Shara Nova

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence

A singer/songwriter exploring difference and bridging gaps of misunderstanding

There are three branches to the musical life of Shara Nova: composer, singer/ songwriter for My Brightest Diamond, and singer of music by other composers. With Creative Futures, Nova and fellow artist-in-residence Helga Davis—who have been friends for more than ten years—are creating a piece with the women’s choir at Durham’s Northern High School. They are working with choir director Rachel Spencer alongside faculty partner Tanya Shields, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at UNC.

“We interview choir members, ask them questions to better understand their life and how race impacts their experience. From those conversations, we are creating the musical work that will be performed,” says Nova. “The students are from lots of different places and varied experiences and backgrounds. That was appealing to me because I’m most interested in bridging gaps of misunderstanding and exploring difference, as well as affirming our common humanity.” Nova says that the job of artists is to provide a safe environment for people to say what they are feeling and talk about their experience.


Nova’s work will be incorporated into Body Vessel, a piece Nova and Davis are creating based on their friendship and lives as people with different skin color and different experiences. 

“Much of the prep work I have done for this piece happens before I have a conversation with the students. I’ve needed to investigate my own southern family history, and also learn to see my “psychology” as part of a larger picture, rather than being so individualistic in my understanding,” says Nova. She continues, “The reality is that because of our skin color and the cultural taboos we as Americans have talking about race, I’ve had to learn a new practice of communication in our friendship and one I’m deeply grateful for. Helga and I want to share with people the love we have for each other and create a space for us all: to self examine and to listen.” 

Nova says that the personal nature of the work is important. “We’re not trying to have a big conversation about skin color that is outside of ourselves,” she says. “It’s a very personal examination.”

Michele Lynn

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