Located at the heart of the University’s historic campus, Memorial Hall is CPA’s largest venue, home to theater and dance productions, orchestral concerts, and much more. Originally built in 1885, it was renovated in 2005 and reopened for the inaugural season of Carolina Performing Arts.
In 1883, when lack of space in Gerrard Hall prevented adequate seating for commencement, plans were quickly drawn for a much larger building. This building would serve as a memorial to David Lowry Swain (former N.C. governor and past president of UNC), to other notable North Carolinians, and to the students, faculty and staff who lost their lives in the line of duty.
Funds were raised by the sale of marble tablets commemorating those individuals and the Hall was dedicated in 1885. In 1929, it was discovered that the building was structurally unsound and the hall was condemned and razed.
In 1931, the current building, retaining the name Memorial Hall, opened its doors with the original marble tablets covering the new walls. For more than 70 years, the building served the campus and community well. But as the University grew and the needs of patrons and performers evolved over time, it became quite clear that a major overhaul of the old cultural gem was necessary.
Memorial Hall’s doors closed April 20, 2002 after the Clef Hangers spring concert and the three-year $18 million transformation began, funded through a partnership between the State of North Carolina and hundreds of generous donors.
When Memorial Hall was re-opened in 2005, the University expanded the remembrance to all members of the University community who lost their lives while on active duty serving their country. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 8, 2005, the grand opening weekend included performances by the NC Symphony, Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Leonard Slatkin, and Carolina Performs: A Student Performing Arts Celebration in the newly dedicated Beasley-Curtis Auditorium.
As of 2020, Carolina Performing Arts has made a request to the Commission on Race, History and a Way Forward to offer visitors context on the building’s history and its marble tablets, as well as to consider the presence and placement of those markers going forward.
CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio
CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, CPA’s immersive arts venue and studio space, opened to the public in February 2018. Located in the new Carolina Square mixed-use development on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill, CURRENT connects campus and community via the arts.
CURRENT’s 7,000-square-foot state-of-the-art space features an adaptable black box-style theater and a multi-purpose studio. In addition to hosting immersive performances and installations by cutting-edge artists, CURRENT serves as the physical and intellectual home for our DisTIL Fellows and artists-in-residence to collaborate with faculty, students and the community. Visitors can find everything from artist talks to post-performance gatherings, workshops, and other artistic and community events.
Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall
Located in Hill Hall, the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium is home to recitals and other intimate performances by world-class artists and ensembles. The cornerstone for the original building was laid on June 1, 1907. Funded by Andrew Carnegie, the building served as the University’s first consolidated library. In 1918-19, it even served as headquarters for Carolina Playmakers when Thomas Wolfe was a member. The music department moved to the building in 1930, and it was renamed Hill Hall for the late John Sprunt Hill, a UNC alumnus, and his family.
The historic heart of the music department in the College of Arts and Sciences, Hill Hall received a multi-million dollar renovation in 2016. Work centered on improvements to Hill Hall’s rotunda and 450-seat auditorium. The auditorium was renamed the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in honor of the former chancellor and his wife.
Originally intended to serve as a “New Chapel” when it was completed in 1837, Gerrard Hall has since played host to writer Langston Hughes, slave poet George Moses Horton, and three presidents of the United States, including Carolina alumnus James K. Polk.
In 1993 the N.C. General Assembly met here in honor of the University’s Bicentennial. Movie fans may recognize Gerrard from Patch Adams, which had a prominent scene filmed here.
A major renovation of Gerrard Hall, including restoration of its beautiful Greek Revival portico, was completed in November 2007. Central air conditioning was installed and the buildings exterior repaired. The facility now includes a built-in sound system and projector with retractable screen.
The building features a U-shaped balcony with fixed seating and room for movable seating on the lower level. Total seating is 380 (187 in the upper level and 193 in the lower level). Standing receptions of up to 200 people may be accommodated on the lower level.
Gerrard Hall is located on East Cameron Avenue between Memorial Hall and South Building, near the Old Well and the Campus Y.
Historic Playmakers Theatre
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Completed in 1851, Historic Playmakers Theatre was intended to serve as a combination library and ballroom. The Greek Revival building was originally called Smith Hall in honor of Benjamin Smith, special aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and a former Governor of North Carolina. Smith donated land to the University, which was sold to finance construction.
Since then, Historic Playmakers Theatre has, at one time or another, hosted the Universitys Law School; performers including Carolina alumni Thomas Wolfe and Andy Griffith; and according to legend, Union cavalry horses who may have been stabled here in the latter weeks of the Civil War.
Historic Playmakers Theatre is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest building on campus dedicated to the arts. Visitors will notice a modification to the Corinthian capitals on the building’s portico made by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who substituted North Carolinian staple crops wheat and corn in lieu of the traditional acanthus leaves.
The theatre lay dormant for four years awaiting much needed repairs. It reopened for events beginning in November 2010 after an interior upgrade funded by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Executive Director for the Arts.
As part of the upgrade, the interior of the building was painted, the auditorium floor refinished and new audience seats, curtains and stage lighting and sound systems were installed. The building seats approximately 240 and is well-suited for performances and lectures.
The interior upgrade was sufficient to make the building ready for use again, though the improvements are short of a full renovation. Currently, the stage and backstage facilities are not accessible to persons in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. There is no air conditioning, dressing rooms or restrooms in the facility (restrooms in nearby buildings are available for use).
Historic Playmakers Theatre is located on East Cameron Avenue next to South Building and across the street from Old East.