Artists in Residence

Creative Futures

In 2018, Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced Creative Futures, a new initiative funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, making possible a transformative vision of community engagement: collaborative creation in the arts that is informed by faculty research and driven by students. The grant is anchored by a cohort of four artists diverse in background, expertise, and form of artistic expression, each bringing a unique perspective as well as experience in social practice to the role: vocalist and performance artist Helga Davis, singer/songwriter Shara Nova, performer and writer Okwui Okpokwasili, and musician, curator, and producer Toshi Reagon.

This initiative has numerous opportunities for student involvement. Learn more here.

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The Creative Futures initiative features a series of multi-year artistic projects that engage artists, communities, faculty and students in co-creative partnerships. The four artists have assembled “triangular collaborations” that include partners from among UNC’s faculty who are engaged in community-based research as well as local partners in the community. These co-creative partnerships have led the Creative Futures artists toward identifying multi-year projects that will empower communities to express their creativity and channel relevant issues.

The artists made their first visits to UNC and CPA in fall 2018, and have continued to collaborate remotely and on site, working in partnership with Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures Christopher Massenburg, who says the fellowship “intentionally fosters collaboration among different communities of knowledge and insight that don’t always have the opportunity to work together.”

Discovery Through Iterative Learning

The Andrew W. Mellon Discovery Through Iterative Learning (DisTIL) Fellowship brings artists to Carolina Performing Arts and the UNC-Chapel Hill campus for multiple semesters. These unique residencies do not focus upon an individual performance. Instead, they bring the resources of the University’s faculty to inspire and inform artists’ artistic process.

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CPA’s Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellows collaborate with faculty in a department outside of their own area of expertise, providing them with the opportunity to gain new insights into the questions that they have been asking about their work and the world and, in return, inspire and inform artists’ artistic processes. At the same time, the DisTIL Fellow will bring the unique creativity and approach of the arts to the work of the faculty, helping push UNC faculty and students to look at their work with a new lens, and share their work with new audiences.

The DisTIL Fellowship extends over several semesters as a way to recognize that collaboration does not happen overnight. It requires many meetings and time to build the shared trust, respect, and vocabulary that can allow for artistic and intellectual exchanges to take place. DisTIL Fellows spend 2-3 years visiting campus, connecting with faculty, and sharing the results of their ideas and discussions with the wider community.

The Commons

The Commons Residency and Festival was founded in 2019. In 20/21, the Commons is going digital: the residency (awarded to four locally-based artists) took place in fall 2020, and the festival will stream digitally over four weekends starting January 29, 2021, featuring the artists’ performances and “Shop Talks,” a new roundtable discussion series (learn more).

The goal of the Commons is to strengthen the performing arts activities of the Triangle, North Carolina area as a site of community, discussion, hospitality, and process. A “commons” is defined as “land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community.” In an ideal community, each member contributes resources to a shared pool; these pooled resources, in turn, benefit each individual.

This Year's Fellows

Rhiannon Giddens

Southern Futures at CPA
Beginning in spring 2022, GRAMMY and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens joins CPA in a three-year research residency at the core of Southern Futures…

Culture Mill

Southern Futures at CPA
A performing arts laboratory based in the village of Saxapahaw, North Carolina, Culture Mill is led by founders Tommy Noonan and Murielle Elizéon, dancers and choreographers with more than 35 combined years…


In summer 2018, Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull (known together as Flutronix), began a two-year residency at Carolina Performing Arts, to create the project…

Shara Nova

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence
With the collaboration of Helga Davis, also a CPA Creative Futures fellow, Shara Nova is developing a new work titled Ocean Body. An interactive…

Helga Davis

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence
As part of her Creative Futures fellowship at Carolina Performing Arts, Helga Davis is developing a podcast series featuring conversations with select local researchers,…

Okwui Okpokwasili

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence
Okwui Okpokwasili is building a collective sonic practice as part of her Creative Futures residency, which revolves around the question “What do you carry,…

Toshi Reagon

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artist-in-Residence
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…

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