Gift to Carolina Performing Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill ensures continued access to innovative, creative arts programming

Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser and Dr. Susan Moeser

The $3 million anonymous gift honors CPA founder and Carolina’s Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser

Today, Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced the largest one-time contribution from an individual or family to CPA in its history. An anonymous donor’s $3 million gift to CPA establishes the first non-faculty endowed directorship in the arts at Carolina, named for James and Susan Moeser.

The James and Susan Moeser Endowed Fund for the Executive and Artistic Director at Carolina Performing Arts will ensure future opportunities for the Carolina community and beyond to discover the world through the arts. This gift is a milestone investment in CPA, particularly at a time when arts organizations are meeting unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds will support the executive and artistic director in fostering relationships on a global scale and advancing artistic excellence – critical work that fuels CPA’s legacy of making innovative arts programming accessible to the Carolina community.

“Chancellor Moeser’s investment in the arts heralded a new era at Carolina that continues to this day. Chapel Hill is a destination for world-class performers, where visiting artists integrate into the classroom and new opportunities for interdisciplinary discoveries abound,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “This gift is a testament to the essential role that the arts play at the nation’s first public university, and we are grateful for Chancellor Moeser’s commitment to this endeavor.”

Under Chancellor Emeritus Moeser’s leadership, Carolina became a cornerstone of the arts community in the region. This growth spurred an $18 million renovation of Memorial Hall, the founding of Carolina Performing Arts and the recruitment of CPA’s founding executive and artistic director Emil Kang. CPA, and Carolina, garnered a reputation of sparking curiosity through the arts and fostering an environment where a range of local to international artists could collaborate and create. Since 2005, CPA has presented hundreds of performances by artists from around the world, commissioned more than 50 groundbreaking new works, and underwritten more than 111,000 student tickets.

Over the last 16 years, this established history enabled CPA to partner with prestigious organizations and sought-after artists to create trailblazing arts experiences and residency programs, such as the Discovery Through Iterative Learning, or DisTIL, program funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through DisTIL, faculty and students worked alongside Guggenheim fellow Robin Frohardt in 2018 to inform her immersive installation and performance “The Plastic Bag Store.” Thanks to their residency with CPA, Allison Loggins-Hull and Nathalie Joachim of Flutronix created a community-centered social change initiative and new musical work to examine social and political climate during an unprecedented time.

Last year, CPA met the extraordinary challenges of a global pandemic and remote work. In March 2020, CPA canceled the remainder of its 15th anniversary season and within days launched CPA at Home as a hub for virtual performance, exclusive content from artists around the world and more. As Chancellor Emeritus Moeser steps away from his role in June this year, CPA is set firmly on a bold, innovative path forward.

“Susan and I are humbled that this gift has been made in our names, but more than that, we are elated at this demonstration of support for the invaluable work that Carolina Performing Arts does on a campus, regional, national, and international scale,” said Moeser. “We’ve dedicated our lives to higher education and the arts, and to see how CPA continues to transform the role of an arts organization on the campus of a public university is nothing short of astonishing, and we’re proud to remain active members of its community of donors and advocates.”

Both classically trained organists, the Moesers champion the arts personally and professionally. Now the University Organist and an instructor of organ at Carolina, Susan Moeser, is a well-known recitalist and teacher who performed throughout the U.S. and internationally. She served as an officer at the local and national levels in the American Guild of Organists and taught organ, music history and music theory at University of Nebraska, University of South Carolina and Penn State University.

Chancellor Emeritus Moeser’s career in the arts began as a faculty member at the University of Kansas. He earned a reputation as one of the nation’s leading organ recitalists, church musicians, and teachers while performing widely across the U.S. and Europe until he retired from performance in 1992. He served in a variety of administrative roles at KU, Penn State, the University of South Carolina and the University of Nebraska before becoming Carolina’s ninth Chancellor from 2000 through 2008. During that time, he established the Carolina Covenant, a program to provide debt-free education to students from low-income families. After his tenure as Carolina’s Chancellor, Moeser served as interim chancellor of UNC School of the Arts and acting director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Carolina before stepping into the interim role at CPA in 2019. He will retire on June 30.

The foundation laid by Moeser will advance at CPA when internationally recognized performing arts executive and producer Alison Friedman takes on the executive and artistic director role. As announced earlier this year, Friedman will arrive in October. Friedman will lead CPA through its 17th season and help welcome patrons back into venues for in-person experiences for the first time since March 2020.

The groundbreaking gift, which helped CPA exceed its $25 million fundraising goal, also counts toward the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by December 2022.

Statement from Carolina Performing Arts Staff on Nikole Hannah-Jones Tenure

As a performing arts presenter on the campus of a public university, Carolina Performing Arts has a unique role among arts organizations. We need only look to our mission of sparking curiosity and inspiring our community to discover and engage with the world to see how our work intersects with UNC-Chapel Hill’s founding principles of light and liberty.  

While so much of what we do is made visible on the stage, we thrive because of our collaborations with the community of Carolina faculty, who enrich the work of visiting performers and CPA’s artists in residence, create deeper understanding for our audiences, and help forge connections between the arts and innumerable fields of study. For these and numerous other reasons, we stand in solidarity with Nikole Hannah-Jones and our many colleagues who support her appointment. We urge the Board of Trustees to approve her tenure. 

As a premier public university, Carolina has before it an obligation not only to enrich its faculty and student experience by granting deserved tenure to Hannah-Jones, but to, simply put, do what is right. As the University and its various units, including CPA, have engaged in long-needed equity processes, now is the time to enact those values we claim. Our staff is proud to join our colleagues who have been outspoken about this matter, and our support is with Ms. Hannah-Jones.  

Signed, the staff of Carolina Performing Arts

Jessica Abel | Marketing and Communications Manager
Rebecca Black | Audience Services Manager
Angela Brickley | Production Manager
Betsy Busald | Associate Director of Development
Dani Callahan | Business Operations Assistant
Lauren DiGiulio | Andrew W. Mellon DisTIL Postdoctoral Fellow
Amanda Graham | Associate Director of Engagement
Jana Jackson | Director of Marketing and Communications
Michael Johnson | Associate Director
Michael Levine | Audio Department Head
Christopher Massenburg | Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures
Courtney Melvin | Revenue & Analytics Lead
James Moeser | Interim Executive and Artistic Director | Chancellor Emeritus, UNC-Chapel Hill
Brad Munda | Production Manager
Ketura Parker | Director of Development
Ellie Pate | Artistic Coordinator
Idalis Payne | Box Office Coordinator
Chris Pendergrass | Artistic Planning Manager
Aaron Pickett |  Production Manager 
Laura Pinto-Coelho | Development Manager
Christina Rodriguez | Associate Director of Marketing and Communications
Amy Russell | Director of Programming
Mark Steffen | Events Manager
Annette Strom | Chief of Staff
Kathryn Wagner | Associate Director, Arts Everywhere
Megan Whitaker | Artist Services Manager
Crystal Wu | Marketing and Development Communications Manager, Arts Everywhere
Ashli York | Sales and Ticketing System Specialist

An Update on Our Equity Work

Like many organizations around the world, much of the past year at Carolina Performing Arts has been rooted in reflection and assessment: looking deeply at who we are, how we operate, and what we must do to be more fully in alignment with our core principles.

In late 2020, we committed to sharing updates about our racial equity work with our community. Despite our collective desire for immediate action, we know that lasting change comes from an informed, strategic path, and CPA is committed to doing the work to make that vision a reality, while taking appropriate action in the near term. 

In the past several months, we convened a staff equity working group, which is tasked with applying an equity lens to the evaluation of all areas of our work, including programming, event operations, and our role as an arts organization on UNC’s campus. Additionally, CPA is now engaged with an anti-racism and equity consultant to lead the organization in an equity-based culture change process. This individual brings with them a deep understanding of North Carolina and the arts and academic communities, making them particularly well-suited to CPA and our goals for this work. In February 2021, this consultant met with the entire staff to kick off our work together, before convening small groups for listening sessions in March, where individuals could share thoughts and feedback, and begin discussions about what CPA can and must do in order to be an organization whose principles and activities are actively anti-racist.

To anchor this process and guide our decisions, the working group has identified key priority areas for the organization as CPA engages with a global culture through stakeholder relationships, employment practices, and administrative practices. As Carolina Performing Arts continues this work, please know that our staff and leadership are committed to asking hard questions, exploring new ways of leading, making difficult choices, being transparent with our patrons and community and—most importantly—working to advance equity, accessibility, and belonging for all people.

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.

Changing through Collective Creation

Engaging with Affordable Housing: The Musical

Black man dressed in black on foreground of stage, with several people in background holding up a hand-painted sign that says "Welcome to Church Mound"

In November of 2019, Affordable Housing: The Musical premiered at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio to a completely sold-out audience. Presented as part of a partnership between community organizations, including Chapel Hill’s Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) and Carolina Performing Arts, the weekend run of this grassroots performance reminded us that the work we do outside of our presenting season is ongoing—and important. 

Founded in 2009, CEF serves and supports Orange County residents experiencing housing insecurity. Co-founder Maggie West had recognized that members of the organization were looking for more opportunities for artistic expression, and so, over more than a year-and-a-half, she and others collaborated to create a performance that would “educate community members on issues of affordable housing and, in the process, reduce the stigma of homelessness.” 

Simultaneously, UNC music major Rachel Despard was searching for ways to use her voice to support the community. An intern for the engagement team at CPA (which works with faculty, students, and community to create connections with artists and the arts), she had also performed at CEF benefit concerts. Soon, Rachel dove into helping bring the musical to life. As production got underway, she offered her experience in mixing and mastering audio to create an official soundtrack for all streaming platforms, which was released in May 2020.     

Through her work with both CPA and CEF, Rachel forged connections that led her to a new understanding of the role of performance in daily life. This experience carried into her academics, as well. In her senior year, she authored (and successfully defended!) an honors thesis that presented a “study of socially engaged art-making and micro-activism in Chapel Hill in 2019 and 2020,” based on her intersecting experiences of collaborating with CEF and CPA, and her study of “existing scholarship on artistic advocacy and ethnomusicological activism, inform[ing] my argument for the significance of micro-activism and socially engaged art making.” 

Finding new pathways for pedagogy and participation is at the core of CPA’s engagement work, and the work extends long after the curtain falls on a performance. From Rachel’s thesis: 

“When you sing a song for an audience, you can immediately witness their reaction and feel a connection. Within the strong relationships that are built through music, participants in collective creation can see others change over the course of a musical project or collaboration. This was the kind of impact I was searching for, and one I witnessed through Affordable Housing: The Musical.” 

When Rachel came to UNC, she didn’t know how her passions of music, advocacy, and academia would evolve and mesh as they have done. And for CPA, getting to encourage and help make these connections for students and community members is an integral part of the “backstage” work we do.

Ellie Pate is an artistic coordinator at Carolina Performing Art, working both in artist services and in engagement. 

CEF serves and supports Orange County residents experiencing housing insecurity, and its work is just as urgent as ever: in the face of COVID-19, members without housing are some of the most vulnerable to the virus, and those with housing face financial uncertainty from economic turmoil. If you are able, you can support this crucial work by donating directly to Community Empowerment Fund or The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, or by donating a dinner through Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe (contact Vimala’s for more information).

A Reflection on This Moment

It is hard to know where to begin, at such a moment of grief and outrage against the horrific violence perpetrated against George Floyd and so many others—a moment that is not momentary at all, but lifelong. Carolina Performing Arts has its home on a campus that has a full-throated history of racist ideology and action against Black people, in a region with the same, in a country with the same still. Our collective situation has been dire for some time, but perhaps we, wrongly, did not see it for what it was: an urgent call-to-action. Being able to even make this mistake or benefit from this blindness is itself a privilege.

We have work to do.

Many of us at CPA are drawn to work in the arts because we see it as a voice for the people—artists are activists, and they have been compelled throughout history to speak the truth, to make plain what we can’t or won’t, to expose the ugliness that so often simmers barely beneath the surface. To support such art, therefore, is to acknowledge the sacred right to make one’s voice heard against injustice, whether it occurs on the stage or in the streets. As such, the violent militarization of law enforcement against protesters in the United States is despicable.

To look across the spectrum of performance art is to see plainly who has been excluded from the canon throughout time. Often, when we invite artists to CPA, their performances take place in a venue that is itself a memorial to the wrong side of history. As a performing arts presenter on a university campus, our mission states that we strive to create arts experiences that encourage lifelong learning. In CPA’s history, our staff has taken pride in the multifaceted work we have supported that seeks to address the ills in our society, but we must go a step—many steps—further.

As others have said: it is the time to be vociferously, actively anti-racist. Part of that means listening more than speaking: to our BIPOC staff, community, artists, and colleagues. We will engage our staff in anti-racism trainings, and ask ourselves, and others, difficult questions. We will not shy away from the answers.

We will remain committed to presenting, commissioning, and curating art by people of color. We recognize that the premise that we must make such a commitment is itself faulty, and will work to correct it within our organization and with our peers. We urge our staff and audience to disrupt the structures of white supremacy, systemic violence against Black people, and oppression, and for those with privilege to use it in service to our fellow humans.

This is a humble start, certainly. In recent days, many of us have seen these words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Carolina Performing Arts stands in solidarity with the Black community, and we are committed to doing our part to dismantle the deeply embedded systems of racism and oppression on our campus, in our towns, and in our country.

For anyone looking to take action by supporting local organizations, we encourage you to support the NC Community Bail Fund of Durham, Take Action Chapel Hill, Community Empowerment Fund, the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, Spirit House, NorthStar Church of the Arts, Hayti Heritage Center, Culture Mill, Orange County Justice United, and UNC-Chapel Hill’s own Campus Y. You can also find anti-racism resources provided by the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion at this link.

We stand with you.

#BlackLivesMatter

To be (read), or not to be (read): CPA’s associate director of marketing and communications on her book pile

It’s safe to say we’ve all got a little extra time on our hands in these strange new days. To make sure I’m not simply going from my computer screen to the TV screen, I’m getting outside for walks and making a real dent in my to-be-read pile (don’t worry: it’s still pretty big). Here are some books I’ve recently loved—I realize none of them are performing arts-related, but as Rory Gilmore once said, “my interests are teasingly diverse.”

Author Christina Rodriguez sits on the steps of a museum with pink and purple light from an installation bouncing around her.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

I started reading Ruth Reichl’s food memoirs when I was in high school and it was a treat to live inside her brightly painted world again as she recalls the final years of Gourmet magazine. Plus: the title references the famous and wonderful William Carlos Williams poem.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Despite being a little embarrassed to admit, as a former book editor, that I had never picked up one of Whitehead’s books before, I tore through this novel in 24 hours. What a beautiful and heartbreaking work of fiction about one of the darkest times in this country’s history.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This novel by a retired wildlife biologist was a sleeper hit. Blockbuster or no, it is a gorgeously rendered mystery wrapped up in a bildungsroman—and it is set right in North Carolina. At a moment when most of us probably aren’t getting enough time in nature, Owens’s writing will make you feel like you’re out motoring around in protagonist Kya’s little boat in the wilds of our state.

Indian-ish by Priya Krishna

You might know Priya, as I do, from Bon Appetit’s videos or magazine. In this unique cookbook, she breaks down her Indian-American family’s style of cooking in a really fun and approachable way. Plus, perhaps you, like me, have loads of dried beans and legumes lying around and don’t know what to do with them. May I suggest Priya’s Lemony Lentils and Rice for your supper?

Going HOME with Geoff Sobelle

They say you can’t go home again. But it turns out you can, if it’s a home that theater maker Geoff Sobelle built.

I recently plane-train-automobiled it (ok, I actually walked from the train station to my hotel and the theater) to see HOME at the Arts & Ideas Festival in New Haven, CT, so I could see for myself the magic behind this performance that CPA has been trying to bring to Chapel Hill for a couple of seasons now. The stars have aligned, and it will grace the Memorial Hall stage for two nights in March 2020.

A man walks up the stairs of a full set on stage during a play.

HOME has been described as “spellbinding” (even in our own marketing copy!) and that’s true. I’ll add more words to that one adjective: wit-filled, familiar, nostalgic, uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. Filled with characters but void of dialogue, this piece of theater evokes many emotions, as a house comes together onstage with inhabitants from many different periods in the home’s history existing alongside one another. They do so quite deftly thanks to the sharp, witty choreography of David Neumann, whom you might remember from I Understand Everything Better in CPA’s 18/19 season.

I watched, sometimes through tear-filled eyes, as my fellow audience members laughed, gasped, and murmured recognition at what unfolded before us. We even got involved—at one point making a sort of bucket brigade to hang party lights above the house (this time I’m referring to the audience section) in the theater. When we succeeded, everyone cheered, together.

Without spoiling everything that happens in this 90 minutes of theater, suffice it to say that HOME recalls what it’s like to love a home, leave a home, and love IN a home. When the lights came up, I didn’t want the spell to be broken. Luckily for me: I get to see it again next March.

Christina Rodriguez
CPA Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

You Are a Maker

“I’m not creative.”

Chances are you’ve heard someone say this before. Maybe you’ve even uttered those words yourself. But creativity means many different things, and it can strike anyone, anywhere. Maybe inspiration struck you standing in front of the pantry wondering how to get dinner on the table tonight. Or in a moment of sudden insight you think of the perfect words to explain a concept in a new way, one that unlocks your child’s understanding of today’s homework. Or maybe, through your work with a local nonprofit, you find needs that aren’t being addressed and help create a solution.

Is it strange for a performing arts organization to be talking about creativity this way? Maybe—but that’s the point. We want to take down some of the walls around who gets to be creative and who doesn’t: creativity and ideas don’t belong only to those on a stage or in a studio. Individuals and communities create all the time. Maybe the idea just needs a little reframing.

A crowd of children celebrate in their homemade robot costumes

You might already know about our 2018/19 theme, You Are Everything, and that we’ll be exploring facets of community life throughout the year. One such facet is the idea of co-creation, aimed at revealing the many ways any person can take part in creativity.

In September, we invite you to visit the Plastic Bag Store in the Studio at CURRENT. It’s almost an ordinary convenience store: except everything in it is made of discarded plastic—much of it collected right here in the Triangle. These items tell an imaginative, funny, and relevant story about our dependence on plastic and its effects. And you can return for evening performances and see the installation through the eyes of live performers and puppets telling their own tales.

At their performance in February, the music collective wild Up will be inviting audience members to join them in marching, chanting, and even singing, until it becomes impossible to distinguish visiting artist from ticketholder. In the week following, they’ll work with local community members and students to create a new piece of music that will be debuted at a second performance at their residency’s end.

And at the end of our season, we’ll celebrate everything that’s happened in 2018/19 with DJ Kid Koala. At Satellite, he’ll make amateur DJs out of everyone in the audience, leading them with lighting cues to play their own turntables. Then, at his Robot Dance Party, kids of all ages are invited to make robot costumes out of cardboard boxes and other flair and then take to the dance floor to shake it only as a tiny robot can.

These artists all offer wildly different experiences with one important thing in common: no part of what they’ll do here in Chapel Hill could be done without you. We hope you’ll join us for one or all of their visits. In the meantime, we invite you to tell us a little something about yourself for our #YouAreEverythingatCPA project. Maybe now, yours could say, “I am…creative.”

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