life being an artist—you have to be really creative about how you survive as an artist,” Fick said. “Sure you can just do art, but being a pure artist is tough. What can you do to augment that? You have to come up with a strategy for your career.”

Even if students aren’t interested in pursuing a career in the arts, they can become involved with Artstigators to celebrate art for the sake of art while feeling like they are part of a greater community.

“Regardless of origin or purpose, any arts organization on this campus is entitled to equal representation within one unified core,” junior art history major Justin Sandulli said. “It is at the Artstigators' central crossroads that the fragments of Duke's splintered arts scene will fuse into one crackling, conspicuous, collaborative whole.​”