Alison Friedman named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts

Alison Friedman is named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts, following a competitive international search, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin announced in a campus email Monday.

Friedman, an internationally recognized performing arts executive and producer, will join Carolina in October to lead CPA in its 17th season. She is currently the artistic director for performing arts for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest arts and cultural developments, and has worked with renowned artists across Asia, Europe, Australia, South America and the United States.

“Alison’s extensive global experience aligns perfectly with CPA’s mission to spark curiosity and inspire its community to engage more fully with the world,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

White woman with rainbow stripes in light brown hair wearing green v-neck top.
Alison Friedman, named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Alison Friedman)

Friedman will direct the organizational framework for the arts at Carolina, working with both academic and non-academic units to identify new opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to engage with and experience the arts. She will build on the success of CPA by fostering new partnerships with arts and higher education institutions across the globe and staging performances that appeal to diverse audiences.

Friedman will continue the popular Creative Futures program at CPA, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which brings in artists to work with faculty and students in community-based research, and will help lead Arts Everywhere, a campus-wide initiative to make the arts a fundamental part of the University’s culture and daily life.

In her current role, Friedman leads the dance, theater, music and Chinese opera (xiqu) teams at Xiqu Centre and Freespace, the first two performing arts venues to open in West Kowloon Cultural District. She also oversees program planning for Xiqu Centre and Freespace and future venues being built in the district, including performances, workshops and outreach events. As acting executive director, Friedman led all aspects of production including budgeting, fundraising, administration and human resources, in addition to her regular duties. Her accomplishments include launching an annual indoor-outdoor jazz festival that reached tens of thousands in its inaugural two years, developing an intergenerational program designed for Hong Kong’s underserved elderly population and their families and caregivers and spearheading Hong Kong’s first digital programming in response to COVID-19 theater closures in January 2020.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Carolina Performing Arts as executive and artistic director. Under the  leadership of Chancellor Moeser and Emil Kang, the outstanding team has established CPA as one of the foremost arts organizations in the country. It’s especially meaningful to be joining the  larger UNC-Chapel Hill family, an institution that recognizes the indispensable value of the arts  for the health and well-being of its community and the vitality of society. I step into this role with great anticipation for the important work ahead of us.” 

Alison Friedman

Prior to her work in West Kowloon, Friedman was founder and executive and creative director of Ping Pong Productions, a pioneering non-profit performing arts exchange organization based in Beijing that presented more than 250 performance and outreach events annually across five continents. She also has completed an arts management fellowship program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Friedman’s professional experience in performing arts includes leadership roles with Oscar and Grammy-winner Tan Dun’s company Parnassus Productions and the Beijing Modern Dance Company. A former Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Friedman graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

“We are grateful for the hard work of the search committee, led by Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Terry Rhodes, to identify Alison from a strong, international pool of leading candidates,” the email said. “We would also like to thank Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, who has served as interim executive and artistic director of CPA since 2019 and will remain in the role until June 30.”

When founding executive and artistic director Emil Kang departed Carolina to pursue work with the Mellon Foundation, no one could have predicted the challenges that CPA would face in 2020 as venues closed and the season was canceled due to COVID-19.

“Moeser’s passion and dedication helped CPA continue to bring diverse artists to engage with the Carolina community throughout the pandemic and connected the campus through innovative and expansive virtual arts programming,” the email said. “We offer our appreciation to Michael Johnson, associate director of Carolina Performing Arts, who will provide interim leadership until Alison arrives this fall.”

Over the past 16 years, Carolina Performing Arts has established itself as a University hallmark by offering opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to experience critically acclaimed, global performances that are typically only available in large cities.

“We are thrilled that Alison will continue this vision while starting a new era that will include the return of much missed in-person performances when it’s safe to do so. Please join us in thanking Chancellor Emeritus Moeser for his loyal service and welcoming Alison Friedman to Carolina,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

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