Artful Alumni Connections

Hundreds of alumni met up in Miami Beach Dec. 3-5 at international art show Art Basel

Every year Darah Franklin, Sarah Cash and Kia Roberts -- all class of 2002 -- meet up for a weekend reunion to reminisce and deepen the friendships they began at Duke.

This year the trio of alumnae made their reunion destination Art Basel, the annual international art show in Miami Beach, Fla., where the Duke Alumni Association sponsored a weekend of events during the show Dec. 3-6.

"We were trying to figure out if we were going to be able to pull this off. Between the three of us we have six kids," said Roberts, who traveled from New York City, where she works as the director of investigations for the National Football League. "Everybody can get to Miami on a direct flight. We took an oath: We are doing this every other year. We're trying to make this a thing."

Alumni events during Art Basel have turned into some of the DAA's most popular alumni events -- growing from regional programming that once drew alumni from Florida only to a global event drawing alumni from all over the world. This year, more than 400 alumni like Wright and her classmates received VIP passes to several art galleries, participated in lectures at the intersection of art and academia with Duke faculty and attended Duke networking events during Art Basel.

Attending Art Basel was an easy sell for Peter Fishman '02. With hundreds of art galleries spread throughout Miami and Miami Beach, navigating the show can be overwhelming, he said. Fishman, who traveled from San Francisco where he works at a startup (and moonlights as a bacon hot sauce distributor for a company he started with a Duke classmate) said having the DAA itinerary at Art Basel made it easy to enjoy his first time at the show with old friends.

"It's really nice when people live on different coasts, or live all across the country, to have some magnet that draws everybody together," he said.

Stephanie Eyerly M.S.'09, Ph.D.'13, who recently moved to Miami with her husband Stuart Webb Ph.D.'13 after living in Durham for eight years, attended Art Basel because she was homesick.

"It's kind of difficult to make friends once you leave that university setting," she said. "I've been insistent that we attend the Duke alumni events."

During the weekend, Eyerly and Webb attended an alumni brunch at one of the galleries and made a few new friends. The experience reminded Eyerly that she has "a family away from Durham."

The growing popularity of alumni events at Art Basel is a significant moment for the Duke Alumni Association, said Nicole Silvanic, an assistant director of regional engagement.

When the DAA began organizing alumni events at Art Basel 2008, they were limited to a few gallery tours for alumni who lived in south Florida only, she said. Now alumni from all over the country travel to Art Basel, making the event a signature one for engaging alumni in the region.

On Dec. 6, DAA held its final Art Basel alumni event, a happy hour for alumni part of the Duke Black Alumni Association (DBA) and Duke University Hispanic and Latino Alumni Association (DUHLAA).

Alumni gathered for drinks and appetizers at a restaurant a few steps away from the art galleries. Justin Gilanyi '04, who runs at agency for artists in Los Angeles, walked across the street from the Swizz Beatz' gallery, where he was working throughout Art Basel, to use the restroom at the restaurant when he saw the Duke Alumni signs.

"Hey, I'm a Duke alum, too," he told the alumni gathered on the porch of the resturant and then invited the group to a tour of hip-hop artist Swizz Beatz collection. 

Next year, Gilanyi, who studied art history and public policy at Duke, said he wants to take alumni on private tours of the galleries.

"It's really fun to think about art and travel and the ability to bring alumni together. These events are really great. They've really united people in a different way besides just rooting for the basketball team," Gilanyi said. "It's really great to come together and root for the arts."