Special Event: “Build a House” with Rhiannon Giddens

Join us at Epilogue Book Café on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 4 PM for a very special book reading, signing, and Q&A with Build a House author, MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence Rhiannon Giddens.  

“Build a House”: A Sit Down and Signing with Author Rhiannon Giddens


African Americans were forcibly enslaved and brought to this land to build houses they were not allowed to live in, tend to families who were not their own, and sow the seeds that fed a nation — while being left with only scraps themselves. They were not expected to thrive. But they did. 
In her picture book debut from Candlewick Press, MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence Rhiannon Giddens depicts a family’s resilience in the face of violence and sorrow. They are determined not just to survive, but also to tell their own story. 
Based on the song “Build A House,” composed for the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth and performed with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Giddens’s stirring text is paired with moving illustrations by Monica Mikai. Build a House confronts the history of slavery in America by telling the story of a courageous people who would not be moved and the music that sustained them through untold challenges. Steeped in sorrow and joy, resilience and resolve, turmoil and transcendence, this dramatic debut offers a proud view of history and a vital message for readers of all ages: honor your heritage, express your truth, and let your voice soar, even — or perhaps especially — when your heart is heaviest. 

Epilogue Book Café, Candlewick Press, and Carolina Performing Arts are thrilled to present this family event

Rhiannon Giddens will be in Chapel Hill to continue her Southern Futures research. As an artist-in-residence at Carolina Performing Arts, Giddens is focused on celebrating the cultural contributions and the impact of Black and Indigenous populations that resided — and helped to build — Chapel Hill.  

Carolina Performing Arts will present Giddens’ powerful new opera, Omar, Feb. 25-26, 2023. The spring season will be announced Nov. 1, 2022. Public on-sale for Omar and other spring events begins Nov. 15, 2022.   

Alvin Ailey’s Revelations: An Experience Worth Repeating

A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student shares her perspectives on this year’s performance — and her joy of discovery with each viewing of this modern classic.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in a reimagining of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations at The Ailey Citigroup Theater. Photo by Travis Magee

By Kari Lindquist

Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater, Carolina Performing Arts’ longest-running artistic partner, performed two separate programs at Memorial Hall on May 3 and 4 — but both featured the company’s classic closing piece, Revelations, an experience worth repeating. Repetition allows audiences to search for what’s new, what details stand out and how are they different than the last time. 

Revelations was choreographed by Alvin Ailey and premiered in New York in 1960. He drew on African American cultural heritage and memory describing it as “sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.” He used the idea of “blood memory,” that events are remembered in the body across generations, passed down by blood. Memory and repetition are central to the piece and it has been performed consistently across the world from the time of its premiere. 

Before beginning as a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I taught a program at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago with elementary and middle schoolers connected to the matinee performance by the Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater. Some of my students saw the performance multiple times over the course of the years and I asked them each time, what surprised them? My students even came to expect to be surprised and thus brought to the performance both what they remembered and the craving to notice something new. 

There’s so much to enjoy in Revelations, from the smallest gesture to the skill and athleticism of the dancers. My favorite part is in the opening movement of “I’ve Been Buked” — the hand flick on unaccentuated beat in the music that is added last to the iconic formation associated with Ailey and Revelations. I remember this gesture and anticipate it, but the moment when it happens still surprises me. 

This time, I was surprised by the rapidly shaking hand gesture used in Cry, right before Revelations, and that I remembered in “Fix Me, Jesus,” danced beautifully by Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun. I was thinking that with how quickly this small gesture moves, it must be hard for the dancers to control it exactly and that each time must be spontaneous and slightly different. Even if only by one or two shakes or with how quickly they happen, the gesture would be difficult to recreate the same way each time even on tempo with the music. I found myself trying out the gesture by trying out the shake in my own hand as I walked across campus after the performance and thinking that not only is it different across the differently choreographed pieces, it must vary across dancers and unique performances. Although the recorded music used for Revelations is the same each time, the element of live performance lends itself to the spontaneous, even in the often-repeated choreography and the way the rhythm is conveyed.

From the choreography and the music to the individual expressions of the dancers in the company, Revelations makes repeated viewing valuable.

When Ailey talked about Revelations, he even mentioned the music even more than the choreography. The music of Revelations, curated by Ailey, comprised of traditional spirituals. The texture of the vocal lines resembles the way the choreography allows individual dancers’ strengths to stand out and blend into the ensemble. Many of the tracks have sparse instrumentation highlighting the choral sound with limited percussive instruments. Additionally, the recording of Revelations includes Billy Porter as one of the singers, now recognizable from his role on the series Pose among his other accomplishments. 

A favorite number of my students, “Wade in the Water” brings out props at a midpoint in the performance. The song was used as a way to give advice during the Underground Railroad that in order to not be tracked, those escaping enslavement could walk through water. The song seemed innocuous to those unaware of its secret meaning. This reflects the “double-consciousness” of Black Americans that W.E.B. DuBois has described; the layers of meaning draw on a rich cultural heritage and lend themselves to new understanding in their repetition.

Whether you’ve never seen Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater or if you’ve been to every performance, there is more to enjoy with each repeated viewing of Revelations. From the choreography and the music to the individual expressions of the dancers in the company, Revelations makes repeated viewing valuable. Each performance can reveal a new aspect of this treasured piece if you let it surprise you. 

Kari Lindquist is a graduate student in musicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Music.

CPA looks forward to the return of Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater in the 23/24 season.

Outdoor Festival Showcases Local Bands

Tracks Music Fest logo from Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture

Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture and Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) are excited to collaborate on Tracks Local Music Fest, a free outdoor concert in downtown Chapel Hill later this month. 

On Saturday, May 21 from 3-7 p.m., five diverse acts from the Tracks Music Library collection will perform back-to-back as part of Tracks Music Fest, taking place outside at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. The lineup spans a range of genres — from pop to hip hop to punk rock — mirroring the mix of sounds that make up the Triangle’s music scene. Each act will play a 30-minute set with small break in between:

3:00 p.m. — Kicking off the event is Anne-Claire, NC-born and Carrboro-based singer and songwriter. “I write music about experiences I’ve had growing up in the Triangle,” says Anne-Claire in her artist bio. AC is known for elegant vocals both on and off the stage — as a teacher of singing and songwriting for adults and kids alike. 

3:50 p.m. — Americana band Dissimilar South takes the stage with sounds rooted in country and folk genres while experimenting with synthesizers, electric guitars, and drum kits. Expect tight harmonies and lyrics that explore “the bittersweet nature of relationships and queerness with honesty and whit.”  

4:40 p.m. — Transition to the dance realm with Treee City, the electronic music project of Durham-based DJ and producer Patrick Phelps-McKeown. Drawing inspiration from field recordings, pop radio, vintage technology, and 90’s rave nostalgia, Treee City’s sound is unique and an essential part of the Triangle’s electronic music scene.

5:30 p.m. — Rapper, producer and songwriter Austin Royale turns up with a full band to explore experimental sounds of hip hop, rock, and beyond. Austin continues to recreate himself and has been an ongoing influence in the local music scene for almost a decade.

6:20 p.m. — The event closes out with punk rock duo, BANGZZ, hailed for their “loud and fast songs with in your face feminist themes.” Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Erika Libero, is also the co-founder of the local Chapel Hill music festival Manifest

Each slated act appears on Tracks Music Library, a free local music streaming platform from Community Arts & Culture and Chapel Hill Public Library. With over 100 albums from Triangle-based artists, Tracks aims to help new audiences discover new music and for local musicians to reach new listeners.

Tracks Music Fest will be held at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, located in Carolina Square and created to connect campus and community via the arts. “Carolina Performing Arts is thrilled to partner with Community Arts & Culture to host this celebration of North Carolina music at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, right in the heart of downtown,” says Alison Friedman, CPA’s James and Susan Moeser Executive and Artistic Director. “It’s an important moment to collaborate to launch artists, local businesses, and our communities on the road to recovery from the last two years.” 

Limited seating is available so bringing a chair or blanket is recommended. Beer and ice cream will be available for purchase. Additional food can be purchased at local and nearby restaurants. To learn more about the event, including parking and transportation options, visit chapelhillarts.org/tracksfest. To learn more about Tracks Music Library, visit tracksmusiclibrary.org

Media inquiries: Contact Melissa Bartoletta at mbartoletta@chapelhillarts.org.

Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist

Hip Hop South Festival logo
Hip Hop South Festival co-curator and CPA staff member Christopher Massenburg (a.k.a. Dasan Ahanu) offers a Southern hip hop playlist to help audiences prepare for the April 22–23 events.

“Southern Futures aims to imagine a more just and inclusive vision of the American South by imagining the future, focusing on humble listening and community engagement, and bringing storytelling and art to the foreground. With that aim in mind, I selected Southern rap tracks that I felt brought social commentary to the forefront, spoke beautifully of material conditions, offered compelling messages and were a vibe. I selected songs from acts that represent different parts of the South. There are some big hits and some songs that are loved but not chart topping. They all deserve a listen. The South still saying all the things!”

Read more about the scholarship and inspiration behind this new event: Hip Hop South Festival Q&A with Christopher Massenburg

Hip Hop South Festival Q&A with Christopher Massenburg

Hip Hop South Festival co-curator and CPA staff member Christopher Massenburg (a.k.a. Dasan Ahanu) shares the scholarship and inspiration behind this new event — and what audiences can expect.
Photo of Hip Hop South Festival co-curators Dr. Regina Bradley and Chris Massenburg (Dasan Ahanu)
Dr. Regina Bradley and Christopher Massenburg. Photo credit: Rofhiwa Book Cafe
What inspired you to partner with Dr. Regina Bradley on the Hip Hop South Festival? 

Regina and I met while we were both Fellows at Harvard University’s Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute. Regina is a brilliant Southern hip hop scholar. When I suggested the idea of the festival, I knew I wanted to work with Regina. We’ve had so many great conversations about the culture and the South. I knew she would have the perfect perspective on the festival. 

How would you describe your co-curation process? How does your Fellowship at Harvard — and your continued scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill and elsewhere — inform it? 

The great thing about working with Regina is that we are friends. Talking about the festival is really us dreaming about a dope Southern hip hop experience that we would want to enjoy. The curation is experience first. Then we think about the logistics that can provide that experience.  

We are both products of the culture. We grew up in it and it is a part of how we see the world, how we move. We both seek to bring the South, the Black South, the Hip Hop South into our work whenever we can. It is our experience with that ongoing integration in spaces like our fellowship, our teaching, our writing, and our participation in various projects that we brought to the curation of the festival. 

How did you determine which artists to feature? What makes their work particularly noteworthy or exemplary of Southern hip hop culture? 

We started with a large list of possibilities. We wanted to make sure there was a range of artists on that list. The South isn’t a monolith. The same is true for hip hop in the South. The artists are different and distinct.  

The other thing to consider is geography. There is a Southern aesthetic, but that aesthetic also varies from area to area. What is happening musically in Memphis is different from Atlanta, New Orleans and North Carolina. It makes for a really beautiful puzzle to work with. Of course, we also wanted to make sure North Carolina was represented in this festival.  

How do the festival artists and academics tie to CPA’s Southern Futures initiative? 

Southern Futures aims to imagine a more just and inclusive vision of the American South. I believe that to do so it is imperative to consider the role of hip hop in the story of the South. Hip hop is a revolutionary culture that pushes back at rigid conventions. It offers folks an outlet to speak about the material conditions impacting their life. It also allows for a celebration of their South own their terms.  

Southern Futures’ mission is to examine the past of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and greater community; and imagine the future, focusing on humble listening and community engagement, bringing storytelling and art to the foreground. Storytelling is a big part of Southern hip hop music. There are rich and beautiful stories to be told and Southern rap artists tell them in compelling fashion. 

Southern hip hop scholarship is still making sure the academy knows the South got something to say. It was critical to hold space within the festival for Southern scholars to be able to connect and network. Fighting for room within the academy for your scholarship can feel daunting, but knowing that you are part of a cadre of scholars pushing the Hip Hop South to the forefront can be encouraging and affirming. We wanted folks to be able to know what work was being done, share experiences and resources, and build new relationships. An initiative like Southern Futures provides an opportunity to center Southern art and scholarship. 

How would you describe Southern hip hop culture to those who may be less familiar with it? What makes it distinctly different from the broader hip hop culture and canon? 

I can’t describe Southern hip hop to someone. I can let them know that it is its own flavor of wonderful. I can assure them that they need to experience it. Commercial representation doesn’t do it justice. The festival is a chance for people to really immerse themselves in the culture in a Southern way. Like many things in the South, you have a better understanding when you can experience in context and it its moment. So folks just need to come on down and have some fun with us.  

What can audiences expect to see and hear during the festival? 

What audiences can expect to see and hear is joy. Throughout the festival there will be excitement, anticipation and joy. There is joy when we gather. There is joy when we celebrate. When we can get together in a space held for us we can be us openly. That is joy.  

So folks should come ready to have a ball, hang out with good folks, and experience some Southern joy. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from the Hip Hop South Festival experience? 

I want folks to have enjoyed it so much they can’t wait to see what we do next. I want folks to know that this event is exactly what is needed and is a great addition to the music landscape in North Carolina, in the South.  

Get ready for the Hip Hop South Festival with Chris’ playlist: Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist

Announcing the Hip Hop South Festival at Carolina Performing Arts

Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is excited to announce the Hip Hop South Festival, a two-day event from April 22–23, 2022 that celebrates the impact of hip hop across the South. Co-curated by Harvard Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellows Christopher Massenburg (also known as Dasan Ahanu) and Regina Bradley, the festival will feature headlining performances by hip hop heavyweights and local artists, as well as academic gatherings, late-night beat and dance battles, visual art and more. 

The Hip Hop South Festival is part of CPA’s Southern Futures initiative, which features arts experiences co-created with local communities and focuses on racial equity, social justice and the American South. As a co-curator and CPA staff member, Christopher Massenburg looks forward to exploring hip hop culture with audiences.  

“The Hip Hop South Festival creates space for deeper exploration and appreciation of hip hop’s geographical influence by focusing on the development and impact of the culture across the South.”  

HIP HOP South festival co-curator christopher massenburg

The festival kicks off Friday, April 22 with a main show at Cat’s Cradle, featuring North Carolina favorites Carolina Waves, Shirlette Ammons, and Rapsody — followed by Turn It Loose, Volume 3 — a late-night B-boy jam at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, hosted by the Raleigh Rockers, and featuring breakdancing demonstrations and competitions with dance crews from across the region.  

The excitement continues Saturday, April 23 with a main show at Memorial Hall, featuring some of the South’s finest hip hop artists — Radio Rehab, Sa-Roc, and Big Boi — followed by a late-night beat battle at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, hosted by The Underground Collective, and featuring local luminaries The Soul Council, who will provide beat demonstrations and judging.  

Festivalgoers will also enjoy a visual arts experience throughout the two days. “Dirty South Scribes, an exhibit by Regina Bradley at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, honors the groundbreaking writers who spotlight Southern rap’s significance.  

See the full festival schedule.

Tickets are on sale now and include single-day and two-day pass options; a limited number of UNC-Chapel Hill student tickets are available. 

Learn more about what to expect when you visit our venues — including ticketing, parking, and health and safety protocols — in our Event FAQ

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. 

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,” 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, 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, 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 is 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 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 — 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.

“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, 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.

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