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KIE holds its First Art Therapy Summer Camp for Refugees

At the end of the summer, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, in collaboration with Art Therapy Institute of North Carolina, hosted its first art therapy camp for youths ages 4-14 from local refugee families. Evidence from other week-long art therapy camps shows that participants experience reduced stress and anxiety and overall improvements to their well-being. The children — originally from from countries including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, and now relocated in Durham — painted, created super-hero costumes, danced, played outside, and had typical summer camp fun.

“The reason why (the arts camp) is effective is it provides a space for kids to express themselves and it also provides a way for them to learn to handle difficult tasks,” says Tra Tran, a graduate student in global health and research graduate fellow at Kenan, whose work with the camp is part of her thesis.

Read the Duke News story about the arts camp and watch the video!

Pin-dropping for the Summer

Around this time of year, if you happen to stop by West Duke—it’s very quiet, sometimes eerily so, with the students gone—you’ll see on one of Kenan’s two video screens, usually used to announce events during the school year, a quite lovely watercolor map of the world. On it there are a smattering of red pins. Several, you’ll notice, are clustered loosely around where North Carolina begins and ends, and where its western borders meet those of Virginia and Tenneesee, whose own borders meet those of Kentucky and West Virginia, and then to the South, the lowest-most points of Appalachia in Georgia. And then there are the pins a bit closer in, toward where I imagine West Duke would register on a satellite map. Zoom out and you’ll see pins dropped in California, Ireland, Kenya, and Jordan.

It’s always exciting to see where Kenan students fling themselves and land during the summers, and what types of projects they undertake in said places (on said pins). It’s especially exciting to me this year to see projects equally balanced between home and abroad—and to see places close to Duke and Durham signify home for a number of undergraduates. The Bull City Dignity Project, spearheaded by Summer Fellows alum Lara Haft and Project Change alum Kari Barclay, as well as documentarian Mariana Calvo, will engage Durham high-schoolers and Durham community members in a documentary theater project. At the heart of the project—which you can read more about here—are questions surrounding the idea of “dignity”: “What worth do we place on ourselves and on those around us? Is dignity something we’re born with or something granted to us by others? How do our identities shape how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves?”

There are four Kenan Summer Fellows this summer, and their first updates are just now rolling in: from San Francisco, CA (and eventually Nairobi, Kenya); Clarkston, GA; the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia; and, well, cyberspace. On the latter: Alex Zrenner, a Project Change alum and Team Kenan member, will investigate the ethics of online society and economy by focusing on a cyber harassment victim advocacy organization. I’ll be interested to see how Alex develops a sense of place and centrality through her research, which draws from instances of harassment that could be catalogued to no end online.

I’m winding down my tenure here—next week will mark my last blog post for Kenan before our new Bear Fellow, Cece Mercer, comes onboard to introduce herself with her first. Very soon I’ll publish what I’ve put together from my two weeks in Ireland last summer, which I spent partly in conjunction with the DukeEngage Dublin students (a new set is about to embark on their time in Ireland; watch the Kenan site for more), and partly in the throes of an investigation into the abrupt closure of a creative community center downtown. Central to the piece is a type of a mapping, a pin-dropping, which both reinforces the idea of claiming space and invites readers to embody the landscape themselves. Another way to do that is, of course, to imbibe the place-based stories of others—and luckily, you can, by following the stories of where Kenan students have immersed themselves this summer.

—MD

Weekly Rundown: On “Publics”

Deep in the trenches of fairly private (soon-to-be-public) writing this week, I’ve focused my outward attention on pieces of the “news”—or, information of a wider circulation—that consider the bounds of the “public” and make interventions in those bounds in turn.

  • Yesterday a friend posted this Awl article, “Podcasting and the Selling of Public Radio,” which considers a recent NPR-helmed event that served to pump up media and marketing folks with the idea of using public media as a branding service. Ira Glass, most famous for pioneering the This American Life juggernaut, provided a choice quote, dripping in sarcasm that seems to betray its actual honesty: “My hope is that we can move away from a model of asking listeners for money and join the free market. Public radio is ready for capitalism.” The article arrives at a fortuitous time, when podcasts, despite being produced in similar ways for years, have assumed a new, more urgent popularity through shows like Serial (disclaimer: I’ve never listened; I’m wary of any documentary project around which listeners rally by treating and talking about real people as fictional characters)—and some of these shows now happen to utilize advertisements that sound like the podcast itself. As Gillies writes,

“Advertising on public radio doesn’t totally undermine the virtues that make public radio public or worth supporting; we accept ads on city subway platforms and in non-profit magazines.3 However, what makes these ads troubling is that they don’t sound like ads: They sound like public radio. They exploit a special kind of trust listeners reserve for noncommercial educational media.”

  • I am in awe of the work of Duke-based Project Vox, as much as I am at what I perceive to be the widespread dearth of women philosophers studied—even represented—in philosophy’s academic life. Vox, a collaborative project begun by Duke philosophy professor Andrew Janiak and students and researchers at Duke, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, aims to make accessible and advocate for the inclusion of the work of women philosophers in the academic canon (the title of this Atlantic article, which profiles the project, might better be “Creating the Female Canon”). Vox’s digital site, which is—speaking of publics—open-source, includes texts by 17th-century women philosophers as well as sample syllabi that incorporate said work. The emphasis of the project is as much on presenting this work as it is on ensuring it’s presented—and made visible—in the best possible ways. This reinforces Vox’s belief in the high stakes of this material; as Duke Ph.D. candidate Adela Deanova said, “We don’t want people to add women to a course for politically correct reasons. We want them to teach these works because they are important part of this time period, and if you are not teaching them, you are not giving students an accurate picture of what went on.”
  • Recently Durham invited residents to tour an auspicious location: Durham’s Central Park, which has recently provided room for a new occupant—a giant red construction crane—ahead of its forthcoming occupants: the many who will supposedly fill the 100-unit condo complex scheduled to be built in the next year or so. For Indy Week, my friend and Duke Magazine staff writer Elizabeth Van Brocklin jumped into the community-centered walking tour, which was also Durham’s first Jane’s Walk, a nationally organized activity meant to honor the legacy of urban anthropologist Jane Jacobs. Those on the tour learned about the buildings and businesses—past, present, and future—in the Central Park area. A walker with a two-year-old son, who moved from Los Angeles eight years ago, wonders what a Durham Jane’s Walk will look and feel like when is son is five—and when his son is twenty-five. The walk’s leaders, two founders of the Central Park (from which the neighborhood gets its name), intended the trip to be an invitation to the public: to Durham’s public, to anyone who cares about the future of the city, about how, as Van Brocklin writes, the city “can grow gracefully,” even, in Durham’s case, when new construction seems to demand the opposite.

—MD

“Made in Durham”

It is important, I think, in the crafting of a certain identity—be it national, regional, personal, et. al—to call upon the identity-crafting work of those who came before. So Chuck Reece, editor of the online magazine The Bitter Southerner, does in his attempt to explain the origins and purpose of the magazine. In his editor’s note (“We Are Bitter”), Reece quotes William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom, as Mississippi-bred Quentin Compson’s Canadian roommate demands of his Southern friend: “Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.” Reece builds on this in his own writing: Why, and how, to live with so much historical baggage, so much collective guilt? To what degree is the guilt even collective?

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Image courtesy of The Bitter Southerner.

The solution for some, it seems, is to refashion the South’s regional identity into something at once sweet, edgy, and newfangled (hence the ever-popular branding of the “New South”). I worry that this branding, in an effort to make amends, sidesteps the loaded history that our region has moved through, and that has placed us where we are now—it gets over without the work of having got over, so to speak. When he visited Duke and UNC a few weeks ago, Reece talked about the work his publication is trying to do in contrast to a quick and easy celebration of a “renewed” cosmopolitan South. Perhaps paradoxically, The Bitter Southerner offers beautifully designed multimedia stories about the South every Tuesday—stories so beautiful I might even call them sweet, edgy, and newfangled—while their content attempts to get at the confusing, bizarre, unique, and—dare I say—ugly aspects of the contemporary South.

The story published this week is called “Made in Durham,” and it’s an excerpt from a larger multimedia zine project by local photographer Justin Cook. I think it’s powerful and worthwhile for several reasons. It’s likely the first mainstream media photo essay consideration I’ve seen of the interplay between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Durham(s), with an attention to who, specifically is making said claims—and who’s reaping the benefits. (See the Fullsteam water gun shot, contrasted with nearly every other photo in the series). It brings the incessant talk about “urban renewal” into glaring contrast with what residents of Durham’s Southside neighborhood call urban “removal.” Perhaps most importantly, Cook’s photo essay doesn’t shy away from talking about urban violence and incarceration and how these things are bound up with race and civic responsibility. Cook’s individual note is especially potent in its grappling with questions of agency and empathy that should come up in any serious conversation about the claims we stake for the cities and regions that we live in. “We hope these images will celebrate Durham,” Cook writes, “but also challenge us to create the best Durham for everyone.”

—MD

Writing Area 919

I didn’t make it to the opening party for Area 919 last weekend, but I like to imagine that if I had, I’d have imitated the movements of a small child, insofar as I’d be playful and hop around but I would not—definitely not—touch the art. I’d bend over to peer through the open circles of Casey Cook’s undulating sculpture Whoa, Nelly! Through the holes my eyes would settle upon a painting on the opposite wall, which would mean they’d fixate on the dark grain of Damian Stamer’s Requiem. What at first looks like a contained interior scene—an abandoned piano, an old chair—slowly begins to expand: objects composed of scraped paint uncover other objects, until, hey, is that a tree branch up there? Looks like it. The wall placard explains that Stamer “create[s] haunting environments borrowed from the rural landscape of north Durham County, where he grew up.” I’m reminded of a recent holiday drive through north Durham, and then through Oxford, and then through southwest Virginia. I remember the darkness under the eaves of stately Oxford houses, which made me think about the riots Tim Tyson writes about in Blood Done Sign My Name. But I also remember how the sunset gathered on the long flat lawns outside the downtown, lawns abutting forests that looked like they could go on forever. If I could tie all that together in a painting, maybe it’d look—or feel—something like how Stamer’s looks and feels to me now.

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A snapshot of Area 919. Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum website.

In my opening remarks for this year’s Ethics Film Series, which began this week with The Visitor, I gave some background for the theme—“Sound Beliefs.” I’ve given this background before, in writing and in speech; I repeat it, like a mantra: I wanted to pick something, some things, that felt both tactile and complex. I use this phrase as if the two terms stand in opposition, but when I say it they always hang together. I felt the same urge as I stood between Cook’s sculpture and Stamer’s painting, and then again when I stood between Cook’s sculpture and Neill Prewitt and Yuxtapongo’s installation Exploded Hipster, whose contents—local band and record label shirts, a stray Converse shoe, all crowdsourced from the Triangle’s music community—snake outward on the white gallery wall. Tactile, yes; they’re t-shirts, once hugged by warm bodies, some of whom I probably know personally, many of whom I probably follow on Twitter. I imagine a landscape of friendship and artistry, idiosyncratic and colorful, abstract and necessarily unfamiliar, to a certain degree (i.e., who did that Merge t-shirt belong to? Ah, yes, we’ve once made eye contact). But I also see that landscape, in front of me. I almost want to stick my arm through, to try it on for a while.

Area 919 is powerful in its assertion of a creative world through the hanging together of multiple creative worlds. This is something that art, and its curation, do well. “All of [the artists of Area 919] contribute to a vibrant and innovative artist community, helping to establish the Triangle as a growing creative center,” the exhibition detail reads. In effect, that exhibition detail is writing the community into a space, just as its artists are writing, painting, molding, imaging their selves, and their works, into a space. I feel similarly when I read the words of the women featured in “A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina,” and the words of the many commenters, insisting that the New York Times should have included another woman chef, another women-helmed restaurant, to more holistically honor the vibrancy of North Carolina’s food scene. That web would look different, yes—as it would look different, from the get-go, from any one chef’s, or artist’s, perspective. And so it would from yours or mine.

It’s possible, but not easy, to build community on the foundation of diversity; it’s possible, but even less easy, for that sense of community to be validated externally in a way that feels fair, representative, and holistic to those who did the work in the first place. And yet that is the work that remains: the getting up in the morning, the painting, the writing, the meeting people, the attending (or not attending). The pieces included in Area 919 honor that work by bringing different worlds together in one space: so tactile that you, and you, and you, can peer through the circles, too.

—MD

Ethics around Campus: Two Cities Talking

Where does this piece start? Where does the conversation begin?

Say it begins in a room on West Campus, at the bottom of a building, beneath exposed orange pipes. Gathered around a table, in the same place where last week Eula Biss sat, are two South African writers—one a librettist and composer, the other a journalist and blogger. Gathered around them is a mix of people: they are racially diverse, they come from Durham, they come from Duke, they come from both. They come into the city, and into this campus, and into this room, at different points in time. Some come into the room after the discussion starts. Some say that they have just moved to the city from Brooklyn, and from elsewhere. The librettist and journalist have moved to Durham for just a month, to share their stories with people like the ones who’ve come here to share theirs today.

Neo Muyanga and Khadija Patel are the inaugural recipients of the WiSER-Duke Visiting Writing Fellowship. The new cross-institutional program, between Johannesburg (the University of the Witwatersrand) and Durham (Duke), is designed to grant accomplished non-academic writers the chance to work within academic spaces. I first became interested in the program because I read that one of my former professors, Sarah Nuttall, would be helping to facilitate the exchange. Then I began reading about the two fellows’ work—about Muyanga’s compositions and co-founding of the Pan African Space Station, and about Patel’s journalism for South Africa’s Daily Maverick and her current book project on Mayfair, a suburb of Johannesburg. Enthralled by what I now knew, I expected to sit, further enthralled, as the two talked about what they do. There would be probing but mild-mannered questions from the audience about their work, and we would eat nice food and leave feeling happy with ourselves.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion writes in The White Album. In her first book, The Balloonists, Eula Biss quotes her back: “‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live,’ writes Joan Didion, with a certain skepticism. We also live by the stories we tell.” I like how Biss, with the same skepticism, re-fashions Didion’s words in order to say something not only about our tendency, as humans, to narrativize in order to make meaning. Biss seems to be suggesting that we’re bound by these stories, in our action and inaction. And I’d go further: that which binds us in turn renders us, and our stories, necessarily incomplete.

I like the different angles Didion’s and Biss’s words create. I felt these angles take shape during the event at the Forum for Scholars and Publics. The conversation with Muyanga and Patel was formally structured around the term “black money”—referring to the rise of the black middle class in Johannesburg but also, I found out, to the trajectory of the black middle class in Durham. The conversation hinged on the stories its participants were willing to tell, about how race, urban development, and economic power interlock in Durham. We think there’s a connection here, the South Africans said. I’ll give you my context if you give me yours.

The first response: this conversation should begin elsewhere—downtown, outside the academy, in a black church, or library, or other community space. This sentiment—that the conversation is necessarily incomplete—is one I don’t often hear voiced so plainly during on-campus discussions about Duke and Durham. I appreciated it, as much as I appreciate how necessary it is to hold these types of conversations on campus. The comment gave the event texture, and gave spirit to the comments and questions that followed, things that piggy-backed off each other, like: who do cities belong to, and how does that ‘who’ factor into how cities are designed? If cities from Durham to Brooklyn to Johannesburg are modeling themselves into a universal currency of artisanal hipness, who’s able to ‘play’ in these spheres, and who’s left out? When we imagine the cities—and realities—of the future, do we envision the oppressed rising to extreme wealth? Do we want the realities we live with now?

Muyanga and Patel responded back, fashioning the audience comments into reflections on their experiences of Johannesburg. I caught Muyanga afterward and brought up my research project in Dublin, how I’d been investigating the closure of an arts space in the city center. My story didn’t really have a point; it served as a sort of proof that I’d studied the types of things we all spent an hour talking about. I realize now that being in that room and sharing something about living in Durham would have been enough. I have lived in this particular city for almost six years now. I know my knowledge is incomplete, but that gives me fuel—as does sitting in a room on West Campus, sitting alongside others, and placing ‘our’ cities in conversation.

—MD