Making the Future

A Glimpse Inside CPA’s Creative Futures Artist Residency 

By Michele Lynn 

The process of making art can be a powerful catalyst for creating community. With that in mind, in summer 2018, Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) launched Creative Futures, an initiative funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Creative Futures brings together four visionary artists—Helga Davis, Shara Nova, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Toshi Reagon—to collaborate with UNC faculty, local community members, and one another.  

Christopher Massenburg, Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures, says the fellowship “intentionally fosters a deeper collaboration among different communities of knowledge and insight that don’t always have the opportunity to work together.”  

“Artists such as our fellows are always exploring questions in their work, which is similar to how UNC’s faculty—as well as people outside of academia—approach their own research,” says Amy Russell, CPA’s director of programming. “But artists and academics use different means for discovery, which makes them brilliant collaborators.”

Toshi Reagon looks off into the distance for a headshot.

Toshi Reagon is a force of nature.

Toshi Reagon, a Brooklyn-based singer, composer, musician, curator, activist, and producer, has already spent significant time at Carolina since 2017, thanks to her role as CPA’s inaugural Mellon Foundation Discovery Through Iterative Learning (DisTIL) Fellow in 2017/2018.

“I’m grateful that Creative Futures will let me stay in this community, which I love,” says Reagon. “Chapel Hill has a strong black community oral tradition, leading scholars, amazing activists, and great artists, and I’m excited to continue to work with all of them.”

The economy, survival, and music are the threads that Reagon is braiding together during her Creative Futures fellowship. By facilitating dialogue in the community and in classes on campus, Reagon will create connections by exploring what can be learned and listening to the stories told and conversations had.

“Chapel Hill has a strong black community oral tradition, leading scholars, amazing activists, and great artists, and I’m excited to continue to work with all of them.”

Toshi Reagon

One of Reagon’s planned projects is a series of musicals, each of which will “explore something thematic around the issues related to the economy and survival,” says Reagon. She plans to expand on discoveries from her DisTIL partnership with UNC associate professor Renée Alexander Craft and collaborate with other faculty, students and “the amazing musical family in the Triangle,” researching pressing issues and making art that will spur a conversation with the public. This semester, she is collaborating on a UNC course with Alexander Craft and professor Joseph Megel that will culminate in a performance by students. 

“There are going to be a lot of public offerings that will foster communication,” says Reagon. “I hope to bring a deep level of in-depth conversation and interaction that can serve as a point of transformation for this community.”

Okwui Okpokwasili is building a sonic landscape.  

Okwui Okpokwasili, whose 2018 MacArthur Fellow biography describes her as a “performer, choreographer, and writer creating multidisciplinary performance pieces,” seeks to use the practices of art and performance to build bridges and bonds. Holding space where community members can be in dialogue with each other and learn from one another is critically important to her.  

“My project is to build a platform for the creation of an ongoing improvisational song,” she says. Okpokwasili, who is cultivating relationships with local community artists, “develops strategies and exercises that allow us to engage in conversations with people we know and people we don’t know. And from these conversations we start to build a sonic landscape.” 

“I hope that this work builds deeper connections…”

Okwui Okpokwasili

“That landscape could be lyrical, melodic songs, cries, shouts,” she says. Working with local artists—including Murielle Elizeon  and Tommy Noonan, co-directors of the Saxapahaw-based performing arts collective Culture Mill—Okpokwasili and her collaborative partner Peter Born will create a space to create an “improvisational public song comprised of sounds and movement.”  

Okpokwasili believes that this work is the perfect way to integrate CPA’s “desire to reach out into the community in a deeper and more sustained relationship.” She says that building community and having individuals communicate with one another are at the heart of her work.  

“I hope that this work builds deeper connections with the artists who are part of the larger Chapel Hill community who might find that they might not be seen or feel welcome in some of these spaces,” she says. “I also hope that this fellowship with other incredible artists will help the Chapel Hill community recognize how vital arts practices are to a strong, sustainable and healthy community.”  

Shara Nova wears a white collared shirt, her bright red hair in a bun.

Shara Nova wants to explore how to find our common humanity.  

There are three branches to the musical life of Shara Nova: composer, singer/songwriter for My Brightest Diamond, and singer for music by other composers. With Creative Futures, Nova and fellow artist-in-residence Helga Davis—who have been friends for more than 20 years—are creating a piece with the choirs at Durham’s Northern High School, working with choir director Rachel Spencer alongside faculty partner Tanya Shields, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at UNC. 

“We interview choir members, ask them questions to better understand their life and use that to create the work that will be performed,” says Nova. “The students are from lots of different places and have varied experiences and backgrounds. That was appealing to me because I want to explore how we cross these divides and where we find our common humanity.” Nova says that the job of artists is to provide a safe environment for people to say what they are feeling and talk about their experience. 

The work will be incorporated into Body Vessel, a piece Nova and Davis are creating based on their friendship and lives as people with different skin color and different experiences. “I’m from the South and Helga is from Harlem,” says Nova. “I’m 5’2” and she’s somewhere around six feet tall. The reality is that because of our skin color, we’ve had to learn a practice of community in our friendship that’s not taught. We want to share with people the love that we have for each other and create a space to have what can be hard to do in this country: to self-examine and to listen.” 

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

Helga Davis wears a textured white sweater and stares intensely ahead.

Helga Davis dislikes labels. 

“I live in many fields of saying ‘yes’: yes, I will work on that film; yes, I will curate this conversation; yes, I will write a song,” says Helga Davis. Often described as a vocalist and performance artist, Davis sees her work as a mirror for people.  

“This is an opportunity to see what the community is holding and to help them hold it.”

helga davis

Davis believes that developing a piece with Shara Nova about their relationship will be valuable for the larger community. “Shara and I have a lot of conversations about being women of different races, and how we experience those things in the world as performers and as people who are concerned about the communities in which we live,” says Davis. 

“We’re not coming from the outside to tell people what to do, how smart we are, and what we know and they don’t,” says Davis. “This is an opportunity to see what the community is holding and to help them hold it.”  

As visiting curator for performing arts at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Davis has experience in commissioning people from the community to create work and conversations around a myriad of topics. “That experience has fattened me up for understanding the importance of how to do it somewhere else, and I’m looking forward to bringing that to Chapel Hill,” she says. 

Davis and Nova’s work will include a piece that involves local musicians and community. “The work will manifest itself in song and there will be dialogue,” says Davis. “The big thing for us is to take our concerns for our society and for ourselves and bring that into the work and include as many people as we can into that dialogue. We want to make something that serves as a snapshot and as a place on a road that we might be able to take as a society.” 

The Gift of Fellowship 

Massenburg says that Creative Futures is designed to “lift up the voices of women in art, to make sure that they are supported not only in acclaim for their work but also in terms of resources and capacity.”  

“To create amazing work, you need the opportunity to have funding, space, and support to be able to create sustainably,” he says. “We have the opportunity to do that with this project, especially for women of color.” 

Reagon agrees. “Getting support, not just so that you are able to function in your life, but support for the vision that you have is exciting and beautiful,” she says. “This fellowship allows me to be in another part of the country I adore, to expand community, to learn and receive from people, and produce new work.” 

She appreciates that Carolina Performing Arts is bringing artists into the community for “in-depth conversation and interaction as a point of transformation.” She says that CPA’s ongoing commitment to fostering these collaborations can help dissolve boundaries. “This deep investment continues to increase the possibility for art to have an impact on education, both on campus and in the community,” says Reagon. 

The duration of the grant is unprecedented, in Nova’s experience. “To be able to spend four years with a community is very different than coming in to do a big event and then leaving,” she says. “Having the opportunity to be in a community with the time to figure out how you can best serve that community is a unique experience.” 

Okpokwasili is grateful to have support in a way she hasn’t experienced before. “Having the space to make more mistakes, to really push, to be completely liberated from some idea of a finished piece and to dive deeply into the rigors of the practice is a gift,” she says. “This partnership—the university, the resources, the rigor of the academy in creating a space that feels really wild—is exciting.” 

“This fellowship gives us an opportunity to work over a period of time and figure out how to continue the conversations we start,” says Davis. “That’s a huge thing for me as an artist, and as someone who cares about the sustainability of the work. It’s such a tremendous opportunity for the four of us to be resources for one another, to be mirrors for one another, and to be in deep sisterhood and friendship.” 

Creating the Future 

In conversation, Reagon mentions the giant garage door that is part of the theater space at CURRENT. 

“That signifies something at the heart of how CPA would like to impact this community. It says that this door is open and anything is possible.” 

Fill Us In: Allison Loggins–Hull of Flutronix

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 CPA artist-in-residence Allison Loggins-Hull who, with collaborator Nathalie Joachim, make up flute and electronics duo Flutronix.

A questionnaire titled "Fill Us In" featuring a picture of artist Allison Loggins-Hull, who provided the answers. The answers on the questionnaire are reflected in the text below this image.

What is the best way to start your day?
My husband and I make a point to have coffee together first thing in the morning, before the children wake up and the demands of the day begin.

What is the worst way to start your day?
Looking at the news right away.

What would the title of your memoir be?
Whelp, That Was Crazy: A Story of Impossible Ideas and Enormous Undertakings

If you had a motto, what would it be?
Trust the universe!

What person do you admire most?
Michelle Obama. She is ALL of the things!

How do you hope others describe you in three words or less?
Black girl magic.

If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
I’d be a bird, only because of the ability to fly.

What does a perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
No clutter, lots of sun, some flowers, a fireplace.

What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
The original cherry almond Jergens lotion.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Listen to your gut.

Ocean, bathtub, or pool?

If you weren’t an artist what would your profession be?
Something involving home renovations and/or architecture.

What is something you splurge on?
Food. I once spent $800 on a sushi dinner for two. No regrets.

What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and trust your gut! Also, it’s okay to take time to figure yourself out.

What thing is necessary for you to make art?

Fill Us In: Pedja Mužijević

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 bold and innovative pianist Pedja Mužijević who has defined his career with creative programming, unusual combinations of new and old music, and lasting collaborations with other artists and ensembles.

A graphical version of Pedja Mužijević's artist questionairre answers with Carolina Performing Arts brand colors and whimsical shapes. The answers in this image are identical to the answers in text below.

What is the best way to start your day?
Waking up.

What is the worst way to start your day?
Not waking up.

What would the title of your memoir be?
“I Got Away With It.”

What is something you splurge on?
Food and wine.

If you had a motto, what would it be?
Walk through every door that opens to you.

What person do you admire most?
Mahatma Gandhi.

What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?
Question everything, most of all yourself.

How do you hope others describe you in three words or less?
I like him.

If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
A friendly tiger.

What smell can transport you back to your childhood?

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Do something kind to someone you don’t know everyday.

Ocean, bathtub, or pool?

If you weren’t an artist what would your profession be?

What is your favorite meal?
The next one.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
Playing chamber music with friends and cooking together.

What thing is necessary for you to make art?

The “Last Live”: Reflections on Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs

When was the last time you saw a live performance? Until recently, this was a simple question, but in this COVID era it calls to mind wistful memories of sitting beside friends and strangers in a dark space full of collective concentration.

In my recent conversations with UNC faculty and students, many responded to this question with a distant look followed by a pause or a sigh, signaling nostalgia and loss. Others became animated, enthusiastically recalling the energy in the performance hall or a late-night post-show debate over dinner.

Two women stand outside on UNC's quad holding puppets on long strings as they rehearse for an opera.
Students in Marc Callahan’s class rehearse for Atlas, Monk’s opera.

For both me and professor Marc Callahan in the Department of Music, the answer to this question was Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs, the last live performance that took place at Carolina Performing Arts in March 2020. The performance, which Callahan and his opera students attended, struck both of us as immediately singular, even before our current extraordinary circumstances. A pioneer of interdisciplinary experimental performance, Monk uses “the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words.”

In Cellular Songs, Monk and her all-female ensemble embodied and vocally expressed a profound connectedness that resonated beyond the Memorial Hall stage and into the audience, where Callahan, his students, and I sat in disbelief. Afterward, student Imani Oluoch described this performance as “primal and primordial.” Her fellow student performer, Hannah Lawrence, recalled “the sense of community as each woman laid their head on each other’s shoulders before the lights faded out.”

“I gained from Cellular Songs…a renewed commitment to presence of mind in each instant I live.”

Carson gartner, unc opera student

Callahan’s students were particularly attuned to Monk’s performance, as they were deep into rehearsals for a student interpretation of Monk’s lyric-less opera Atlas, which was set to premiere on campus in early April 2020. Six months later, the opera students are yet to perform Atlas live. While the current remote semester unfolds, they are working on an Atlas film that they hope to publicly stream this winter (watch a clip here). 

At Callahan’s urging, I made a brief Zoom visit to his class to prompt these undergraduate Monk experts to consider the gravity of their last live Meredith Monk performance. Their insightful reflections were as much about their individual reactions to Cellular Songs as they were about the arts as a practice of togetherness, a practice that has renewed poignancy after extended isolation. Carson Gartner shared, “I gained from Cellular Songs (albeit on a slight delay) a renewed commitment to presence of mind in each instant I live.” Mackenzie Smith wrote that delving into Monk’s practice encouraged her “to learn and explore within the uncertainty.”

For me, the words of these students feel like important lessons for this time. Indeed, I see Carolina Performing Arts’ current pause in live performance as an opportunity to reimagine our organization, to recommit to our theaters not only as stages for performance, but as spaces where artists and audiences are invited to come together to embrace the uncertainty of the live.

Amanda Graham is the associate director of engagement at Carolina Performing Arts. Through her work, she regularly engages with faculty and students across campus. Currently, she is cohosting Feedback: The Institute for Performance, a new set of free virtual courses on performance open to adults in the Triangle. 

Fill Us In: Abigail Washburn

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 Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and banjo player Abigail Washburn, a CPA/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL artist-in-residence and the first guest artist on The Spark with Tift Merritt.

Fill Us In: Tift Merritt

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 beloved singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, a Raleigh native and UNC alumna who took the music world by storm with the release of Bramble Rose.

A Virtual Graham Masterclass

UNC students dance with Graham dancer Leslie Williams over Zoom.

Jess Abel is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Carolina Performing Arts, and had the pleasure of joining intermediate and advanced UNC student dancers in CPA’s inaugural virtual masterclass, led by Martha Graham Dance Company dancer Leslie Williams, on August 20, 2020.

After a trying week for the UNC community, starting the Martha Graham Dance Company masterclass––CPA’s first-ever virtual masterclass––with a few moments of deep breathing led by Graham dancer Leslie Williams felt both settling and profound.

We inhaled and exhaled to the count of eight from our living rooms, bedrooms, garages, and home offices, connected by Leslie’s voice and identical movements as we moved on to stretching and then to Graham technique over Zoom. As we moved, we pictured ourselves on beaches and in meadows, we related the concavity of Michelangelo’s Pietà to Graham’s iconic and striking poses, and we became more fluid with our movements.

Williams leads the class through an iconic Graham sequence.

Particularly striking was the ease and grace with which Professor Heather Tatreau’s dance students learned the movements amidst the physical distance and less-than-ideal studio settings (trading in Marley dance flooring for shag carpeting, for instance, can’t be easy). But the energy of the class was that of literal and mental flexibility, positivity, and resilience.

By the end of the hour, the home office I was dancing in seemed to become an extension on Leslie’s studio. It was challenging and freeing, private and communal all at once, and as we were nearing cool-down two things were very clear to this arts lover: five months of quarantine had not been kind to my athletic abilities, and masterclasses will continue to be as deeply meaningful over Zoom as they ever were in person.

Ellie’s Must-Have Vegan Eats

If you’re like us, you might be starting to run low on cooking inspiration after all these days at home. We called in Ellie Pate, artistic coordinator and chef of some of the most delicious work lunches at the CPA office, to lend us some inspiration. Whether you’re vegan, looking to jazz up your meals with more veggies, or just want to learn how to make the most beautiful pizza we’ve ever seen, read on.

A woman wearing glasses and a jean jacket smiles. She stands in front of a wooded backyard.

CPA: What are some good plant-based pantry staples to have on hand?
Ellie Pate: One of my favorite things about being vegan is that you can make so many different things out of the same food staples if you have basic spices. I always keep the following on hand, and use generously:
i. Garlic (I always use fresh and usually double the amount)
ii. Ginger
iii. Basil
iv. Oregano
v. Rosemary
vi. Coriander
vii. Cumin
viii. Nutritional yeast !!!
ix. Black pepper

CPA: Favorite single ingredient?
EP: I find many people aren’t big fans of mushrooms, but I love them and eat them probably every other day. They are the only plant-based source of vitamin D (important when we’re stuck inside all day!) and are actually really versatile in the ways they can be used. My go-to way to prepare them is to dry-sauté them by adding them, sliced, directly onto a pan over medium heat without any oil. When they get a little tender, add your spices (I like cooking them in rosemary, basil, and oregano). This method allows them to release water as they heat up, so they won’t stick and they’ll absorb flavor better. Try it this way if you usually find mushrooms too slimy! Add to pasta, pizza, mix in with rice, bake with potatoes, stir fry it, do whatever you want. I like to eat them with steamed garlic greens.

CPA: What’s your advice for meal-prepping?
EP: Most of my meals are basically vegetables on some sort of “base”, like rice, pasta, or quinoa. Some of my favorite ways to avoid eating pasta three days a week are to make polenta, gnocchi, and pizza! (We all have the Italians to thank.)


For pizza, I usually just get pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s, but its pretty easy to make yourself too. Throw veggies on there–so easy. For the pictured pizza, first take dough out of fridge to rest for 20 mins. Meanwhile, cut up desired vegetables into bite sized pieces. Here, I used mushrooms, half one green pepper, half one large onion, (thinly sliced), broccoli (stems cut off, about 1 inch pieces), a handful of spinach, chopped grape tomatoes, and 3 minced cloves of garlic. Put them all in a bowl and drizzle 2 or more tablespoons of oil (I recommend grapeseed or olive), and then 1 tsp of each rosemary, oregano, and basil, and ½ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. I also added a good amount of nutritional yeast to get a cheesy flavor, but I put that on everything! Mix so everything looks evenly coated. Roll out dough to about 12 inches across and just thin enough not to tear. Add marinara/ pizza sauce and use the back of a spoon to cover the dough. Top with the veggies to desired thickness, and bake according to dough instructions.

Voila! (I had a lot of the veggie mix left over and ate it with pasta the next day for dinner)

CPA: Give us your best plant-based wisdom.
EP: Embrace the chickpea.

CPA: Best quick meal or snack?
EP: Omg, sweet potato and avocado sandwiches are GREAT. I bake my sweet potatoes in the microwave because its fast – just stab with a fork all over and put it in there for 4-8 mins depending on the size of the potato. Smear these things on toast and put a little salt and pepper – so good, and an easy lunch when you’re working from home.

CPA: What’s a good way to add a little pizzazz to a meal?
EP: Consider adding nuts to top things off and add flavor, texture, and protein! I found a whole bag of frozen walnuts in my freezer and have been experimenting with just toasting them in a pan and adding them to sautéed kale or pancakes.


CPA: What kind of bread should we be baking while social distancing?
EP: If you’re looking for a project, start making sourdough bread. It is a fun experiment and a way to eat bread that is kind of healthy (yay probiotics!)! There’s lots of resources online, but the way to start is to mix equal parts flour and water (leave a glass of tap water out for 8 hours first to evaporate off any chlorine, because it will kill the yeast) in a glass or steel bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. After 24 hours, pour off 2/3 of it, and add equal parts flour and water again. Do this every day for about 5 days – it should start smelling nice and yeasty. When its nice and bubbly (kinda foamy), drop a little of it into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to use. If it sinks, feed and check on it again in about 4 hours, and then at 8 hours, then at 12.

Staff Intro: Mark Steffen, Events Manager

We are thrilled to introduce you to our friend Mark Steffen, events manager, in our latest staff feature! A tea lover, extraordinary meeting leader, and all-around office MVP, Mark works with other UNC departments and student orgs who present their work at CPA’s venues, and was one of CPA’s very first staff members.


The bulk of my work involves working with organizations that rent our facilities—primarily other University departments or UNC student organizations. So a typical day might involve responding to venue reservation requests, meeting with rental clients to help them plan and budget for their events, and working on invoices for events that have already passed. I also lead our weekly Operations Staff Meetings where we plan for upcoming events and discuss how past events went (both Carolina Performing Arts events and events by other organizations) and what improvements we can make in the future.


A long time! I started in November 2005, when CPA was only a few months old. It was supposed to be a temp job, but things turned out differently. I like to tell people my very first assignment at CPA was to assemble a particleboard bookshelf for our administrative office, which was in a retail space on Franklin Street near where CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio is now. It’s amazing to see how far CPA has come over the years.


I really enjoy working on multiple, diverse events all at once. You never know who will come knocking on CPA’s door wanting to have an event in one of our spaces. We work a lot with student organizations that put on performances in our spaces, which is really rewarding. They always try their best to put on the best show possible, which sometimes leads to some interesting requests. Like when a fraternity performing in the Step Show asks if they can fly a person in from the grid (No) or when one of the student theater groups asks if they can use fake blood for their performance of Sweeney Todd (Maybe, but we have to test to make sure the fake blood won’t stain the curtains first).

From time to time we’ll also have groups bring big name speakers to our venues. Neil deGrasse Tyson (a personal favorite) once spoke at Memorial Hall and Jimmy Fallon filmed an episode of Late Night on stage at Memorial Hall with President Obama and Dave Matthews as guests. That’s a hard one to beat.


Coffee first thing in the morning to wake me up, then tea throughout the rest of the day. Any CPA staff member should be able to vouch for the tea thing.


I haven’t done a lot of takeout recently, but I’ve definitely been missing Cosmic Cantina. It’s right next to our office at the Porthole Building. When I’m not working from home, it takes all my strength not to eat lunch there every day.

“I really enjoy working on multiple, diverse events all at once. You never know who will come knocking on CPA’s door…”

Mark steffen

Hopefully somewhere outdoors, on a walk or in a boat. I have a few favorite places—University Lake, the Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and Saxapahaw along the Haw River.


There are a lot of things I’m missing right now. Many things I either didn’t use to think about or took for granted. But lately I’ve been using those feelings as excuses to be more mindful and thankful for the things I used to enjoy and will, one day, enjoy again. Trading good mornings with my bus driver (extra special when it’s the CPA bus I’m riding), stores with shelves stocked full of toilet paper, and performances on stages instead of screens and with real audiences too. Those things will come back in time. Hopefully once they do, we will all cherish them a bit more. Thinking that way actually gives me a great deal of joy.


In 2011 CPA presented Black Watch by National Theatre of Scotland. It was a play about a regiment of British soldiers fighting in the Iraq War meant for a black box theater space. This was before CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio existed, so we built the set on stage in Memorial Hall and sat the audience on stage too. It was such an immersive, moving experience. The scale of the performance seemed incredibly huge, with the sounds of explosions making you feel as if you were really on the battlefield. At the same time there were moments that were truly intimate, when you were only ten feet away from an actor portraying a soldier in a way that was based on interviews of real soldiers. It was incredible.

Donor Spotlight: Stephanie Hughley

By Caroline Evans 

Stephanie Hughley believes the arts have the power to change one’s  outlook. “The arts are all about helping people think, because in the live arts you have to bring yourself into the moment, and that opens you up for a transformative kind of experience.” 

As a young woman, Hughley was on the track to medical school. She considered her love of dance to be a hobby—until she met her college roommate, who was in pursuit of a career in theater and dance. Officially bitten by the arts bug, Hughley moved to New York, dancing with the likes of Alvin Ailey before switching her focus to theater. After a move to Atlanta, Stephanie created the National Black Arts Festival, which celebrates the contributions of people of African descent. While her goal for the first festival was 30,000 attendees, the actual numbers reached past 300,000 people. After directing the Cultural Olympiad in the lead-up to the 1996 Olympics, the Big Apple called her back, and she went on to serve as Vice President of Education and Humanities for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Cinema  and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn. Stephanie is now semi-retired, but she puts her formidable experience to use as an arts consultant as well as a member of CPA’s International Advisory Board.  

Having recently moved from New York City to Raleigh, Hughley says she was pleasantly surprised by the vibrant culture and arts scene in the region: “I was so amazed when I first moved down here—New Yorkers think the whole world is in New York; you don’t realize all the amazing things going on beyond the city.” 

Stephanie’s love of community is what draws her to Carolina Performing Arts, especially the ways in which CPA bridges the gap between academics and the performing arts: “The way CPA has been able to pull in different disciplines around programming is key. University settings are such great opportunities because you have the academic world at your disposal.” 

Stephanie is most excited about CPA’s artist residencies. “Artists in residence are better able to bring audiences together because they build trust and respect over multiple visits.” This model gets at the core of what Stephanie believes about art: that it should be about engaging people, rather than being art for art’s sake. CPA DisTIL fellow Robin Frohardt’s Plastic Bag Store was one of her favorite CPA installations and performances so far, and she is excited to see more from other artists-in-residence.  

Hughley leaves us with this thought about the arts and building community: “There’s a big world out here, and together you’re always better than by yourselves.” We are grateful to Stephanie for her investment in CPA’s mission and our ongoing work to create transformative experiences around the art for our communities on campus and beyond.  

Our Staff’s Top Picks for Summer Reads

Summertime is book club time at Carolina Performing Arts, as we read books that make us so excited for the season to come! Our Artistic Coordinator Ellie Pate and Marketing and Communications Coordinator Jess Abel put together their recommended reads.

Four women smile as they hold books they've been reading and discussing together.

The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece
 by Eric Siblin
A book that delves into the technicalities of Bach’s six cello suites with the energy and curiosity of someone who’s just heard them for the first time, this read is perfect for the classical aficionado and Bach beginner alike. I can’t wait for Johnny Gandelsman to play them on his violin in front of an already (!) sold-out crowd in CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio on February 9, 2020. Fans of Johnny, stay tuned in case we add an additional performance! – JA

And Then We Danced: A Voyage Into the Groove by Henry Alford
What started as a personal account from a Zumba class for the New York Times turned into a new passion for longtime writer Alford. Much like Misty Copeland, Alford found his passion for dance late. But unlike the ballerina, who began dancing at the age of 13 (late in the professional ballet world) Alford didn’t discover his love of dance until he was 50. His story explores personal anecdotes and the history of dance—I’m looking forward to seeing Misty give her own perspective on similar things and much more when she kicks off our season on September 6. This book is a fun primer for all the incredible dance on our season–including Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey! – JA

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, edited by Sara B. Franklin
This collection of essays is the first ever to position the great chef Edna Lewis (who I admittedly hadn’t heard of before CPA started booking our 19/20 season!) as a fulcrum of American culture. It makes you consider food’s ever-present influence on who we are and what it took for Edna to share her knowledge. Whether you’re a Southerner, gardener, or lover of fried chicken, stories of Edna evoke both nostalgia and a desire to question the institutions that formed her legacy. I can’t wait to get Als’s take on this hero through his work-in-progress, Edna Lewis, this February! – EP

White Girls by Hilton Als
Hilton Als’s latest book paints an experience of life, gender, and race that he narrates and analyzes simultaneously. In this book, identities are less tangible than the dynamics and relationships behind them. I am intrigued by the way Als’s mind makes associations and, from an audience perspective, I’m eager to get such personal insight into the mind of the critic and playwright. This one is sure to be an excellent primer for anyone interested in how performance exists for us every day. – EP

Donor Spotlight: Carol and Rick McNeel

Carol and Rick McNeel have been proud supporters of Carolina Performing Arts since its inception. After Memorial Hall’s grand renovation in 2005 and CPA’s launch as a major university performing arts presenter, the McNeels jumped at the opportunity to name two seats in the Beasley-Curtis Auditorium and have never regretted their decision.

Great travelers who have visited many corners of this world—from the Northwest Passage to Antarctica, Burma, and Cuba—they are just as curious when it comes to the arts. From Curlew River (Benjamin Britten’s church parable starring the inimitable Ian Bostridge) in 2015, which they sponsored, to Yo-Yo Ma, the Bolshoi Ballet, and, most recently, Plastic Bag Store at CURRENT, Carol and Rick are open to all kinds of artistic experiences. Rick’s favorites are the more traditional, much-loved works of the canon, while Carol delights in such experiences as CPA’s presentation of the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart, conceived as “an evening of anarchic theater, live music and strange goings-on.” Put on at Top of the Hill, patrons tore up paper and tossed it into the air to simulate snow during the performance.

Their respective exposure to the arts growing up was minimal, Carol says, but once her love for the arts was sparked in college, it flourished and grew. “Many of my friends had different favorites, and I experienced a great variety with them.”

The decision to support Carolina Performing Arts back in 2005 was an easy one: “We were basically new in town and were anxious to get involved with the arts, and to get to know our community. CPA filled that need, as it is not just a one-size-fits-all kind of undertaking. The amazing talent, from the famous to the lesser known that come to visit, is just incredible.”

Every year, the McNeels look forward to browsing the season brochure, seeking out the particularly new and innovative. They are very pleased with the direction CPA is heading, especially the organization’s focus on changing the ways audiences experience art, as well as the ways in which the artists themselves interact with our community. Remarking upon their recent decision to become performance benefactors for a performance by Pedja Mužijević and UNC Chamber Singers, Carol said, “We were excited about the opportunity to support Pedja Mužijević and his vision for a more immersive, more intimate chamber music experience at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio.”

With a soft spot for the unconventional and thought-provoking, Carol named October’s An Enemy of the People as one of her favorite performances of the 18/19 season thus far. Schaubühne Berlin’s staging of Henrik Ibsen’s classic yet timely drama broke down the fourth wall and engaged the audience in discussion in the middle of the play—just the kind of innovative interpretive approach that truly excites Carol and Rick.

The McNeels’ commitment to supporting innovative artistic excellence led them to create an endowment designed to help Carolina Performing Arts think outside of traditional performance conventions and reimagine ways of presenting. Their gift will allow CPA to reshape how audiences experience live music and theater of all types and genres. CPA is deeply grateful for supporters like the McNeels who enable us to keep pushing the envelope of what arts presenting means today and to rethink the ways in which audiences experience the performing arts.

Donor Spotlight: Karol Mason

By Tatjana Zimbelius-Klem 
Karol Mason, ’79, is one of those delightful people who seems to have endless energy and drive, gushing with excitement as she talks about her work, her family, and the things about which she is passionate. A former UNC Board of Trustees member, she is the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, serves on the International Advisory Board of Carolina Performing Arts, plays the piano, visits museums, and loves visual and performing arts. Born and raised in Amityville, New York, as one of four children to a teacher and a public health administrator, Mason was reared with a clear sense of the value of a good education and the importance of community service.  

Karol’s parents both grew up in the South during segregation, and went on to earn graduate degrees in their respective fields. The lessons they imparted on Karol and her siblings taught her that education is critical for opening doors to many opportunities. As president of John Jay, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY), she is proud that students have greater access to higher education because of low CUNY tuition and the tuition-free degree program that was recently announced.  

The arts, too, are an integral part of both the John Jay community and Karol Mason’s life. “Art helps inspire you and gives you something to be happy about, especially in challenging times. Something to look forward to, but also something to learn from; most significantly, they offer a context for us to have difficult conversations,” she says. John Jay has an art and music department, their own gallery, and even a partnership with Lincoln Center. The hallway to Karol’s office serves as a gallery space as well, with rotating exhibits. In her spare time, Mason is an avid concert- and theater-goer, and she is glad to have discovered that there is a piano at John Jay for her to play. “My instrument is still in Atlanta, but next time, I will bring my sheet music, so I can practice,” she reports excitedly. 

For Mason, the invitation in January 2017 to join the International Advisory Board of Carolina Performing Arts could not have come at a better time. A former UNC board member, she had recused herself from UNC-related activities when she joined the Department of Justice—first serving as deputy associate attorney general and then as assistant attorney general. But the day before an email from CPA Director Emil Kang popped into her inbox, she had left the DOJ and felt ready to reconnect with her alma mater. Karol was elated to accept a place on CPA’s board. “The arts bring me such joy, and I love being connected back to Carolina,” she beams. “Carolina is critical to who I am. During my years at UNC I learned who I was and what my priorities were.” And now, Karol can share her expertise and get up close and personal again with the college that has meant so much to her.  

In fact, Carolina Performing Arts has always occupied a special place in Karol’s heart. Attending performances whenever she can, she is consistently amazed at the level of artistry presented at CPA. One of her favorite Memorial Hall memories is seeing “The Blues Project” by Dorrance Dance with Toshi Reagon and her band BIGLovely. “It was amazing! And to think that I saw it first in Chapel Hill and then made all my friends go buy tickets and see it when it came to the Kennedy Center!” 

Karol counts the day in May she receives the Carolina Performing Arts season brochure as one of the highlights of her year: “It’s like getting the Christmas catalogue in the mail. You’re so excited and can’t wait to make your choices.” Carolina Performing Arts, too, is excited that Mason chooses to volunteer her time and expertise to serve on its board, and for her heartfelt passion and support for the performing arts at Carolina. 

Donor Spotlight: Maribel Carrion

By Rachel Ash

Maribel Carrion vividly remembers her first time in Memorial Hall. Surrounded by her fellow Tar Heels at freshman orientation, she was just beginning her journey at Carolina. “Our speaker told us to look around at our classmates,” recalls Maribel. “He said ‘Two-thirds of you are pre-law or pre-med. That’s not going to happen.’” Maribel was among those who forged a different path. A math major, she received her BA in 1977 and returned to UNC several years later for her MBA.  

Building on the math and business training she received at Carolina, Maribel began a career in software and technology applications. She spent seven years traveling extensively with Nortel Networks, which led her around the world while supporting clients in places like Singapore, Mexico and throughout Central and South America. “I was only supposed to be gone on an expatriate assignment for two years,” explains Maribel. “But I ended up being gone for seven.” When an opportunity arose in 2008 to work at Carolina, Maribel was excited about the prospect of returning to campus. Today, she’s the director of business applications for UNC Information Technology Services (ITS). “It’s about as good as it gets,” says Maribel. “Working at my alma mater doing a job I enjoy. I love working with students.” 

From her office in ITS Manning, Maribel supports the software that drives students’ academic lifecycle. She is involved in all the processes used by students from the time they apply and register for classes through when they graduate and come back to ask for a transcript. “Students are very creative in how they use and access technology,” explains Maribel. “The students coming in now have assumptions and expectations about technology that are very different from the students ten years ago.” 

In addition to supporting students in her daily work, Maribel also gives back as a generous donor to the University. She recently made a commitment to Carolina Performing Arts’ Student Ticket Angel Fund in her estate plan that will ensure students have access to inspiring artists from around the world for years to come. “The tagline that CPA brings the world to Chapel Hill is so true,” says Maribel. As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel extensively, she understands the benefits of being exposed to other cultures. “I want to make sure all students have these types of opportunities, because they’re life-changing.”  

Maribel’s global experiences began at a young age. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she moved around quite a bit as a child because her father was in the military. With each new city, one constant in the household was music. Remembering her childhood, Maribel remarks, “My father always, always had music on. All kinds of music — Spanish and Latin American music, flamenco, classical, popular music.” Music has been an important part of her life. Her appreciation for the arts only grew when she was exposed to live performances in middle school. “The arts are transformative,” says Maribel. “With the best artists, you believe it. You feel it.” 

Though Maribel hasn’t hung up her travel hat yet, she loves that she can experience diverse artistic traditions and perspectives without having to leave Chapel Hill. She became a CPA season subscriber after the Bolshoi Ballet’s 2009 performances. “I’m one of those people who waits for the season schedule.” She loves seeing students at performances and wanted to find a way to support CPA’s $10 student tickets. As she thought about her legacy at Carolina, Maribel learned she could make a difference with a planned gift to the Angel Fund. “You can contribute in ways you don’t even realize, if you just ask.”  

Donor Spotlight: Jesse White

By Rachel Ash

When Dr. Jesse L. White Jr. chose a bequest as the vehicle for a portion of his support to Carolina Performing Arts, it was a simple decision. “If you believe in something, or you want to see it carry on, you need to support it, both in the here and now, and going forward,” he said.

White has always believed in the transformative power of the arts. As a child growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, his mother took him to performances of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. He played trumpet in college at Ole Miss, and once shared the stage with Johnny Cash when Cash’s band was performing on campus and needed a couple of horn blowers.

White became enthralled with CPA almost immediately upon his arrival in Chapel Hill, when he became an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Government. During his career there, he helped create a new economic development curriculum, and established UNC’s Office of Economic and Business Development.

“A great performance is like the ultimate soul food for me,” he said. “There’s just no price tag I can put on that, but it doesn’t take a fortune to make a big difference. I think the arts are crucial to everybody; they make a human being complete.”

Now retired, but still a professor of the practice in Carolina’s Department of City and Regional Planning, White supports CPA’s Student Ticket Angel Fund that provides $10 discounted tickets to students (free to Carolina Covenant and Achieve Scholars). He established the Dr. Jesse L. White Jr. Fund for Student and Academic Engagement, to help match students with great performers. His generosity provides opportunities such as master classes, classroom visits, workshops and other opportunities for students to engage with CPA’s classical music and jazz artists.

To date, he has funded 36 master classes, and said he sees the transformative power of these student-artist connections in every one he has attended. “To see these professionals working with our students at a level where angels tread…is just phenomenal,” he said. “Artists get something out of it, the kids get something out of it, and I know I get something out of it. It feeds my soul.”

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