Art has been a central part of my life since I was 3 years old. My mom was my first supporter, who bought me my first set of art supplies after I ruined the white walls of our apartment in Singapore. Throughout my childhood and into early high school, I was set on going to art school. Despite not really knowing what I wanted to do as a career, I thought the time and dedication I put into developing my art when I was younger justified the idea of going to art school. However, the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I was accepted into the Virginia Summer Governor's School for Visual Arts, and the stress of deadlines, balancing multiple projects at once, and navigating what was basically a watered-down version of an art school schedule made me realize that I wasn't really enjoying what I was doing. Instead of art school, I decided it might be best to pursue my other interests, namely math, while working to incorporate the arts into that path.
When I applied to Duke, I applied as a math major. However, the essay I wrote to "Why Duke?" had nothing to do with math. Even though I knew little about Duke before being accepted, I knew that there were various arts initiatives and spaces like the Nasher, DEMAN, StudioDuke, and more. So I wrote my essay on how I wanted to be able to utilize these spaces and blur the lines between disciplines. Admittedly, this was more difficult than my essay made it seem, and it took me 3 years to figure out where my niche in the arts was.
Part of the reason this was so hard was because Duke has limited capacity for visual arts. By sheer luck, I managed to get into Beverly McIver's compositional painting class first semester of freshman year, but I know seniors who have never been able to get into a visual arts classes. In addition, for non-academic visual artists, it's extremely hard to find studio spaces to be able to work. The combination of physical space and class constraints made it difficult for me to expand beyond my comfort zone. In fact, up until this semester, I've only ever taken painting at Duke. I was excited when the Ruby was completed because I thought it meant there would be more capacity for visual arts spaces. Unfortunately, besides having a hub for various artists in residence, there are no real studio spaces for students in the Ruby. So, navigating the academic aspect of the arts posed a few challenges, but fortunately I have had the exact opposite experience in the extracurricular experience.
I got involved with duARTS pretty much by chance. I had decided to submit a painting for the student gallery for the opening of the Ruby. During the reception, I met Kelsey, the president of duARTS at the time. We spent a while talking about art and later that semester, she encouraged me to apply to be on the executive board of duARTS. Though I was unfamiliar with duARTS, the idea of expanding the arts, including all people, bridging the arts across disciplines, and making the arts accessible were goals I resonated with. After spending a year doing programming with duARTS, I'm ending my college career as co-President. One of my biggest projects of college is planning and executing a spring break arts exchange program to Duke Kunshan University, with the goal of bringing the students and the two campuses together through the arts. Throughout this process I've had the opportunity to talk to and gather support from various parts of Duke administration from Student Affairs, to Undergraduate Education, to the Arts, and to the UCAE.
So in summary, being an artist (a visual artist, at least) at Duke is challenging because of spatial constraints and unlike performing arts, there are few groups where visual artists can come together. But through my extracurriculars, it's clear to me that it's possible to carve out a space for the arts and that there is a lot of support from the administration and professors who I've interacted with. For me at least, the arts have been an integral part of my Duke experience. I've also come to notice, from the people that attend events that duARTS hosts or have applied to our alternative spring break program, that while they may not be pursuing the arts academically, they recognize and are eager to incorporate it into their daily lives. Whatever that looks like, of course varies from person to person, but the most important part about being an artist is the process and the desire to incorporate it in life; to me, that has been the defining part of my Duke experience and I'm very grateful for everyone that's been on this ride with me.