Explore Omar: Related Events
Discover what’s happening around Chapel Hill in the lead-up to Omar.
As the North Carolina premiere of Omar draws near, we want to keep you up-to-date on all the opportunities to learn more about this sweeping new work. Together with our partners, we’re proud to present a slate of programs that dive deep into the social, political, economic, and historical context of the performance. To learn what’s on the way, click here, or read the descriptions below.
CPA and MDC invite you to:
The State of the South, Omar ibn Said:
A Conversation Between Dr. Youssef Carter and Dr. William Spriggs
- When: Tuesday, Feb. 21, 5–6:30 PM
- Where: CURRENT Studio
Omar ibn Said’s story illuminates the historical and geographical relationships between Black Muslim religious empowerment, forced and chosen migration, and labor. As we think of the future of the South—as well as its present—understanding this history is essential to imagining economic systems rooted in equity.
Join us for a dialogue between Dr. Youssef Carter, an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and the Kenan Rifai Fellow in Islamic Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Dr. William Spriggs, the former Chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University and Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO. This dialogue will be moderated by MDC Senior Program Director Kerri Forrest. Together, we will explore and bear witness to the historical conditions of slavery faced by Ibn Said, while envisioning how we might realize systems that value humanity.
Registration is free! Click here to register.
CPA and the UNC Department of Music invite you to:
Performing & Imagining the American South “Open Classroom” on Omar
Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels in conversation with Dr. Naomi André
- When: Thursday, Feb. 23, 11:15 AM–12:15 PM
- Where: Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall
The university community is welcome to join the students in Performing and Imagining the American South (IDST 121) for a conversation between Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Abels, and Dr. Naomi André on Omar, music, and the American South.
Dr. Naomi André is the David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC-Chapel Hill.
No registration required.
CPA, UNC Press, and the UNC African Studies Center invite you to:
“What is the ‘Autobiogaphy’ of Omar ibn Said?” with Dr. Carl W. Ernst and Dr. Mbaye Lo
- When: Thursday, Feb. 23, 5:30–7 PM
- Where: FedEx Global Education Center, Nelson Mandela Auditorium
Omar ibn Said (1770-1863), a West African Muslim scholar, was sold into slavery in America, where he spent over half a century enslaved to a prominent North Carolina family. He left behind a small collection of documents in Arabic that remain poorly understood. This presentation is based on Dr. Ernst and Dr. Lo’s book, I Cannot Write My Life: Islam, Arabic, and Slavery in Omar ibn Said’s America, forthcoming from UNC Press in August 2023. Why, at the beginning of his 1831 “Autobiography,” did Ibn Said announce “I cannot write my life”? What is the significance of his quotations from Islamic theological and mystical texts, which have escaped notice until now? Ernst and Lo will address these questions and more. Join us to learn more about their major reassessment of this important witness to the presence of Islam and Arabic at the beginning of America’s history.
Moderated by Mark Simpson-Vos, the Editorial Director for UNC Press.
Mbaye Lo is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies & International Comparative Studies at Duke University.
Carl W. Ernst is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Registration is free! Click here to register.
Up Close and Personal with Omar ibn Said Materials
Instruction Sessions in Wilson Special Collections Library
- Register for Session 1: Monday, Feb. 27, 9–10 AM
- Register for Session 2: Wednesday, Mar. 1, 3–4 PM
- Register for Session 3: Thursday, Mar. 2, 12–1 PM
Where: Wilson Library, Room 901
For folks who were able to see the Omar opera or are simply curious about its inspiration, we are offering three opportunities for our Carolina campus community to get up close and personal with documents and other materials related to Omar ibn Said. Guests who sign up online will have a chance to see the original 19th century artifacts featuring or written by Omar himself. In addition, guests will have the opportunity to speak with UNC reference librarians and learn even more ways to engage with Omar’s story and special collections at UNC Libraries.
For information and tickets to the performance, please visit our event page.
A Community in Motion
Local dancers reflect on involvement in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s What Problem?
The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s What Problem? is intensely concerned with the concept of community. Again and again, the production probes the possibilities and limitations of the concept, drawing from an array of sources, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” It’s a gale-force reckoning with our current historical moment, replete with cutting literary commentary, rousing speeches, expert choreography, and insistent, pulsing beats. Dancers swirl at the heart of it all, both raucous and tentative, offering audiences a potent glimpse of the American polity in motion.
Achieving this effect requires a uniquely community-driven approach. Earlier this fall, when What Problem? came to Chapel Hill, such an approach was on full display. In advance of the performance dates, the company and Carolina Performing Arts put out a call for dancers from around the Research Triangle. The dozens who answered this call soon became integral parts of the production.
In the week leading up to the two performances, these dancers—known as the Community Movers—joined the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company for a series of rehearsals. To get the inside scoop on the Community Mover experience, we asked several dancers to share their thoughts on the rehearsals, as well as their reflections on the production. Here are their stories.
Note: Killian Manning’s testimonial was collected on the week of rehearsals, prior to the performances. The other three testimonials were collected after the performances occurred.
“Thanks to Carolina Performing Arts and Amanda Graham, I began the adventure of a lifetime, one of those circle-of-life events that has this post-punk, pseudo-cynical grrrrl absolutely GIDDY. For this whole week, I’ve been rehearsing from 6–9 PM with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company as a community member, culminating in performances on Friday and Saturday night at Memorial Hall. I’ve been following Bill’s amazing work since that mind-blowing first moment at the American Dance Festival in 1988 . . . which eventually led to my dissertation: ‘Performing Utopian Visions: Art(iculation) in the Age of AIDS’ (2004). Bill T.’s Still/Here is Chapter 3. My excitement through the entire process has been uncontainable, and my gratitude for the lessons learned is overflowing! Belonging to a community that shares my enthusiasm for his genius, sharing rehearsal and stage space with him and his wonderful dancers, being a part of this brilliant production . . . it just does not get any better.”
“Working with Bill T. Jones as a Community Mover was a rare and thrilling opportunity for me, thanks to a friend who forwarded the original email [invite]. My dance background was in classical ballet rather than modern dance; although I hung up my pointe shoes long ago, I have stayed in shape through dance aerobics, strength training, and yoga. Even in my 70s, I had no trouble keeping up with the other movers, mentally or physically.
Most of the movers were associated with local dance programs and therefore had friends within the group. I knew no one, but folks were friendly and casual. Shane and Jacoby were excellent coaches; Janet was very pleasant to work with; and Bill T. himself was a magical presence. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with this dance company. My friends who attended had nothing but praise for this highly original program. Other than some pulled muscles during the chaotic rock-throwing scene, I believe we all had a favorable and memorable experience and would do it again.”
“I learned about this opportunity from my good friend who works at UNC. My favorite part was getting to know the dancers and the musicians. They are an amazing group of people, and it was wonderful to have a week with them. By the end of the week, we were speaking like friends, sharing stories of our lives together. I also loved being part of such a diverse group of community members. My thoughts on the production: it was such fun to be part of it. There was so much going on. The musicians were breathtaking. Hearing the words, “How does it feel to be a problem?” in song gave me goosebumps. It was astounding that in three days, we learned what we needed to do, and were ready for dress rehearsal and performances. Shane and Jacoby were wonderful teachers and coaches. They were patient and clear. They helped us take risks and be specific yet spontaneous and to explode with emotion and action when it was time. I learned that dancing is good for everyone, and through dance we can make messages come alive. I grew up in New York City, and when we were milling in a tight circle [as part of the performance], I recalled the tension of living in New York, and I also remembered the fear I felt when I saw police barricades. The way black people are treated in this country felt alive and visceral to me through the dance.”
Spring 2023: Digital Brochure
This spring, CPA invites you to rediscover, reengage, and reconnect with in-person arts experiences! This season’s lineup features an array of exciting performances, including classical and jazz concerts, drama exploring the human condition and the long-anticipated North Carolina premiere of Omar—the powerful new opera from Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence Rhiannon Giddens and acclaimed composer Michael Abels (“Nope,” “Get Out”).
From new works and partnerships to returning crowd-pleasers and collaborators, CPA’s spring programming celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and reminds us of art’s ability to drive vital conversations and spark joy. For a glimpse of what’s to come, check out the digital brochure below.
$10 student tickets available. 15% discount for UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Health faculty/staff. 10% discount for active or retired military personnel and patrons 65 and older. Additional discounts available for select performances. Find discounts and other ticketing information here.
We look forward to seeing you in spring 2023 and beyond!
Intersectional Theatre: Presenting a Bilingual Prince Hamlet
Our residency with Why Not Theatre spotlights their groundbreaking approach
Ahead of this Friday’s performance of Prince Hamlet, Why Not Theatre joined Carolina Performing Arts for a week-long residency. This included an in-depth discussion with actor and American Sign Language (ASL) translator Dawn Jani Birley about the company’s intersectional approach to William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.
Throughout the conversation with CPA and PlayMakers Repertory Company staff, Birley highlighted her conscious rebellion against the idea that mere inclusion should serve as a true end goal. For Birley, inclusion feels too limited, as it fails to encompass the full range of her capabilities. By contrast, an intersectional approach allows Birley and the rest of the company to explore the multiple dimensions of Shakespeare’s characters through new lenses of language, gender and ethnicity. In doing so, Why Not Theatre challenges traditional notions of who exactly gets to tell these stories.
“I want to use my platform as an artist to break down the systemic barriers and open new avenues in the theatre. I hope work like this can be a part of that.”Dawn Jani Birley
Director Ravi Jain’s retelling shows us the world through the eyes of Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, as portrayed by Birley. Within this framework, we come to understand that Horatio’s deafness is just one of many aspects that inform his perception of that world. Combining English and ASL, the production offers a bold reimagining aimed at hearing and Deaf audiences alike.
This week’s residency also included a public pre-performance discussion with director Vivienne Benesch and actor Tia James of PlayMakers Repertory Company, which will present its own take on the Bard’s famous play in January 2023. The primary topic of discussion stemmed from a common thread: Both productions will feature a woman in the lead role. Cast members spoke about these challenges and opportunities with refreshing candor, offering a rare inside look at the performances to come.
Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet will be presented at Memorial Hall this Friday, October 7. The PlayMakers Repertory Company’s performance of Hamlet will run from January 25 through February 12. CPA audiences can save 20% with promo code DENMARK.
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
YOU BROUGHT ME HERE TO BUILD YOUR HOUSE…
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist
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.
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
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
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.”
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
“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?
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?
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.
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.
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’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
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.