Carolina Performing Arts Announces Artist Fellows for Creative Futures Initiative Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Carolina Performing Arts has named the four artists in residence for Creative Futures, the largest Mellon Foundation-funded initiative at CPA to date, which was announced in July 2018. The newly named cohort is diverse in background, expertise, and form of artistic expression, each bringing a unique perspective as well as experience in social practice to the role. The artists are vocalist and performance artist Helga Davis, singer/songwriter Shara Nova, performer and writer Okwui Okpokwasili, and musician, curator, and producer Toshi Reagon

“We are humbled and thrilled to welcome Ms. Davis, Ms. Nova, Ms. Okpokwasili, and Ms. Reagon as Creative Futures fellows,” said Emil Kang, artistic and executive director of Carolina Performing Arts. “One of the primary goals of Creative Futures is to support endeavors that invest in the community and its residents, and that will thrive long beyond the life of the grant. I am confident that these artists will help us achieve our goals to be a catalyst for change and support meaningful, transformative work, on stage or otherwise.”

The four artists will work as team organizers, assembling “triangular collaborations” that include partners from among UNC’s faculty who are engaged in community-based research, and local partners in the community. Through these co-creative partnerships, they will identify multi-year projects that will empower communities to express their creativity and channel relevant issues. In addition to working with their respective teams, the artists will form a supportive working group together. They have collectively expressed their excitement at finding ways to support local communities and discover new models of collaboration, and the time and support that this grant secures for the creation of groundbreaking work. The artists will make their first visits to UNC and CPA in fall 2018.

Helga Davis is a vocalist and performance artist, and author of the evening-length piece Cassandra, completed under a 2014 BRIC Media Arts Fireworks Grant. An artist in residence at National Sawdust, she hosts the eponymous podcast HELGA, and is the 2018-19 visiting curator for the performing arts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. Davis has appeared many times on the CPA season, most recently in two projects helmed by fellow Creative Futures artists-in-residence: Shara Nova’s You Us We All (2015/16) and in Toshi Reagon’s adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (2017/18). She will also appear in Lives of the Performers, a work-in-progress reading of the forthcoming play by Hilton Als, on November 16 and 17 at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. Ms. Davis said that “Creating bonds, and the ability for groups of people to engage with and hold vulnerability, anger, and love,” are chief among the lasting impacts she hopes her work with Creative Futures will have.

In thinking about opportunities created by the grant’s unique format, Shara Nova(formerly Shara Worden), remarked that what is most valuable to her is “Time…Time to ask each other questions. Time to deeply listen. Time to discuss possibilities, and the financial support to not only dream together as artists in community, but the opportunity to make the dream manifest.” Nova is the founder of the chamber pop band My Brightest Diamond, whose next album is set to be released in November 2018. She has composed works for yMusic, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, Brooklyn Rider, Nadia Sirota and Roomful of Teeth, among others. Her orchestrations have been performed by the North Carolina Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, American Composers Orchestra and the BBC Concert orchestra. Her baroque chamber opera You Us We All came to CPA in the 2015/16 season. Nova is a Kresge Fellow, Knights Grant recipient and a United States Artists fellow. 

Okwui Okpokwasili is an award-winning artist who works in multidisciplinary performance. She is the author and choreographer of the Bessie Award-winning original works, Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance and Bronx Gothic. Okpokwasili was a 2015-2017 Randjelovic/Stryker Resident Commissioned Artist for New York Live Arts, as well as the recipient of the 2016 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council President’s Award for Performing Arts. In 2016, she created the performance installation when I return who will receive me? in collaboration with Peter Born at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival. Their latest works were Poor People’s TV Room and the installation Sitting on A Man’s Head for the 10th Berlin Biennale. She has an ongoing collaborative partnership with Peter Born and has performed in works by Ralph Lemon and Nora Chipaumire. Okpokwasili will appear with Davis in Lives of the Performers at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. She is currently a Hodder Fellow at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts. She is a United States Artist Fellow, a recipient of a 2014 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award, a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award, a Herb Alpert Award and a Creative Capital Award. She is also a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Looking ahead to her work under Creative Futures, she said, “I am really looking forward to working in a comprehensive way to explore how a performance practice can build lasting bonds of kinship between diverse communities.”

Toshi Reagon is a singer, composer, musician, curator, activist, and producer. In addition to touring as a solo artist, she performs with her band Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely, who will appear on CPA’s 2018/19 season, on April 13th at Memorial Hall. Reagon is the composer and librettist of the opera Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which had its U.S. premiere on CPA’s 2017/18 season. In 2011, Reagon created the annual event Word* Rock* & Sword: A Festival Exploration of Women’s Lives. She is the composer and music director for Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project, which came to CPA in 2014. In 2015, Reagon was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow. She is also in the final year of her Mellon Foundation DisTIL fellowship with Carolina Performing Arts. Of the opportunity to continue working with the local community through Creative Futures, Reagon said, “The Triangle is so powerful—such a heartbeat for our country…. If you show up here and you show that you are willing to stand in the circle and contribute, people meet you, in small ways and in big ways.” 

The grant will also fund a project director, who will oversee the initiative and support stakeholders. The search for this named position (Rothwell Program Director for Creative Futures), in recognition of a private gift from CPA board member Sharon Rothwell and Doug Rothwell, is open until October 18, 2018.

Read more about the Creative Futures initiative, funded by a $1.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This funding makes a transformative vision of community engagement possible: collaborative creation in the arts that is informed by faculty research and driven by students.

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