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

Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser and Dr. Susan Moeser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed, the staff of Carolina Performing Arts

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

A Plastic Photo Story with Robin Frohardt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Intro: Betsy Busald, Associate Director of Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Update on Our Equity Work

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

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

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

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

Fill Us In: Robin Frohardt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, don’t miss The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Robin Frohardt on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Alison Friedman named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts

Alison Friedman is named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts, following a competitive international search, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin announced in a campus email Monday.

Friedman, an internationally recognized performing arts executive and producer, will join Carolina in October to lead CPA in its 17th season. She is currently the artistic director for performing arts for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest arts and cultural developments, and has worked with renowned artists across Asia, Europe, Australia, South America and the United States.

“Alison’s extensive global experience aligns perfectly with CPA’s mission to spark curiosity and inspire its community to engage more fully with the world,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

White woman with rainbow stripes in light brown hair wearing green v-neck top.
Alison Friedman, named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Alison Friedman)

Friedman will direct the organizational framework for the arts at Carolina, working with both academic and non-academic units to identify new opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to engage with and experience the arts. She will build on the success of CPA by fostering new partnerships with arts and higher education institutions across the globe and staging performances that appeal to diverse audiences.

Friedman will continue the popular Creative Futures program at CPA, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which brings in artists to work with faculty and students in community-based research, and will help lead Arts Everywhere, a campus-wide initiative to make the arts a fundamental part of the University’s culture and daily life.

In her current role, Friedman leads the dance, theater, music and Chinese opera (xiqu) teams at Xiqu Centre and Freespace, the first two performing arts venues to open in West Kowloon Cultural District. She also oversees program planning for Xiqu Centre and Freespace and future venues being built in the district, including performances, workshops and outreach events. As acting executive director, Friedman led all aspects of production including budgeting, fundraising, administration and human resources, in addition to her regular duties. Her accomplishments include launching an annual indoor-outdoor jazz festival that reached tens of thousands in its inaugural two years, developing an intergenerational program designed for Hong Kong’s underserved elderly population and their families and caregivers and spearheading Hong Kong’s first digital programming in response to COVID-19 theater closures in January 2020.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Carolina Performing Arts as executive and artistic director. Under the  leadership of Chancellor Moeser and Emil Kang, the outstanding team has established CPA as one of the foremost arts organizations in the country. It’s especially meaningful to be joining the  larger UNC-Chapel Hill family, an institution that recognizes the indispensable value of the arts  for the health and well-being of its community and the vitality of society. I step into this role with great anticipation for the important work ahead of us.” 

Alison Friedman

Prior to her work in West Kowloon, Friedman was founder and executive and creative director of Ping Pong Productions, a pioneering non-profit performing arts exchange organization based in Beijing that presented more than 250 performance and outreach events annually across five continents. She also has completed an arts management fellowship program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Friedman’s professional experience in performing arts includes leadership roles with Oscar and Grammy-winner Tan Dun’s company Parnassus Productions and the Beijing Modern Dance Company. A former Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Friedman graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

“We are grateful for the hard work of the search committee, led by Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Terry Rhodes, to identify Alison from a strong, international pool of leading candidates,” the email said. “We would also like to thank Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, who has served as interim executive and artistic director of CPA since 2019 and will remain in the role until June 30.”

When founding executive and artistic director Emil Kang departed Carolina to pursue work with the Mellon Foundation, no one could have predicted the challenges that CPA would face in 2020 as venues closed and the season was canceled due to COVID-19.

“Moeser’s passion and dedication helped CPA continue to bring diverse artists to engage with the Carolina community throughout the pandemic and connected the campus through innovative and expansive virtual arts programming,” the email said. “We offer our appreciation to Michael Johnson, associate director of Carolina Performing Arts, who will provide interim leadership until Alison arrives this fall.”

Over the past 16 years, Carolina Performing Arts has established itself as a University hallmark by offering opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to experience critically acclaimed, global performances that are typically only available in large cities.

“We are thrilled that Alison will continue this vision while starting a new era that will include the return of much missed in-person performances when it’s safe to do so. Please join us in thanking Chancellor Emeritus Moeser for his loyal service and welcoming Alison Friedman to Carolina,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

FAQ on Streaming Events

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

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

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

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

are performances canceled right now?

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

how do i get my ticket?

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

When will i get my link to the performance?

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

how do i watch a virtual cpa performance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN IS THE BOX OFFICE OPEN?

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

how can i support cpa?

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

CAN I RECORD A CPA PERFORMANCE?

Recording or filming of CPA performances is not permitted.

Fill Us In: Michelle Dorrance

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

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

And, join us for The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Michelle Dorrance on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donor Spotlight: Susan Credle

Susan Credle, a white woman wearing a white collared shirt and a black vest overtop, poses for a headshot with her arms crossed.

By Tatjana Zimbelius-Klem

When Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer at advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding, heard about Carolina Performing Arts’ recently created 19 Fund, she and her husband Joseph Credle were immediately moved to support it. Named in recognition of the approaching centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, which granted many US women the right to vote, the fund supports commissions of new works by women artists, underwrites artist residencies, and funds engagement events and masterclasses. Says Susan, “For the past 15 years, I have focused on lifting women up in our industry, trying to make sure that we have more female representation in leadership positions, because diversity in leadership leads to better outcomes. When your values align with the mission of an organization, your desire to support it rises exponentially.” 

A leader in her field and the first woman to be named chair of international organization The One Club for Creativity, Credle knows how important it is to step up and get actively involved with issues of personal importance. “Things don’t change unless you put in something to help with the change,” she says. Having remained grateful for the opportunities that her UNC degree has afforded her, Susan reconnected with her alma mater when she joined the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s board of advisers. “College is this interim space of independence, where you’re on your own for the first time in your life while still being protected by the structure school provides. UNC’s investment in me spurred my passion to give back, first through donations and later through board memberships.” Last year, Susan also joined the Carolina Performing Arts International Advisory Board, and with her husband has become inaugural lead supporter of the 19 Fund. Their gift, made in memory and honor of the Fowler, Suber, and Credle families, speaks to their unwavering commitment to women performing artists. “Joe and I believe that if you spread the peanut butter on too thin nobody tastes it,” she explains with a smile. 

Susan lived in Chapel Hill as a young child and has fond memories of watching basketball games and attending performances at the old Memorial Hall. She thinks early exposure is very important to a natural appreciation of the arts: “Adults often think of the arts as hard: you have to be well-versed, but kids don’t have that barrier and can appreciate it more immediately.”  

In CPA’s 15th anniversary season, Susan and Joe are looking most forward to she is called by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (April 2020), a musical portrait of women’s experiences from biblical times to the present day, for which they are generously acting as both performance and student ticket benefactors. It is with deep gratitude that we acknowledge the support of Susan and Joseph Credle and their steadfast support for the mission and values of the mission and values of CPA and UNC-Chapel Hill.  

Staff Intro: Amy Russell, Director of Programming

We are thrilled to introduce you to our friend Amy Russell, director of programming for CPA, in our latest staff feature! A coffee fan, gardener, and baker in her free time, Amy leads the way in bringing artistic talent, familiar and new, to Carolina Performing Arts and the Chapel Hill community.

Amy Russell (left) with Susin Seow (center), former CPA Director of Development, and Ketura Parker (right), current CPA Director of Development.

CPA: How long have you worked at CPA?

Amy Russell: I have worked at CPA for just over six years – I started in the fall of 2014.

CPA: What’s your favorite part of your job?

AR: My favorite part of my job is that I get to devote a lot of time, energy, and resources to building relationships with artists from around the world, and then introduce them to local people and step back and watch as they create something together. My curiosity and my desire to learn are also satisfied every day in my work, and I am very grateful for that.

CPA: Coffee or tea?

AR: Coffee! All the coffee! Every day starts with cold brew that I make at home, or a cappuccino from Open Eye Café which, thankfully, I can order online and pick up outside to maintain social distancing.  That has been a sanity-saving trip to make every once in a while during the pandemic.

CPA: Where’s your go-to place for takeout?

AR: Mint on Franklin Street has been our family’s go-to for years, but the chicken veggie pie at Breakaway Café is a new favorite and hard to beat on a cold winter night.

CPA: It’s a Saturday afternoon. Where would we find you?

AR: Gardening, if the season is right, or inside cooking or baking with my son.

CPA: What’s the most memorable performance you’ve ever seen (CPA or non-CPA)? Why?

AR: It is impossible to pick just one, so I will share the first few that come to mind: the US premiere of Toshi Reagon’s Parable of The Sower which we presented in Memorial Hall, singing at the top of my lungs all the way through a three-hour Bruce Springsteen concert about ten years ago in Greensboro (a.k.a. Steensboro), Akram Khan’s Until the Lions at the Holland Festival, and Karmina Šilec’s Toxic Psalms at St. Anne’s Warehouse presented by Prototype Festival.  I am lucky to say that the longer I think about it, the more truly memorable performances I recall, and hopefully CPA is causing that same “problem” for many people!

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?
Ocean.

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?
Inspiration.

Changing through Collective Creation

Engaging with Affordable Housing: The Musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?
Watermelon.

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?
Pool.

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

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?
Audience.

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