Local Educators Bring Atmospheric Memory Into the Classroom

Carolina Performing Arts teamed up with two outstanding local educators to explore topics presented in Atmospheric Memory — including surveillance, climate change, public health, racial injustice and more — into syllabi across the Triangle
Wake Technical Community College students in the Technology and American Society class stand inside the Atmospheric Memory exhibit for a group photo.

The North American premiere of immersive art environment Atmospheric Memory, created by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, arrived at Carolina Performing Arts in December 2021 to rave reviews from critics and patrons alike.

The stunning installation, which focused on computer pioneer Charles Babbage’s 19th century theory that the atmosphere is a ‘vast library’ recording everything we say, featured larger-than-life projections, livestream video integration and interactive components — but a new program that happened behind the scenes of the colossal endeavor was just as impactful.

Led by Associate Director of Engagement Amanda Graham and Producing Coordinator Ellie Pate, CPA named two local educators — Howard Davis (Wake Technical Community College) and Jen Painter (Charles E. Jordan High School) Atmospheric Memory Teaching Fellows. They and their students were invited to integrate Atmospheric Memory into their curriculum and dig deeper into Babbage’s theory than a single visit to the installation would allow.

On December 1, Graham and Pate paid a virtual visit to Professor Davis’ Technology and American Society class at Wake Tech. They opened the floor to a lively discussion and overview of Atmospheric Memory before students visited the installation, being sure to encourage critical thinking about its focus on data privacy — or the lack thereof — as well as the many other aspects of Babbage’s theory.

“We’re cognizant that there are learners from every background imaginable in Chapel Hill,” said Pate, who is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna. “Having such a wide-ranging list of themes in Atmospheric Memory, it was a good chance for us to finally act on the partnerships we’ve wanted to develop and people we’ve wanted to with. It’s a seamless entry point into one of our most stunning events.”

“Your thoughts are your own, but your spoken words aren’t,” one student said. “Once they leave your mind, they’re for the world to interpret.”

During her lecture to Davis’s class, Graham posed the questions artist Lozano-Hemmer encouraged all visitors to consider during their experience: Do our words belong to us? If not, then who owns them? How does language change when it leaves our minds and manifests in our writings, actions or dialogues?

The students’ responses were equally thought-provoking: “Your thoughts are your own, but your spoken words aren’t,” one student said. “Once they leave your mind, they’re for the world to interpret.”

Jen Painter’s Civics class, which is open to Jordan High School students who speak English as their second language, was also introduced to important topics in Lozano-Hemmer’s work during both a class visit and a Learning Morning lecture at Memorial Hall on December 14.

After experiencing Atmospheric Memory, both classes were encouraged to continue reflecting on Babbage’s theory by creating original art and sharing  it on social media — further exploring the relation between art and technology — and sparking future collaborative ideas. 

“While working with CPA, I hope that the educators were able to imagine the versatile ways that art can inform their curriculum,” said Graham, who cam up with the concept of the Atmospheric Memory Teaching Fellows program. “Specifically, what kinds of questions can an artist and artwork prompt? How might those questions challenge or highlight disciplinary study? Art can be a way into social studies, science, philosophy, or all three.”

And the CPA team is already excited about the future possibilities of educational partnerships.

“I would love to do something like this again,” said Pate. “We want to continue to invest in these relationships with students that exist outside the university that will maybe, someday, be a part of the university. The more we work together, the more creative we can get.”

By Jess Abel

Fill Us In: Culture Mill

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank Q&A inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In this edition, we’re talking with Tommy Noonan and Murielle Elizéon of Culture Mill, a Saxapahaw, NC-based performing arts laboratory. Dancers and choreographers with over 35 years of combined experience, Tommy and Murielle are also an integral part of the Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts initiative, through which they will create a series of new artist residencies, prototyped by their own work, Eclipse.

Carolina Performing Arts: What is the best way to start your day?
Culture Mill: Drinking a fresh ginger lemon tea outside and watching the sunrise.

CPA: What is the worst way to start your day?
CM: Fearfully.

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
CM: It’s ok to not know.

CPA: What do you splurge on?
CM: Travel.

CPA: What is your idea of a perfect day?
CM: A day where time is not an issue.

CPA: What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
CM: Cow poop and lavender.

CPA: How do you hope others describe you, in three words or less?
CM: moving, nofilter, honest

CPA: What person do you most admire?
CM: My daughter

CPA: If you had a motto, what would it be?
CM: Ring the bell that still can ring / forget your perfect offering / there is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in – Leonard Cohen

CPA: What does the perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
CM: Spacious. Warm. Light. Uncluttered.

CPA: If you could transform into an animal, what animal would it be?
CM: A phoenix

CPA: If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?
CM: Community Organizer

CPA: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
CM: Don’t think you have to know. Take time to listen.

The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Culture Mill originally aired on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

Announcing Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts

Internationally celebrated musician Rhiannon Giddens named to three-year research residency

Today, Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) announced “Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts,” an initiative that meets this pivotal moment in history by engaging artists and community partners in restorative justice and co-creation.

Southern Futures at CPA will produce new works, collaborations, and research on social justice, racial equity, and the American South. The organization has named GRAMMY and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens to a three-year research residency at the core of the initiative, beginning in spring 2022. Giddens will focus on discovering and sharing cultural artifacts and local histories that challenge entrenched narratives and monolithic thinking on topics central to Southern Futures.

“Access to our past via research, writings, archival recordings, and beyond is an integral part of this,” said Giddens. “Highlighting stories untold and voices unheard, my aim is to celebrate the cultural contributions of those who came before us in my art and to bring to light the impact of Black and Indigenous populations that resided in Chapel Hill.”

Through Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts, CPA will commission artists to make new works on themes central to the initiative. In addition to receiving commissioning support, those artists will complete residences in Chapel Hill, through which they will partner with community members to co-create through restorative justice practices—a framework unique in the field of the performing arts. This framework will be designed and facilitated by Culture Mill, an arts laboratory based in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. The first artists to be commissioned in this way will include the collaborative ensemble of Marcella Murray, David Neumann, and Tei Blow from Advanced Beginner Group.

“We hope that this cohort of artists and collaborators will go forward from their Southern Futures experiences feeling more confident and skilled and open to co-creating across communities through restorative justice practices,” said Amy Russell, CPA director of programming. “We want the importance of power-sharing and co-creation to be made more visible and celebrated across our field and among our stakeholders.”

Programming for the 2021-22 season presents new and existing works offering diverse and nuanced storytelling around themes of Southern Futures. The featured artists—including Flutronix, Marcella Murray, David Neumann, Tei Blow, William Ferris, and Culture Mill—have demonstrated thoughtful and rigorous engagement around race and the American South in their creative work. 

For Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts, the organization has also invested in new platforms supporting broad public access and collaboration, including a free digital archive to be designed as a catalyst for and collection of community-wide discourse, and the launch of the second season of The Spark, a series of live-streamed conversations hosted by UNC alumna and musician Tift Merritt.

“We want the importance of power-sharing and co-creation to be made more visible and celebrated across our field…”

AMY RUSSELL, CPA director of programming

Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts is a key component of Southern Futures, a collaborative initiative of The College of Arts & Sciences, University Libraries, Carolina Performing Arts, and The Center for the Study of the American South. The larger initiative helps imagine, understand, and create regional transformation by focusing on humble listening, community engagement, and bringing the arts and humanities to the foreground. Southern Futures supports faculty, students, policymakers, and storytellers doing extraordinary work committed to a future where all southern communities can flourish.

“Our campus is wrestling with long-held beliefs and overturning assumptions that are shaking us to our core,” said Jacqueline Lawton, the new co-director of Southern Futures at UNC-Chapel Hill and associate professor of dramatic art. “Southern Futures works to disrupt stereotypes of the American South and create a bold, new, radically inclusive vision for who we are and who we can be. In doing so, we will be better equipped to face the truths of our past and the consequences of our actions and inactions, however painful, and bring about much-needed change for our future.”

With Southern Futures at CPA—which received a $1 million grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust—CPA builds on its successful artist residency programs, including the DisTIL and Creative Futures initiatives. CPA’s partnership with the Kenan Trust dates to its founding in 2005, when the Trust established an inaugural challenge endowment to fuel CPA’s inception. From that time, the Kenan Trust has supported CPA in its evolution to become a leading university-based presenter in academic integration and design of artist residencies and co-creative practices. CPA will continue its investment in artists and their collaborative work through the long-term, iterative relationships at the core of Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts.

“To imagine is powerful; to reimagine is transformative.”

Elizabeth engelhardt, co-director of southern futures at unc

In using the arts to amplify the larger Southern Futures initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill, Southern Futures at CPA aligns with key strategic initiatives in the chancellor’s Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, especially: build our community together; strengthen student success; discover; promote democracy; serve to benefit society; and globalize.

“The Southern Futures mission statement is a call to collective action: Reimagine the American South,” said Elizabeth Engelhardt, co-director of Southern Futures at UNC, senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences, and John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies. “We bring artists and performers together with students, faculty, archivists, community leaders, scholars, and researchers in service of an American South that is ethical and just for everyone. To imagine is powerful; to reimagine is transformative.”

About Carolina Performing Arts

The mission of Carolina Performing Arts is to spark curiosity, inspiring all members of its community to discover and more fully engage with the world. The 21/22 season programming at Carolina Performing Arts features Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts, designed to facilitate co-creative arts experiences that produce diverse and nuanced narratives about racial equity, social justice, and the American South and create spaces for inclusive dialogue and learning.

The Spark with Wynton Marsalis and Carlos Henriquez

This story was originally posted as part of CPA at Home, our COVID-era digital content platform.

Famed trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra artistic director Wynton Marsalis and JLCO bass player Carlos Henriquez go way back—all the way to when Henriquez was just a young teenager in the Bronx and impressed Marsalis with his swing rhythms on the bass. Fast forward to present day, and the musicians have performed and toured together for more than 20 years. Wynton is even godfather to one of Henriquez’s sons, who occasionally tag along on the JLCO tour.

In their fall 2020 interview with Tift Merritt on The Spark, Carlos referred to Wynton as “brother, father, friend,” and recalled the life-changing experiences he had as a teenager seeing the trumpeter play in New York City, before he himself went on to win Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival and joined the Septet and Orchestra just two years later.

While CPA audiences are no strangers to JLCO’s music—the orchestra has played on nearly every CPA season, and even performed their new program The Democracy! Suite virtually in early 2021 on CPA at Home—the conversation gave a level of insight ordinarily impossible to glean from stage performance. The pair covered everything from why finding one’s one sound as a musician is a bit like going through a tough breakup to investigating deeply embedded cultural and societal issues through art, and being part of the lineage and history of jazz. And naturally: a lighthearted argument about whether or not Carolina style barbecue is superior ensued with hometown host Tift.

Watch the entire episode on the Carolina Performing Arts YouTube channel, available on-demand until June 30, 2021.

The Spark with Pedja Mužijević

This story was originally posted as part of CPA at Home, our COVID-era digital content platform.

Before March 20202, pianist Pedja Mužijević had never done a livestreamed event.

A musician known for playing dynamic combinations of new and old music, Pedja was accustomed to performing in front of live crowds in venues of all sizes around the world, not for a few cameras set up around his apartment and a distant internet audience. But when the 92nd Street Y, a well-known New York venue, cancelled his in-person concert in favor of a digital performance, Pedja took the leap.

“I think of myself as a waiter bringing the food, but I’m not the chef. The composer is the chef.”

– Pedja Mužijević, THE spark with tift merritt

“I’d never owned a camera in my life, I had never owned a microphone,” he said about his humble recording set-up in his October 2020 interview with Tift Merritt on The Spark. “I went on Facebook and said, ‘I need advice.'”

However, he soon began realizing the joy of performing in such an intimate setting and began tinkering with his camera angles to give audience members a front-row seat to his livestreamed concerts. The change of format complimented his musical philosophy: as a pianist, he believes he’s there to understand and interpret the composer’s thoughts, intentions, and philosophy in order to best captivate his listeners with the music.

“I think of myself as a waiter bringing the food, but I’m not the chef,” said Mužijević. “The composer is the chef.”

Pedja goes on to share his quest to further transform the concert experience, including “recreating a 19th century salon in a 21st century way,” his work at CPA, and more. Above all, the conversation left viewers with a renewed joy for deep listening, to music and to others, and with gratitude to Pedja and Tift for being such profound and innovative artistic partners.

Watch the entire episode on the Carolina Performing Arts YouTube channel, available on-demand until June 30, 2021.

Written by Jess Abel, CPA marketing and communications manager

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

The Spark with Abigail Washburn

This story was originally posted as part of CPA at Home, our COVID-era digital content platform.

Our inaugural episode of The Spark with Tift Merritt features a wonderful, in-depth conversation with renowned clawhammer banjoist and singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn, whose career has taken more surprising twists than you might expect. The episode, which aired live in September 2020, is free to watch on YouTube through the end of June.

Though she’s now earned multiple GRAMMY awards for her work as a musician and has been supported by the US Embassy for her musical relationship-building efforts between the US and China, Abigail once saw herself going into law, a life path that seemed inevitable until a fateful five-day meditation.

“Yes, I indeed did not ever think I would be a musician,” Abby says in her conversation with host Tift Merritt. “It did not seem practical and it was not a skill I had, or even a passion I had for my life.”

After working as a lobbyist in Vermont after college, Abigail had a start date for law school. But, before she embarked on her rigorous studies, she gave herself six months to try anything and everything she had ever wanted to do, including mediating. She drove to the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts in her little red truck and started her mediation marathon: four sessions a day, each three hours long, every day for five days.

“Bravery is doing something even though you’re scared, not not being scared.”

– Abigail washburn, the spark with tift merritt

“Within the first or second session, I was sitting there and thinking about how my knee was starting to hurt,” recalls Washburn in her interview. “My obsession with thinking about the pain got worse and worse, and I was thinking about how that pain was my pain, and that I was choosing to sit in that position. And I came to this deep understanding that my pain was my pain and nobody else’s.”

From there, Abby reflected on forgiveness, focus, and her sense of self. She left with her next stop in mind: exploring her love of bluegrass at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) convention. She knew just a little banjo, and had already fallen in love with bluegrass music after listening to Doc Watson’s “Shady Grove,” but all-in-all considered herself a novice when she was offered the chance to begin her musical career.

“I was sleeping in my truck out in the parking lot [of IBMA],” said Wasburn. “I knew five songs, and one of them was a song translated into Chinese by Gillian Welch. And I started hanging out with some girls in the lobby one night, and one of them said, ‘Let’s jam!’ And I was like, ‘I’ve never really jammed before, but I’ll try.’ And we got offered a record deal right there and then.”

In the stories that follow in The Spark, Abby goes on to tell Tift and the audience about her rich collaborations, her time in China, her relationship with partner and fellow banjoist Béla Fleck, and more. She leaves us with much to reflect on, including one of our favorite pieces of advice: “Bravery is doing something even though you’re scared, not not being scared [in the first place].”

Watch the entire episode on the Carolina Performing Arts YouTube, available on-demand until June 30, 2021.

Written by Jess Abel, CPA marketing and communications manager

A Plastic Photo Story with Robin Frohardt

This week, the CPA team caught up with artist, director, and puppeteer Robin Frohardt, 2018 CPA/Mellon DisTIL Fellow, to reminisce about her artist residency with us in advance of her episode of The Spark with Tift Merritt on Thursday, May 6. Together with staff members Christina Rodriguez and Jess Abel, Robin takes us through her time developing Plastic Bag Store at Carolina Performing Arts, her Chapel Hill community workshops, interviews, and more.

Robin: In 2018, I taught a plastic cupcake making workshop at UNC.
Christina: I would have never thought a Med Deli lunch could be topped by a dessert of plastic bag cupcakes, but here I stand corrected.
Jess: It was so fun walking around campus after this workshop––I passed so many friends who were beaming about their Plastic Bag Store inspired art.

Christina: In the lead-up to PLASTICON, the festival we hosted at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio as part of Robin’s fellowship, she was a guest on WUNC’s The State of Things. Robin is pictured here in studio with host Frank Stasio and Courtney Woods, professor in the department of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. You can listen to their conversation here!
Robin: I was definitely trying to play it cool and not show how excited I was to be on WUNC #publicradionerd

Christina: In a collaboration with CPA, the Center for the Study of the American South collected hundreds of plastic bags on campus so they could be repurposed into art—under the expert tutelage of Robin, of course! Pictured here is a segment of an in progress quilt made from plastic bags.

Robin: In 2018 I collaborated with Admiral Gray and Erica Livingston on TRASH TALK, a fake news report on plastic pollution.
Christina: TRASH TALK is a great example of how delightfully wide-ranging Robin’s artistry is. Visual art, performance, puppetry—it’s got it all.

Robin: A TRASH TALK reporter interviews the Dumpster Monster at PLASTICON, a day-long festival at CURRENT in spring 2018.
Christina: Not pictured is the small child who took it upon himself to stand guard around the dumpster to ensure that no one was unduly frightened or attacked by said monster.
Jess: I cancelled my afternoon plans after running into Dumpster Monster on UNC’s main quad on Arts Everywhere Day. Watching people beat down that trash beast remains one of my favorite memories during my time as a student at UNC.

Robin: Behind the scenes: “Polly Ethylene” and “Polly Propylene” in the CPA dressing room getting ready for their interview on TRASH TALK.
Christina: Only Robin could make a dress created from bags and plastic wrap look glamorous! Note the color palette-appropriate Marilyn Monroe beauty mark.

Woman with blonde hair stands with arms full of grocery items in what looks like a convenience store.

And finally: Robin’s shopping spree around Plastic Bag Store! In September 2018, we fully took over the Studio at CURRENT for this incredible installation filled with grocery items, all handmade by Robin and her team. Patrons wandered around the “store” to marvel at “Bitz” crackers, “Yucky Shards” cereal, and much more, before stepping through the freezer case for a performance that covered the past, present, and future of plastic, all with Robin’s trademark humor.

Staff Intro: Betsy Busald, Associate Director of Development

In our latest Staff Intro, we’re featuring our colleague Betsy Busald, who relocated from the Midwest to join our staff in 2019 and has recently begun a new role with CPA as our associate director of development.

From L to R: Betsy Busald, CPA associate director of development; Susin Seow, former CPA director of development;
Laura Pinto-Coehlo, CPA development manager

Carolina Performing Arts: What’s one fun fact about you?
BB: I am a trained classical dancer who studied ballet and modern dance.

CPA: What’s your favorite part of your job?
BB: I’ve always been relationship driven. One of my elementary school teachers even told my parents, “When it comes to social, Betsy’s mind is like a steel trap.” I really enjoy building relationships with our donors and discovering what part of our mission inspires their philanthropic endeavors. The relationships I get to develop go beyond the financial investment, they serve as a conduit for impact. This is what drives my passion for this work—seeing impact realized on the programmatic side.

CPA: What new aspect of your role are you most looking forward to as the associate director for development?
BB: In my new role, I’ll be focusing more on major gift support for organization. I am most eager to uncover new opportunities by sharing stories that inspire philanthropy.  

CPA: Coffee or tea?
BB: A mix, my caffeinated addiction is a dirty chai tea latte.

CPA: Where’s your go-to place for takeout around town?
BB: New Hope Market, their dessert case is a work of art.
[Editor’s Note: This Chapel Hill foodie prides herself in knowing every restaurant and cafe in town––and this one escaped me! Very excited to give it a try. Thanks, Betsy!]

CPA: It’s a Saturday afternoon. Where would we find you?
BB: Somewhere outdoors, either on a hike or fishing with my fiancé and our crazy German Wirehaired Pointer, Rivi.

CPA: What’s the most memorable performance you’ve ever seen? Why?
BB: Gosh how do you pick just one? My favorite CPA performance was Kidd Pivot’s Revisor, which blew me away. Not only does [Crystal Pite’s] company have exceptionally technical dancers, but the plot was captivating. I felt invested in the characters’ development more than any other dance piece I can remember seeing. A favorite non-CPA performance was one of the Postal Service’s last-ever live appearances at Lollapalooza 2013 in Chicago. Ben Gibbard’s vocals hold a special place in my heart and would certainly be the soundtrack to different stages of my adolescent years.

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.

Fill Us In: Robin Frohardt

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank Q&A inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In this edition, we’re talking with artist, director, and puppeteer Robin Frohardt, who premiered Plastic Bag Store at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio as part of her CPA/Mellon DisTIL Fellowship in 2018.

Carolina Performing Arts: What is the best way to start your day?
Robin Frohardt: Coffee.

CPA: What is the worst way to start your day?
RF: No coffee, no access to coffee, and no information on when there might be coffee.

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given someone else?
RF: Don’t waste your youth trying to be an adult.

CPA: What is your idea of a perfect day?
RF: A long breakfast followed by surfing or cycling, then several hours in the studio kicking ass followed by a fun dinner party with friends that goes way too late and turns into a dance party with, like, five people in a kitchen.

CPA: How do you hope others describe you in three words or less?
RF: Tall, loyal, hilarious.

CPA: What would the title of your memoir be?
RF: “Cardboard, Plastic Bags, and Best Friends –– The Robin Frohardt Story”

CPA: What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
RF: Old library books.

CPA: If you had a motto, what would it be?
RF: “Be Brathe,” something I used to say as kid before I could pronounce the word brave. It mostly applied to falling down and skinning my knee, but I find it useful in my day to day

CPA: What is your favorite meal?
RF: A perfectly ripe peach.

CPA: What thing is necessary for you to make art?
RF: Time. Lots of time.

CPA: What person do you most admire?
RF: My mother.

CPA: If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?
RF: A comedian.

CPA: What do you splurge on?
RF: Art supplies and plane tickets.

CPA: If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
RF: An Australian magpie.

CPA: Ocean, pool, or bathtub?
RF: Ocean!

CPA: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
RF: Just keep going, keep making. It might take longer than you think.

The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Robin Frohardt originally aired on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

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.

FAQ on Streaming Events

Please note that all spring 2021 events and performances at Carolina Performing Arts are virtual.

Our box office at Memorial Hall on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus is closed to the public until further notice, but our staff is checking voicemail (919.843.3333) and email (cpatixquestions@unc.edu or carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu) regularly to assist you with any ticketing or performance-related needs.

How do i buy a ticket to a cpa event or performance?

You can register for tickets to our virtual performances and events on our website. If you’re watching an event with other members of your household, you need only register for one ticket (unless otherwise specified). Please note that the suggested ticket donation for a single event is $15. All ticket donations go toward our annual fund.

are performances canceled right now?

We’ve gone online for the 20/21 season! Our performances and events through June 2021 are virtual/remote, in consideration of COVID-related restrictions and guidelines set at the federal, state, and University level.

how do i get my ticket?

At the time of registration, you should receive an email confirmation from carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu. On the afternoon of the performance, you will receive another email from the same address with your personalized link to the stream.

When will i get my link to the performance?

On the afternoon of the performance, you will receive an email with instructions on how to access your event. Please add carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu to your email contacts to ensure delivery. If you have not received an email by 4 PM on the day of the event, please contact us.

how do i watch a virtual cpa performance?

All of our performances require registration via our website (they will not be streamed publicly and are not searchable). We use YouTube as our platform for streaming video performances. We encourage you to check out our Livestream Tips and Tricks in advance of an event if you have questions about how to watch on your devices.

If you need assistance during a performance, please contact us via email or on Facebook.

i can’t make the performance; can i have a refund?

All donations made to Carolina Performing Arts (including those made as add-ons during the ticketing check-out process) are non-refundable.

Your gift is an investment in CPA—it demonstrates a commitment to our mission and will help safeguard and sustain the arts. If you have further questions about your donation, please contact Director of Development Ketura Parker.

Virtual season performances are also available on demand to ticketholders for 72 hours from the event time, if you would like to watch at a different time or rewatch the event.


Our box office is currently closed to the public until further notice due to circumstances related to COVID-19. Our staff monitors voicemail (919.843.3333) and email (cpatixquestions@unc.edu) regularly. You can also register for tickets to our events online.

how can i support cpa?

We’re grateful for our community across the Triangle and the globe who make our work possible. You can support us by signing up for our email newsletter, attending our virtual events, or electing to make a donation with your ticket registration. You can also explore other ways to support us here.


Recording or filming of CPA performances is not permitted.

Fill Us In: Michelle Dorrance

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank questionnaire inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In this edition, we’re talking with Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance, award-winning tapper and choreographer, and founder and artistic director of Dorrance Dance.

Carolina Performing Arts: What is the best way to start your day?
Michelle Dorrance: With gratitude.

CPA: What is the worst way to start your day?
MD: With regret.

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
MD: Never forget “the last of the human freedoms.”

CPA: What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
MD: The indefatigable human spirit.

CPA: What is your favorite meal?
MD: A Sunrise Biscuit.

CPA: What thing is necessary for you to make art?
MD: Not enough time.

CPA: Plane, train, bus, or bicycle?
MD: Train.

CPA: If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?
MD: A teacher.

CPA: What do you splurge on?
MD: Loved ones.

CPA: What does a perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
MD: A wood floor, great sound.

CPA: If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
MD: A soaring bird.

CPA: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
MD: Do it because you love it, not because you want something from it.

CPA: Ocean, pool, or bathtub?
MD: Ocean.

The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Michelle Dorrance originally aired on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

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