Instigating an Appreciation of Art at Duke

‘Artstigators’ support a variety of art performances and programing

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As part of a launch event for the “Artistigators,” local poet Chris Vitiello put on a mascot-like costume and acted as “poetry fox” at an event at the Nasher Museum of Art, creating poetry on the fly for visitors. Photo courtesy of Amy Unell and Bill Fick.

What does a doughnut, former basketball superstar Grant Hill and a poetry-writing “fox” have in common?

They’ve all been part of a growing community of students, employees, alumni and local businesses showing support for the arts at Duke through “Artstigators,” a grassroots movement to highlight arts on campus. Led by two Duke alums and current employees, the goal of “artstigating” is to support Duke’s ongoing emphasis on arts and the humanities and the ease of which anyone can participate.

“We’ve seen a big explosion in how arts can play across disciplines and we want to tap into that,” said Bill Fick, a visiting assistant professor in Art, Art History & Visual Studies. “Art is where humanities comes alive.”

Over the fall semester, students, faculty and staff have celebrated the arts at Duke in a variety of ways by artstigating. Local poet Chris Vitiello put on a mascot-like costume and acted as “poetry fox” at a special event at the Nasher Museum of Art, creating poetry on the fly for visitors. Students have also performed pop-up musical and acting performances across campus and staff partnered with the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (known as DEMAN) to provide insight on careers in the arts.

But becoming an Artstigator doesn’t mean attending an event. Many Duke community members are sharing their unique point of view and interpretation of art visually through social media on Twitter and Instagram. Hundreds of images have been shared online with the hashtag #artstigators, from highlighting the architecture on campus to a student reading Harry Potter on the West Campus Quad and even a special Artstigators doughnut made by local Monuts Donuts.

“Our community is a wonderful way that faculty, staff and students can promote a deeper connection with the arts,” said Amy Unell, an associate in research with the Office of Vice Provost for the Arts. “We think of it as a chance to create the Cameron Crazies for the arts. We want to see the same energy, enthusiasm and passion for all the different forms of art on campus.”

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College basketball hall of famer and former Duke standout Grant Hill poses with Duke men’s basketball associate head coach Jeff Capel while wearing an “Artstigators” T-shirt at a Duke football game. Photo courtesy of Amy Unell and Bill Fick.

In addition to sharing updates and images online and attending arts events, Fick and Unell also want to help faculty and staff promote and brainstorm ideas and events related to the arts. Duke employees can email the pair at to find out how the Artstigator community can help.

“You don’t have to be an artist to participate,” said Ross Wade, assistant director of Career Services with a focus on entertainment, media and arts. He's participated in several Artstigator events. “It’s for anyone that’s interested in any kind of art.”

There are already dozens of Artstigator-related events scheduled through the end of 2014, including free music performances, film screenings and an open house at the Nasher Museum. There may also be “pop up” events, which are typically unplanned or surprise performances on campus.

“The best part is you can artstigate no matter where you are,” Wade said. “If you work in Duke Dining, cooking can be art. If you’re in Residence Life, design can be art. There are all sorts of ways we can incorporate an appreciation of art into our lives.”