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A Career in the Arts, off the Stage

Duke students have broad array of options and resources that promote careers in the arts

Andrew Jacobs in Chicago

Student Andrew Jacobs while in the Duke in Chicago arts entrepreneurship program.

As far back as high school, Duke student Andrew Jacobs pictured himself on stage, in the spotlight.

But after a turn with the Duke in Chicago arts entrepreneurship program, Jacobs is finding his future may instead be behind the scenes in arts administration.

“Everyone told me in high school that I was going to be a performer, and I believed that I would pursue a professional acting career after college,” said Jacobs, a senior theater studies and public policy double major with a Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

“That Duke in Chicago experience showed me that people aren't just moving the arts forward in an artistic sense, but also in an organizational and institutional sense, and I wanted to be part of that.”

Jacobs experience is just one example of how arts education at Duke is broader than performance, with a growing number of students taking advantage of opportunities to gain experience and make connections in arts administration.

Jacobs later connected with other arts administrators, including those managing Duke Performances and other university programs. He learned even more through the on-campus networking opportunities such as Duke Entertainment, Media and the Arts Network (DEMAN) Arts & Media Weekend, an annual fall conference featuring workshops with alumni in creative industries, and ArtCon , a student-led summit with Durham arts and media professionals each spring.

University lecturer Amy Unell, a Duke alumna who works the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, Duke I&E, Duke Alumni , and Duke Career Center, said students such as Jacobs are forming a creative community with the university’s ever-growing interdisciplinary focus on the arts helping bring them together. The artstigators movement is helping connect this community and amplify opportunities happening on and off-campus.

“A lot of students who go to DEMAN Arts & Media Weekend and ArtCon see their classmates there,” Unell said. “One thing that I’m encouraging students to do is to chat with each other at these events. We want them to have moments such as, ‘I know you from my bio class, but I didn’t know you also did film!’ Then they can collaborate on creative projects, navigate internships and support each other in their endeavors during and after Duke.”

But even with regular access to alumni and career-oriented events, Unell noted that the paths to full-time jobs in arts and media can be less defined than those of students pursuing careers in business, finance, medicine and law. Often, students are best advised to connect with industry professionals early in their Duke careers to learn more about their fields of interest. Many students also complete summer internships or job shadowing.

Duke in Chicago

Duke students in the arts entrepreneurship program in Chicago.

Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts, said the particular challenges faced by students seeking arts-oriented jobs have prompted his office to invest further in career-centric programming.

“Events like DEMAN Arts & Media Weekend are valuable because students who attend can find internships that may turn into full-time employment,” Lindroth said. “It helps reassure students when they see that there are people out there in the field who are eager to help them break into it as well. They come to realize that [a career in the arts] is not just a dream but that there are concrete examples of people who have succeeded.”

Examples of programs added in the past two years include Artstigators’ career coffee chats with visiting industry professionals and free DukeCreate workshops at the Arts Annex -- including media production workshops at the Media Greenhouse behind the Bryan Center this Spring -- that help students hone their skills in various artistic disciplines in a fun, informal environment. Duke Career Center’s Career & Summer Opportunities connected students via Skype and telephone with recruiters including NBC's Saturday Night Live, BuzzFeed, ESPN and United Talent Agency.

Along with DEMAN weekend, larger-scale events include ArtCon, which this year featured more than 50 creative industry professionals, mostly from the Durham community. Through informal coffee chats and industry discussion sessions, the two-day event planned by duArts helped students learn about arts and media fields in a less formal environment, said sophomore Matthew Newman. Newman said he was able to meet Algonquin Books editor Chuck Adams (T ’64 and Law ’67)—who edited the bestseller Water for Elephants—through Unell and touched base with him at an industry session that explored digital journalism.   

“I’ve known I’ve wanted to write young adult fiction since I was 10 years old,” said Newman, who is studying sociology and creative writing. “Attending ArtCon is so valuable for me because it’s almost impossible to get your manuscript published without knowing editors beforehand. Having connections is true of every field and Duke puts a lot of effort into connecting students who want to go into the arts with the resources they need.”

Jacobs noted that while he has taken advantage of the university’s numerous resources, such as attending DEMAN Arts & Media Weekend each year and helping plan this year’s ArtCon, he hopes Duke will encourage students more frequently and earlier during their tenures to consider arts and media careers.

“I would want to see [Duke] change the culture on campus and more actively encourage this career path,” Jacobs said. “I've been successful because I've been very proactive [in setting up] informational interviews and reaching out to every person imaginable. This industry rewards people who take the initiative, but that's a major disadvantage to people who don't operate that way.”

Unell added that Duke Arts is working to expand its reach to prospective Duke undergraduates through a partnership with the admissions office. For the past several years, admissions has offered several dedicated, arts and humanities-themed Blue Devil Days for admitted students, with more enhancements to come. And the advising center has a dedicated Director of Academic Engagement -- Jules Odendahl-James -- who counsels students on courses and careers in the arts and humanities.

“We’re looking at adding more arts programming to Blue Devil Days and doing specific arts tours through the undergrad admissions office,” Unell said. “By 2017, we’re going to have the new Arts Center, in addition to Baldwin Auditorium, the Nasher Museum of Art, the Arts Annex, the MFA|EDA Carpentry Shop, Smith Warehouse and the Center for Documentary Studies, and we want prospective students to see them.”

Throughout the job search, Jacobs said he had no inhibitions about pursuing arts management. In fact, he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I've got to do it, or at the very least just try, or else I feel that I'm betraying myself,” Jacobs said. “I [may] be earning less than some of my peers, but I'll love going into work every day, and that's something that I'm really excited for.”

For general information about the arts at Duke, click here.