Trustee gives Duke University $25 million for new arts building

Artist rendering of the proposed new arts center at Duke University.
Artist rendering of the proposed new arts center at Duke University. Duke University

Duke University is expanding its arts programs with a new building and a $25 million gift from David Rubenstein, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees and a nationally known arts benefactor.

The gift was announced Monday, after the trustees approved the $50 million arts building during the weekend. The 71,000-square-foot facility will be built at the corner of Anderson Street and Campus Drive, near the Nasher Museum and Duke Gardens. It will include a dance studio along with a dozen multi-use studios, a 200-seat performance theater, a 100-seat film theater, a garden, lounge, library, reception space, a painting studio, offices and classrooms.

The building will serve the dance and film programs at Duke but is planned as an arts hub for the entire campus. In the announcement of his donation, Rubenstein said he hoped the new building would become “an essential part of every Duke student’s experience.”

Rubenstein, a 1970 Duke graduate, is a prolific donor to his alma mater, as well as to major cultural institutions in the United States. He is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, a trustee of the National Gallery of Art and a board member of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

At Duke, he has given about $100 million to various initiatives and departments, including the Sanford School of Public Policy, faculty programs, athletics and the library, which recently dedicated the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Rubenstein is a co-founder of The Carlyle Group, an investment firm in Washington.

In a news release, Duke President Richard Brodhead said the new space “represents a major step in Duke’s commitment to supporting the artistic work of our students and faculty.”

At a time when education is increasingly focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – Duke has also pushed a transformation in the arts on campus.

The university has spent roughly $100 million on arts buildings, programs and faculty support during the past decade as part of its strategic plan. Two performance halls were recently renovated – Page Auditorium on West Campus and Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus.

The newly prominent place of the arts at Duke can be traced to the opening of the Nasher Museum in 2005, said Scott Lindroth, music professor and vice provost for the arts.

Duke Performances, the university’s performing arts series, has grown its audiences and student ticket holders. The Center for Documentary Studies, and its Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, have also increased Duke’s momentum in the arts. The university added a master of fine arts degree several years ago and has brought in 75 artists in residence during the last decade.

Those artists have even worked in seemingly unrelated areas at Duke, such as math, chemistry, brain sciences, public policy and divinity.

“What that tells me is that the arts can play a much larger role in undergraduate education,” Lindroth said. “They can be real partners in academic inquiry all over campus. This seems to me like an ideal way to think about the arts in a research university.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill