Do you know about? The Center for Documentary Studies

This is first in a series of articles on creative resources in the Triangle that are either little known, or you may have heard of them, but may be unaware of the extent of the services and resources they offer.  Have an idea for a future article?  Let us  know.

By Teri Saylor

Sparkle and Twang is an exhibit by country music singer Marty Stuart that was on display at the CDS

A commotion outside a classroom at the Center for Documentary Studies caused heads to turn as a familiar figure led a small entourage though the Center’s downstairs gallery. He paused to glance into the room and his carefully coifed hair gave him away.  It was country music singer Marty Stuart, on his way to a concert on the Duke Campus, showing off a documentary photography project he has cultivated over 40 years.  Starting with a portrait of bluegrass music legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs taken in 1969, and time traveling through the turn of the new Millennium, “Sparkle and Twang” depicts kings and queens of country and blues, and includes photographs of Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, and BB King.  A highlight of his exhibit is what is thought to be the last photograph of Johnny Cash, taken on September 8, 2003, just four days before he died.

The Center for Documentary Studies, founded in 1989 at Duke University offers and interdisciplinary program of instruction, production and presentation in the documentary arts: photography, film/video, narrative writing, audio, and other creative media.  The CDS serves as a resource for individuals and groups wishing to learn or develop documentary skills. Under graduate degrees are available to Duke University students. A certificate program in documentary arts and continuing education classes are open to anyone interested in expanding their documentary talents or taking their interest in the genre to a new level.

The Center made news recently when a new masters degree was introduced at Duke University. A unique initiative, the new Masters in Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts couples experimental visual practice with documentary arts in a two-year program.  “We continue to raise the bar,” said April Walton, learning outreach director. “We encourage people to think outside the box.”

The Center for Documentary Studies offers programs for documentarians and those who love the genre.

As far as the CDS is concerned, its students don’t have to be professional documentarians. Anyone with a good idea or a dream is welcome to take classes and to develop their ideas into projects.  “’What’s the point?’” you might ask,” Walton said. “The process is the point. The skills you gain are invaluable, and everyone is interested in adding to their skill set.”  The CDS is also home to a diverse populations of students, from the youthful college-age set, to professionals from different occupations eager to flex their creative muscles, to retirees who believe it’s never too late to see a dream project come to fruition.  “Good work is good work,” Walton said. “We don’t differentiate between student work and professional work.

Continuing education classes cost money, most of which goes to the instructors, Walton said. Duke employees get discounts, and there are unpaid internship programs, teaching assistant opportunities, partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and other ways people can participate in CDS programming.

Some documentary-lovers don’t want to create a body of work themselves, but instead enjoy the work of others.There’s room for spectators too.  “We want to provide an open and welcoming atmosphere,” Walton said. “Come visit; see our exhibits; sit on our porch; be our guest.”  The CDS hosts receptions and special events. Lectures, film screenings, and project presentations are open to the public, and most of the events are free.

For more information, check out the Center’s websites: http://cds.aas.duke.edu or www.cdsporch.com.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer and photographer in Raleigh. Follow her tweets @terisaylor or contact her by email.

Do you know of creative resources in the Triangle that others may not know about?  Tell us about it at info@triangleartworks.org!

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