Q: When did building walls remove barriers?
A: When the Rubenstein Arts Center, the gorgeous new home for the arts at Duke, opened in January 2018.
The Ruby, as it quickly became known, makes it significantly easier to participate in and view the arts at Duke. The space is a collaborative hub for artists in different disciplines and media to connect, share ideas and get inspired. The glass and steel building is like a beehive; it is intentionally designed to allow a view of the activities inside. The common spaces are abuzz with activity, while in the many rehearsal, studio and classroom spaces, students work together to create performance and visual art. And, after less than a year in the building, it appears that the Ruby is all sweetness and no sting.
Established with a founding gift from David Rubenstein ’70 and supported by a number of other Duke donors, the 70,000-square-foot building is home to two academic departments — the Duke Dance Program and Arts of the Moving Image — and the campus radio station, WXDU. It also includes a studio and exhibition space in the Badger-Mars Visual Arts Wing, the Von der Heyden Studio Theater, classrooms, the Ruby Lounge and flexible multipurpose spaces such as the Murthy Agora, suitable for a number of uses.
“The thing I ask the departments is, ‘What can we do now that we couldn’t do before?’” said Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts.
Lindroth points out rooms and building details while walking through the Ruby, a place where form beautifully fits function. Even each piece of the electric conduits and ductwork — what Lindroth and the building architects William Rawn Associates call the nerves of the building— is crafted purposefully. The open ceilings and the modern-meets-warehouse style was designed to inspire young minds to circumvent barriers and to think more broadly and inclusively about the arts.
“What kind of classes can you invent now that you’re down the hall from the film program?” Lindroth asks. “Can you imagine doing something in collaboration with them? What kinds of things that were so cumbersome before — when arts departments are scattered all across campus — can we do now that they’re located in the same building?”
In the space where Lindroth’s 10 years of planning for the arts at Duke are realized, he shared what the Ruby really means: “Now we can do them.”
As much as anything, the Ruby is a touchstone for the arts on campus. It’s a place where a non-arts academic department can find a home for its student’s or faculty member’s emerging arts project. Or where a student club can use a conservatory-quality space. Or where the Department of Theater Studies can stage a production in a space with state-of-the-art technology and flexibility. In addition to removing barriers, the Ruby massively expands the ways arts integrates into classes and more on every part of campus.
Forgive Purnima Shah if she dances down the halls at work. The chair of the dance department is nearly bursting with excitement over the possibilities presented by accessible, plentiful dance studios situated right on Campus Drive. It’s also novel for her office and meeting space to be in the same building as the rehearsal facilities. Gone are the days when the hiring of a new faculty member meant that a costume room was cleared out to create an office. And when dancers had to be creative to find space to practice in because the dance studios were occupied. Or, if dancers did find studio time, they had to watch out for a pillar in the middle of the studio interrupting their dance routine.
“A lot will emerge as time goes by, new ideas and projects will develop and new possibilities will open up,” Shah said. “I observe teachers and students interacting in the lobby. You’d also have an art student observing a dance class in progress in the Glass Cube or a dance student interacting with an engineering student who is taking a technology class in the Ruby. That is what the Ruby is accomplishing for the arts at Duke. That’s what is going to happen more.”
There is one other challenge that the Ruby helped resolve. The Duke Dance Program is currently recruiting students for its new master of fine arts (M.F.A.) in dance, commencing in the fall of 2019. Shah says that the M.F.A. program simply would not have been possible without the flexible space in the Ruby. Undergraduate and graduate students in dance now have state-of-the-art studio space available to experiment and imagine, making Duke an impressive destination for the M.F.A. candidates to consider.
Riley Reardon ’18 probably could have been among the first cohort of the M.F.A. in dance. However, his ambitions took him to the bright lights in the big city: in this case, the powerful exam lights they use at Columbia University’s dental school in New York. Reardon majored in biology with minors in chemistry and dance. At Duke, he was able to participate in both of his passions — dance and research — while preparing for dental school and keeping his dance options open. Reardon’s undergraduate life consisted mainly of running from lab (for cell molecular research) to studio (with student dance group Defining Movement) and back again.
“I don’t feel like I missed out on anything,” Reardon said. “I pushed myself to be able to reach those two extremes and really explore them. It’s left me feeling really satisfied with my development in both areas. I feel like both need to be tended, not one more than the other. I was able to do that.”
The Ruby opening during his senior year proved to be almost a celebration of Reardon’s well-rounded Duke experience. The building quickly became his new hangout and an unexpected source of inspiration. Sitting in the Ruby Lounge doing homework as another student played the piano made him develop new ideas and think about dancing in different ways. The transparent studio walls allowed him to watch other dancers more frequently and to connect with visual artists, actors and singers he would not have been able to when rehearsal space was scattered all over campus. And although he has graduated and moved on, Reardon knows it’s only the beginning of what the Ruby can do. For him, it bridged the old and the new.
“There are going to be so many opportunities,” he said. “We’re all still learning the potential that it has. Every year that new people come, there are going to be new waves of talent and artistic abilities, and they’re going to find new things to create here. I think this space will continue to evolve and get better and better as the years go on.”
Adam Beskind ’20 showed up at just the right time. When he decided to come to Duke and major in music, he had no idea that an amazing new arts center was planned. Like Reardon, he sought something more than just an arts school. Beskind quickly became involved in student drama group Hoof ‘n’ Horn and the Duke Chorale. He was a member of the first class of Creative Arts Student Teams (CASTs), a group that supports the Duke Arts initiative and the Ruby in a variety of ways.
But before all of that, it was the breadth of opportunities at Duke that drew him in. “The thing that stuck out to me was how interdisciplinary the possibilities were if you were studying the arts at Duke,” Beskind said.
“I knew I wanted to combine interests and think broadly. It was pretty clear to me that [broad thinking] translated to the arts and that people studying the arts often combined that with something else,” he said. “Many people in student arts groups don’t study arts academically. There are maybe five of us arts majors out of over 100 people involved in Hoof ‘n’ Horn. The majority are doing this as an extracurricular, continuing interests they had in high school. Keeping that diversity of interests and experiences was really appealing to me.”
What Beskind is saying has become a Duke truth. That’s what the Ruby was designed for: to treat Duke students as artists, whether their interests are curricular, co-curricular or entirely extracurricular. Beskind engages the arts from all three of those angles: as an arts major, a member of a Bass Connections research team and a member of a student group. Coming into Duke, he didn’t foresee that depth of involvement. Beskind wasn’t even sure if he would pursue a career in the arts, but soon he saw multiple paths to make that happen. He met Dani Davis ’88, who produced “Little Women” on Broadway (after workshopping it at Duke) and has been involved in a number of ventures across arts and media. Davis’s experiences, and the experiences of Beskind’s friends who graduated and found arts careers, convinced him he could do the same.
“I definitely did not recognize that possibility until hearing from people who were doing it,” Beskind said. “I’m fluctuating between trying to go into music directing for musical theater professionally, or going the nonprofit arts route and continuing some of the work that I’ve done with Bass Connections — that’s really appealing also.”
Last November, Duke Entertainment Media & Arts Network (DEMAN) Weekend transformed the Ruby into a hub where hundreds of students and alumni connected over creative careers—and witnessed alumni talent on stage in the first performance of “Duke’s Got Talent.” After spending the fall of 2018 in the Duke in New York Arts and Media program, where he is exploring avenues into an arts career, Beskind will return to campus and dive back into Duke’s surging arts scene. Meaning lots more time at the Ruby.
“Consolidating all of these arts programs and departments into one space has greatly increased the visibility of the arts on campus,” he said. “Just to be in this building that’s buzzing with artistic creation and rehearsals all the time — it’s been a lot of fun. Hoof ’n’ Horn used to rehearse primarily in an older space on East Campus. Now everybody’s in the same building doing things together. I think it will allow for a lot of collaboration. There couldn’t be a better time to be here.”
Alex Gonzalez ’18 just graduated from Duke, but not before experiencing fully the Ruby that Beskind describes. Gonzalez was also a CAST member, guiding tours of the Ruby, and she earned a certificate in Arts of the Moving Image (housed at the Ruby, where they show films in a variety of archival formats). Working with acclaimed filmmaking professors such as Josh Gibson, Gonzalez became adept at telling stories on video.
It’s interesting, then, that Gonzalez, an artist who paints scenes in moving image, made her mark on campus by establishing Hear at Duke, the university’s first podcast hub. Gonzalez loves telling stories, and, while in conversation with a close friend on the campus bus, she helped identify and address a need to support other students who also wanted to tell their stories through podcasting.
“We had never heard of any student podcasts here,” Gonzalez said. “Why can’t we do that? We can figure it out. She knew audio editing, and I know how to edit films and video, so I can transfer that. We decided our freshman year to create our own podcast.”
For a year, the partners produced their own episodes with no advisor and no funding, including seven-minute podcasts meant to last the length of the bus ride between East and West campus. They were so successful they caught the eye of the Duke Language, Arts and Media Program (LAMP), which offered advising and funding. Gonzalez and her co-founder thought hard about what their project needed to be, finally settling on the hub concept. Another critical part of their Hear at Duke model was holding live storytelling events that could be distributed as podcasts. Their very first event in 2017 was a hit, and that led to more — including a Valentine’s Day show at the Ruby in 2018.
“That was really cool to do at a new space,” she said. “It was beneficial on both sides because we are a new organization, but we have quite a few followers already and they’re interested in what [Hear at Duke does]. That’s good for the Ruby, to get it in front of more people, but then there’s also those who don’t really know who we are but already know what the Ruby is. That’s what’s great about The Ruby ... Being so new, people are intrigued and are more willing to do new things and stop and see something.”
For Bill Fick ’86, the Ruby is like a beacon guiding students in to participate in the arts. When Fick was a visual arts major at Duke three decades ago, the arts scene was more like wandering in the dark. “The arts were really on the fringe,” Fick recalls. “The only kind of art you got was concerts. I didn’t even know the other visual arts kids. There were maybe two or three other art majors and we didn’t interact with each other.”
Fick is a Lecturing Fellow of Art, Art History & Visual Studies and the assistant director of visual and studio arts at the Ruby. He teaches drawing and printmaking in Smith Warehouse and manages programming such as artist residencies, arts project spaces and exhibits at the Ruby. Fick returned to Duke in 2007, and was part of establishing the visual arts presence in Smith Warehouse. He has seen the rise of painting, drawing and sculpting at Duke as the arts annex and the Nasher Museum of Art were opened. Now he’s especially pleased that the arts have a destination for collaborations that can happen by simply spending time in the building.
“If you’re not quite sure how you’re going to intersect with the arts, then you come here,” Fick said. “Then maybe start asking some questions, and meet some people, maybe go to some events, and things can start to happen.”
Fick recalls past arts projects that originated from non-art academic departments. Sometimes they were difficult to organize and support because of a lack of a dedicated space and a regular process. “They would say, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring in this artist next year. Can we have a spot? Can we apply for a space? Is there funding?’” Fick said. Now, everything is in place to enable such projects. “We can say, ‘Yeah, it sounds amazing’ and then we could do it, we could support it, we could promote it.”
Fick believes that as outreach informs more people around campus about these projects, such work will increase. The same goes for art projects proposed by students. This is already happening incrementally as the Ruby has become a destination for rehearsals, art creation and simply hanging out. “When the students get involved and really understand how the building works,” Fick said, “that’s where you can see some really cool things start to happen.”
Now that the destination is in place, the priority is on those cool things. Lindroth is driven by the question, How can the arts be a more meaningful partner in inquiry all over campus? On the horizon, formal project teams in the arts, visiting artists in residence and arts workshops are three efforts that existed before the Ruby that can now grow more with more reach and impact thanks to the Ruby’s facilities.
“We'd love to be able to expand our reach to demonstrate how Duke is a place that takes art seriously and that we show it with our programs, music, videos, and the ways we encourage you to be involved,” Lindroth said, “to move the arts more into the center of what the Duke experience is about, so that regardless of your major you will have had an opportunity to be involved in the arts in some way you might not have expected. I love that.”
For many donors, investing in the arts is a decision based on emotion or nostalgia. A lifelong lover of classical music might give to the music department. A former dancer may donate to the dance program.
At Duke, funding the arts benefits more than just specific art forms. It directly fuels the curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular offerings students receive as part of their liberal arts education, in turn enriching and informing every other piece of Duke they touch. Gifts to support the arts benefit the entire student body, enabling students of all levels to engage as deeply as they wish through student groups or academic departments. Those who choose to enjoy the arts as a viewer also benefit from a rich assortment of arts performances and exhibitions.
Supporting programs at the Rubenstein Arts Center is a great way to make a broad impact across the arts at Duke. Endowed or expendable gifts help create events, seminars, projects, exhibits, shows, classes and programs at the Ruby to be enjoyed by participants and spectators alike. Enriching the arts enriches the overall student experience at Duke and extends into the campus and Durham communities.
Indulge your passion. Give to Ruby programs and help broaden and deepen arts engagement opportunities for Duke students.