Arts & Humanities

Carolina Performing Arts announces ‘Southern Futures’

The initiative will produce new works, collaborations and research on social justice and racial equity in the American South with internationally celebrated musician Rhiannon Giddens in a three-year residency.

Grammy and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens will begin a three-year residency at Carolina Performing Arts in the spring of 2022.
Grammy and MacArthur Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens will begin a three-year residency at Carolina Performing Arts in the spring of 2022. (Image courtesy of Carolina Performing Arts)

Carolina Performing Arts announced “Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts” on Aug. 24, an initiative that meets a 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, a collaborative initiative of the College of Arts & Sciences, University Libraries, Carolina Performing Arts and The Center for the Study of the American South.

“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 at Carolina Performing Arts, 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 at Carolina Performing Arts, 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 at Carolina Performing Arts is a key component of Southern Futures. The larger initiative helps people 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 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 at CPA — 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 at Carolina Performing Arts.

In using the arts to amplify the larger Southern Futures initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill, Southern Futures at Carolina Performing Arts aligns with key initiatives in the chancellor’s strategic plan, 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 Carolina, 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.”