Official Statement from Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Chappelle Theatre Naming Update
Recently, Dave Chappelle, via his Instagram page, challenged those who both support and oppose the decision to name the theatre at Duke Ellington School of the Arts after him through a fundraising contest. While we appreciate Dave’s impromptu and spirited fundraising initiative, we stand behind our decision to honor the wishes of our co-founder, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz, to name the theatre after Chappelle. All donations will go towards arts programming and every donor, irrespective of their support or opposition to the theater naming, will receive an official thank you from our team.
Chappelle cares deeply about Ellington and its students and regards them as family. He made an unannounced visit before the Thanksgiving break to meet with his Ellington family and to hear directly from the few students who have concerns about his recent comedy special, “The Closer.” He also wanted to directly express support for their safety in light of some disturbing online comments targeting the Ellington community.
While there has been extensive media coverage about the theatre naming and Chappelle’s most recent visit to the school, the source stories that have gone viral have been inaccurate, devoid of context, and neglected to include the nuances of art.
As an art institution, we educate our students on the importance of media literacy and art as a free and open form of expression to both reflect and challenge society. Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favor naming the theater for Dave Chappelle, we are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community. Our purpose is not to form a uniformity of viewpoints, but to help instill genuine, respectful curiosity in perspectives that challenge one’s own. The debates among some Ellington students largely mirror those that exist across Washington, D.C., and the country as a whole. The varying viewpoints expressed by students reflect differences of opinion across a wide variety of socioeconomic factors, including class, race, and gender expression.
Ellington’s mission is to nurture and develop artist citizens. In light of this, Ellington has expanded its social studies curriculum to respond to the ever-changing social climate and relies heavily on our ability to incorporate real-life experiences into teachable moments.