Finally, after many years of waiting, planning, and preparing for this special moment, we have now launched our new undergraduate degree program at Duke Kunshan. Led by our fantastic recruiting team headed by the indefatigable Russell Davis, our first recruiting effort panned out well (you may recall my blogs last summer about traveling to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, India, and Taiwan to visit with international schools in the region and spread the good word). Our pioneer cohort includes around 175 students from Mainland China and another 90 international students from 27 different countries including a few dozen Americans, students from Latin American, African, European, and Asia Pacific countries including several from Taiwan (Taiwan is a special case since it is considered part of China).
On August 18, as part of our two-week orientation period for the new undergraduate degree students, we organized an arts, film, and music festival on campus, which we dubbed the Cultural Crossroads Festival. The original idea for this festival came from conversations I had with Tim Smith, a member of our DKU community with a strong background in cross-cultural learning, and with Brian Offenther, a DJ and events organizer based in Shanghai. I served as lead organizer for the event, while Brian and Tim were co-organizers. Connie Zhang (Shuhua), our Events Planning Manager, also supported the planning and organization of the festival with a great deal of effort and careful attention to details. We also had a lot of help from the Student Affairs team and others on campus. The festival was generously supported with funds from the Chancellor’s Office thanks to our EVC Dr. Denis Simon, who also attended the festival.
Brian organized around 20 artists and musicians based in Shanghai to participate in the festival, and we bused them out to Kunshan for the event. In addition, I invited a friend named Fei, who is building an art museum in Kunshan, to participate in the event, and she and her company organized an excellent exhibition of Chinese traditional arts in our DKU Water Pavilion. Moreover, I invited an arts collective based in Shanghai and also located in the water town of Jinxi in Kunshan to participate and they did so by screening a collection of five short films made by avant-garde Chinese artists. The festival culminated with a triple concert featuring a jazz band, a blues band, and a rock band. As Hannibal Smith used to say in the 1980s American TV show “The A Team,” “I love it when a plan comes together!” And despite some stress-inducing moments, the festival ended up coming together very well.
For the festival, we set up several classrooms to serve as stations and we placed various artists, filmmakers, and musicians in the separate rooms, where they interacted with students and performed for them for a 45-minute session. Each session was followed by a break, which gave the students and others in our community the chance to move to another room or station. This went on for three hours between one and four pm, so that students could visit several stations during that time.
Prior to the festival, we started out with a 90-minute briefing for students in the auditorium. Tim Smith gave a talk on the importance and value of cross-cultural learning, emphasizing how living, studying and working across cultures opens new doors of experiences and perspectives. He used examples from his numerous experiences of living in other countries and in particular his experience with a “semester at sea” study program on an ocean liner. Using a PPT I put together for the briefing, I spoke to the students about the role of art and music in transcending cultural boundaries and bringing tribes together throughout human history. I also related the foundational story and myth behind the name of Cultural Crossroads, while at the same time giving them an all-too-brief history of the blues focused on the enigmatic blues guitarist Robert Johnson.
I worked with our vendor to come up with the design for the banner, which shows a lone guitarist approaching a crossroads. This harkens back to the myth of Robert Johnson who allegedly met the devil while at a crossroads on Route 66 in the Mississippi Delta. I didn’t have time to fully expound on the meanings of this mythical foundational story of the blues to our students, but hopefully we will get a chance to carry on the conversation another time.
The piece de resistance of the festival was the music concert, which we organized in the ballroom of the Academic Building. We rented the sound system and backline for the musicians, and they spent the early afternoon doing their sound checks while the others were performing in the classrooms. The ballroom turned out to be an excellent space for a concert, and everyone remarked on the high quality, not only the musicians themselves, who were of course superb, but also of the sound system. Unfortunately we were not able to budget special lighting for the concert. Overall, the success of the concert bodes well for the future of our cultural festival and concert programming.
As for the bands, I invited Shanghai jazz club veteran Alec Haavik, sax and wind instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader extraordinaire, to join the festival. To my delight, he brought a quartet of fine musicians including bassist Brian Hurley, visiting New York-based guitarist Matt Panayides, and a Chinese drummer from the JZ School in Shanghai named Chen Xiaozhou. The students were completely riveted by the band. At first they stood quite close to the stage, but eventually they settled on the floor to watch the concert.
After that came the blues band, Royal Hombres, which used to be the house band at the now defunct Cotton Club, one of Shanghai’s most cherished live music houses of the past twenty years. Unfortunately the bandleader, Greg Smith, couldn’t make it as he had to fly back to the USA. The guitarist who replaced him, Charlie, was outstanding, so while we missed Greg, nobody had any complaints about the quality of the band. Supported by drummer Francesco, bassist Jorland, and guitarist Eddy, the singer Iko wowed the audience with her powerful voice as they played a set of blues and R&B standards.
I also invited the classic rock band called Classic Heads, who perform nightly at the Eagle Bar in downtown Kunshan, to round out the concert. Led by guitarist Marvin, the band includes singer Ama, bassist Mark, and drummer Charles. Not to be outdone by the previous two bands, the Classic Heads brought on their A-game with a succession of classics including Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” a couple of Jimi Hendrix tunes (including “Red House” where I stepped up to the mike as guest singer), and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (wish I’d brought my keyboard!). Marvin stunned everyone with his jaw dropping guitar work, and even Dr. Simon, an old classics hand himself, was suitably impressed.
The point was not just to entertain our students, but also to give them some exposure, however brief and fleeting, to people, cultures and experiences that were new to them, bringing them out of their “cultural comfort zones” in the process. We were also hoping to plant the seeds of curiosity in our students and encourage them to reflect on their experiences and to learn more about the backgrounds and traditions of the various art and musical forms they experienced during the festival.
This festival was just a starting point, and hopefully we will be able to continue to hold special events on our campus that bring great artists, musicians, filmmakers and others to interact with our students and community in a meaningful and mutually productive way. Judging from the positive feedback we received from students, staff, faculty, and from the special guests who participated in the festival, we’ve set the stage for much more to come.
Here is the schedule for the festival:
August 18 2018 DKU Cultural Crossroads Festival 八一八昆山杜克文化交流日
As part of the overall undergraduate student orientation program, this day-long festival event will bring together students, faculty, and staff as well as invited guests representing different cultures for a day of fun, adventure, and learning. Guests will include artists, musicians, and others from Kunshan, Shanghai and the surrounding region. During the festival, students and other members of the DKU community will visit different stations on campus set up to feature a sampling of cultural experiences, including music, film, live performances, art, and food. They will be encouraged to reflect upon these happenings both as personal experiences and as initial steps in building the cross-cultural skills they will continue to develop during their time at DKU. A major theme of this event will be how to go beyond one’s “cultural comfort zone” to experience other cultures and learn from them. This early experience aims to confirm the expectation that DKU is a place where cross-cultural engagement is happening and will continue to happen both now and throughout their four years in the cross-culture community at DKU.
8-18-18 Cultural Crossroads Festival Schedule
Saturday August 18, 2018 on Duke Kunshan Campus
10:30-noon (auditorium): Briefing on Festival and Cross-Cultural Learning by Dr. Andrew Field and Timothy Smith
12-1 pm: Lunch (international cuisines)
1-6 pm: Cultural Crossroads Festival Events
1-4 pm: Chinese Traditional Arts Exhibition in Water Pavilion
1-4 pm: Music and Arts Events in following rooms:
AB3101: Chinese folk rock musician L J and painter Rhys
AB3103: sitar player Sal and DJ Brian
AB3107: African drums with Thomas, folk music with Wendusa and Sheky
AB1079: short film screenings with Niv
AB1087: short films of Chinese artists Cao Shu, Chai Mi, Gao Wenqian, Liu Haoge, and Shen Jie
4-6 pm: Music Concert in Ballroom
4-5 pm: Modern Jazz from New York City: Matt Panayides Quartet with Matt Panayides on guitar, Alec Haavik on saxophone, Brian Hurley on bass, and Wu Xiaocheng on drums.
5-6 pm: R&B blues band Royal Hombres from Shanghai: Charlie and Eddy on guitar, Iko on vocals, Francesco on drums, Jorland on bass
6-6:30 pm special appearance by Classic Heads from Kunshan Eagle Bar: Marvin, Ama, Mark, and Charles