DukeCreate is a series of free, hands-on arts workshops designed to help Duke students, staff, and faculty of all levels develop a variety of creative skills. This year, we have offered participatory events in disciplines including cooking, dancing, digital media, drawing, print-making, music, textiles, and wellness, among others. DukeCreate will host more than 150 virtual events this academic year.
Prior to COVID, workshops were 2-hour, in-person sessions taught by local Durham artists and Duke graduate students and faculty. Since going virtual beginning in March last year, most workshop offerings have shortened to about 1-hour. We are able to provide materials to local participants for sessions that require them. While sequential workshops that require in-person attendance, e.g. the “Ceramics Academy,” have been put on hold, we have been able to offer a new line of workshops in digital media, such as Photoshop 101 and Introduction to Illustrator.
What were the event goals? How did going virtual impact these goals?
Our goal is to provide a welcoming and comfortable environment that encourages participants to try and explore techniques and concepts within the arts that are perhaps new to them. In doing so, we also strive to highlight the many academic and co-curricular arts opportunities that Duke and Durham have to offer.
This year, I’ve added an emphasis on wellness and self-care in our program planning. An inherent value of DukeCreate is it allows you to do something different, outside of your routine, with other people. For an hour, participants can forget about the stresses of school, work, and other environmental factors as they focus on a creative project together. My hope, especially this academic year, is that by creating together, we can build community and feel closer to each other.
Going virtual has meant that these workshops are now available to a wider population of the Duke Community- alumni, students, and staff away from campus. Because physical space is no longer an issue, we can open up these events to a larger number of people. The convenience of joining from anywhere has also boosted interest and attendance. Last semester, we recorded our highest average attendance.
Why did you choose this format/model over others?
Our current virtual sessions are offered via Zoom. We chose this format because it is highly interactive, allowing workshop participants to ask instructors questions in real time, show their work, and see other attendees.
We did adjust how we formatted and marketed our workshops. With the pandemic, it was imperative to develop a safe supply pick-up process. At first, I relied heavily on events that required minimal or no materials- dance, yoga, digital media, and basic drawing workshops that could be done virtually without requiring anyone to leave their house. By the start of the fall semester, we were able to begin offering free supplies to a set number of participants for workshops. For example, we provide free kits of brushes, canvases, and paint to the first 50 people that sign up for our “Paint Like” events. I collect the names in the order that participants sign up via the Zoom registration system and provide pick up instructions a few days prior to the event. I’ll typically provide two 3-hour windows for pick up from the Rubenstein Arts Center, a day before the event itself and the day of. The entire process for picking up supplies takes under a minute, ensuring that participants are spending as little time within the building as possible. In addition to the “Paint Like” series, this process has allowed us to do water color portraiture, weaving, collage, sewing (Make Your Own Plushie), and print making events, among others. For those on the supply waitlist or not located in Durham, we publish supplies on the website and make it clear that you can still attend any event if you have the necessary materials.
Regarding instructors, I have found that I have had to do less and less prep with them as the pandemic has gone on. I generally meet with them 30 minutes prior to the event so we can do a tech check and run through the workshop. For dance and other workshops that require music playback, we make sure that the sound levels are appropriate and that the instructor knows how to share their audio through Zoom. Other issues we try to tackle include wearing headphones if a dog is barking in the background, lighting, internet connectivity, and a host of other issues as they emerge. For larger Zoom workshops that exceed 50 participants, I might disable the public chat so participants can only direct message the meeting hosts as well as other security measures to make sure the sessions are not disrupted. I attend all workshops to offer tech support (spotlighting videos, sharing screens, monitoring the chat, etc.).
What resources, skills, and partners did you use in creating this virtual event?
We’ve put a huge emphasis on partnerships and collaborations since going virtual. This year, DukeCreate has worked closely with the Co-Lab Roots workshop series, DuWell’s “Moments of Mindfulness”, the Kenan Institute for Ethic’s “What Now?” seminar series, as well as departments, student groups, and local and national artists to provide programming that shines a spotlight on the wonderful things that are happening within the arts around Duke and in Durham.
The nature of these partnerships varies. For example, the director of the Co-Lab Roots Workshop Series and I meet before the start of each semester to identify where art and technology overlap in our planned events and we cross-promote those sessions on our workshop pages. This has the benefit of introducing new constituencies to our events. For programs with other departments, I’ll brainstorm with staff to determine what kind of programs might interest their constituents. I often offer logistical assistance for these events- setting up the Zoom link, sending template emails, finding instructors, gathering supplies, providing budgetary assistance, etc. while the department staff might handle direct communications with students, distribute supplies, and more. If the collaboration is for an academic class, I work with the professor to determine what they would like the students to get out of the session and find and contract artists who can provide that experience. I find that I often need to set an expectation that these sessions should be hands-on and interactive as opposed to a lecture-style. This ensures that we adhere to the DukeCreate brand, and having those conversations early has been helpful.
Student group partnerships can also vary greatly, from supplying and cross-promotion, to heavy involvement and true collaboration in the formation of an event from start to finish. Often DukeCreate’s most innovative programs come through working with students to make their vision come to life. One of our workshops during Wellness Day in April (4/12) will be the result of one of these collaborations- “Mindfulness: Tai Chi, Photography and The Present Moment.” A student approached us with the idea and we collaborated with the student after we found an instructor to develop the curriculum according to that vision. We’ll see how it goes!
Speaking of students and partnerships, the success and strength of DukeCreate is thanks in large part to my two Duke student colleagues. Our Graduate Assistant is Julie Platner, 2nd year MFA EDA candidate and our Social Media Manager is sophomore Lauren May.
How did you measure the success of your virtual event?
In general, a successful event for us is one that aligns with our goals and draws in new participants from a wide range of disciplines across the campus community. We use Zoom’s registration feature to track who is attending workshops, and collect information including department affiliation, class year, and major. Attendance numbers can vary greatly depending on the event being offered, but by tracking registration attrition and attendance, we can get a broad feel for what times/days/point in the semester workshop offerings might attract the highest numbers and at what point advertising will be most effective. I’ll review the overall and average attendance numbers to broadly track how things are trending during the semester and will request feedback for any new offerings via a participant survey.
Typically, DukeCreate workshops are held M-Th at 6pm. After class/work but before dinner seems to be a good sweet spot when programming for the entire Duke community. Within the flow of the academic calendar, there is a noticeable dip in attendance mid-semester as students begin to buckle in with midterms and things heat up for faculty and staff. Our most successful numbers are generally right at the start of the semester before the academic year begins to take hold.
What was most satisfying about planning and producing this event?
I’ve loved seeing the program grow this year as well as the good feedback from students and colleagues and new requests from departments and student groups for collaborations. DukeCreate has inherited an interesting niche during this unprecedented semester, and I’m so glad that it’s providing a valuable creative outlet for the Duke community.
What did you learn from planning this virtual event?
Lots about Zoom and virtual platform technology in general! When I started virtual DukeCreate programming in March last year, I never thought it would become part of our regular programming- just a temporary solution. However, I can’t ignore the accessibility and the opportunity to connect with a wider Duke constituency, and I’ll likely continue programming using a hybrid virtual/in-person model post COVID.
Duke Department: Duke Arts
Lauren May -Social Media Manager is a sophomore
Julie Platner, Graduate Assistant is , 2nd year MFA EDA candidate
Kaitlin Briggs, Editor