For years at Duke University, the arts have prospered, even though many of its key academic programs didn’t really have spaces they could call their own.
Now, two of them have a home.
The university’s new $50 million Rubenstein Arts Center is open and already hosting classes from Duke’s dance and “Arts of the Moving Image” programs. A grand opening is set for Saturday, with about 1,500 people expected to give the building a proper celebratory launch.
Campus leaders like Scott Lindroth, the composer and music professor who is Duke’s vice provost for the arts, stress that it’s going to take a while to ramp up the operation of the new building. But over time, it’s expected to boost the fortunes not just of the two programs based there but of the entire campus arts community.
“The infrastructure and connectivity across the arts we can finally begin to cultivate here is exciting,” Lindroth said Tuesday during a walk about the 71,000-square-foot center.
The building is named for former trustees chairman David Rubenstein, the private-equity financier who contributed $25 million to the center. It’s been under construction since late fall of 2015. It’s more or less complete, although workers are still dealing with last-minute “punch list” repairs and changes.
The Rubenstein Center – nicknamed by Duke officials “The Ruby” – stands at the corner of Campus Drive and Anderson Street, close to Duke Gardens and the Nasher Museum of Art.
It’s a two-story facility that includes a 200-seat theater for stage shows of various types; a 100-seat movie theater for the visual-arts program; dance studios; classrooms; a “maker lab” workshop; and an assortment of other studio spaces for everything from dance rehearsals to sculpture installations.
A lot of people had a hand in the planning of the center, but the key decision was to make it the home for dance and the Arts of the Moving Image programs. Both had relied on “temporary, ad-hoc spaces for as long as I’ve been at Duke,” said Lindroth, who joined the faculty in 1990.
“It made it difficult to get any kind of momentum or programmatic continuity,” he said.
It nonetheless fits a pattern at Duke of scattering its arts programs – basing some on East Campus, some on West and still others in offices near downtown – that campus leaders now hope to get away from. They want people in different artistic disciplines to collaborate, and that’s been more difficult than it’s needed to be.
“So one thing we’re excited about with the Rubenstein Arts Center is not only addressing facility needs, but also to try to create a meeting space where students and faculty from all areas of the arts can come together,” Lindroth said.
Still, after looking around at what peer institutions have done, Duke opted for an in-between approach that stopped short of emulating the University of Chicago’s decision to put the bulk of its arts programs under one roof or Brown’s to build a small facility that any arts professor could use, provided he or she could secure funding to pay for a studio in it.
The Ruby’s opening is hardly the end of the work Duke officials see facing them in the arts. Page Auditorium’s due for another renovation next year, there are moves pending to free up space in the East Campus Arts Annex for students to work on ceramics, and Lindroth’s keen to “reanimate” a sculpture studio via a new faculty hiring.
But aside from the dance program’s dedicated offices and studios, the space in The Ruby is flexible enough that people should “be able to come in from anywhere on campus with an arts project” and secure both funding and work space, Lindroth said.
So far, the building’s getting good reviews.
“It’s beautiful,” film professor Josh Gibson said as he prepped a 1988 Russian 35mm movie camera for a class. “We’ve never had a dedicated teaching space like this before.”
Student Adam Beskind, a member of Duke’s Hoof ‘n’ Horn musical theater group, said there’d been “a lot of buzz” about the building as it neared completion. “Now that a lot of people are here for classes and experiencing the spaces first-hand, it’s been a very positive response,” he said.
Hoof ‘n’ Horn is getting ready to produce the musical “Chicago” in the Rubenstein Center’s largest theater come April, and is in the midst of figuring out orchestra placement and other staging-strategy issues that come with using the new room, Beskind said.
The grand opening is Feb. 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. The Rubenstein Arts Center is at 2020 Campus Drive, Durham. There will be peformances by student bands and dance groups; an interactive pop-up art installation; demonstrations; dance rehearsals; film screenings and more. There will be free refreshments and a photo booth. For info, go to artscenter.duke.edu.