The Advocate Behind Duke’s Vibrant Arts & Media Scene

The Advocate Behind Duke’s Vibrant Arts & Media Scene

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Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Amy Unell, a Duke University alumna, returned to her alma mater to work with the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts as well as Duke’s Career Center, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Alumni Affairs and to teach in Policy Journalism and Media Studies. Formerly a LA-based producer for NBC’s “TODAY Show,” she has covered a broad range of subjects – from shark attacks in Hawaii, to the Academy Awards and the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, to Sarah Palin’s nomination for vice president in Alaska.


“Talk is cheap; actions speak louder” – those were the words from Duke’s former track and field head coach and Olympic coach Al Buehler that struck a chord with Amy in her first semester at the university as she sat in his “History and Issues of Sports” seminar. (Just last year, Coach Buehler retired after 60 years, the longest tenure of a professor at Duke.)

Following a seven-year stint as a producer for NBC’s “TODAY Show,” Amy was invited back to Duke in 2010 to participate in the Duke Media Fellows program; her project morphed into a documentary featuring her former instructor – “Starting at the Finish Line: The Coach Buehler Story” – focused on civil rights, women’s rights and international relations as seen through the lens of track and field with Coach Buehler and his best friend, former U.S. Olympic Committee President LeRoy T. Walker of N.C. Central University. She went on to start StoryTales Productions, and also produced “Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back,” along with filmmaker Madeleine Sackler and NBA All-Stars Grant Hill and Christian Laettner, which airs every March Madness season on Turner Sports.

She’s spent the past three years at Duke, wearing many different hats, but always developing options for artistic expression, partnership and engagement. “Creativity, collaboration, positivity and guacamole are my fuel,” Amy says. “Every day is an adventure in engaging students across the university, alumni, faculty, the Triangle and beyond in experiential opportunities in the arts.”

In order to build community around creativity at Duke and beyond, Amy fronts the Artstigators movement, established about a year ago. “There’s an endless amount of artstigatin’ collaborations and happenings in Durham including Third Friday, pictureDURM, Art of Cool Festival, Paint Durham, Full Frame, Runaway, Duke Performances, Moogfest’s disco brunches, ‘artstigator gator cookies’ at Mad Hatter’s and ‘heartstigator Cortes chai’ at Cocoa Cinnamon,” Amy says. “It’s been fun to see the #artstigators hashtag catch on across the globe from Durham to Caracas, Venezuela!” While the fruits of her efforts have had a worldly effect, her dedication to the arts also profoundly resonates much closer to home.

“Amy has played a large role in encouraging students, including myself, to pursue their artistic passions at Duke and outside in the real world,” says Duke senior Abhi Shah, a former student in Amy’s “Advanced Media & Innovation” seminar who is now working with Jeff Polish of The Monti and is in production on two short documentaries of his own. “Amy helped bolster and create events like the Duke Entertainment, Media and the Arts Network, ArtCon and Mediaville that connect students to alumni and pros in the arts and media industry. These events didn’t previously exist at Duke, and now students like me can benefit from them!

“Amy is a big reason why the arts and media scene at Duke has developed vibrancy over my time [here] and why [it] will continue to grow stronger.”


Press Play → Students in Amy’s “Advanced Media & Innovation” fall seminar produced short documentaries on several Triangle-based entrepreneurs – click here to watch the videos.

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Amanda MacLaren
Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for five years now. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Chubby’s.