The Commons is a place to think together. It’s a place to get to know people and share experiences with friends and strangers. The Commons is bridging the gap between UNC and the greater Chapel Hill arts community, filling a need that has been present for too long.
Alex Ripp, a postdoctoral fellow with Carolina Performing Arts, came up with the idea for The Commons after noticing people’s strong desire for affordable space, arts criticism, and a more cohesive arts community in Chapel Hill. The Commons is about “both CPA and local artists coming together to share resources, and audiences.”
Three artists or groups of artists were selected by a panel of reviewers to participate in this inaugural event. Megan Yankee will perform a new excerpt of Qué gringa, que gringa; Justin Tornow was selected to show her Performance as a Responsive Practice; and Eb. Brown, Daniel Coleman, Joie Lou Shakur were selected for their Nu Mas(k)ulinities.
Each artist/group of artists will have a free, 20-hour per week residency at CURRENT Artspace + Studio from May 7-29, which will culminate in a three-day festival on May 30-June 1. The festival will include performances, workshops, and other interactive elements to connect the artists to the community.
“What I always envisioned was that it was going to be a hub of activity,” Ripp said. “There will be all sorts of art and ways to engage with art that anybody can tap into if they have a sense of adventure.”
One of the most integral elements of The Commons is that engagement with the community, which is why the selected artists will be sharing their studio time with a locally-based artist of their choosing. Ripp said she hopes this will help forge new relationships within the community.
Amanda Graham, the associate director of engagement at Carolina Performing Arts, has been working with Ripp on The Commons for almost a year. “The Commons is a place to think together,” she said. “People coming together to have debates and open discourse.”
Since opening last February, CURRENT has had a mission to host engaging events around performances, Graham said, making them a more immersive experience for audience and artists alike, and The Commons is furthering that goal.
“All of the artists that are involved in The Commons are interested in breaking the fourth wall,” she said. This nontraditional performance element challenges the relationship between the performers and the audience, creating a fresh, engaging experience.
This is the first time Carolina Performing Arts has ever done a locally-based artist festival.
“It is a moment to witness a change in the organization and a moment to get on board with thinking through how our programming and engagement will be shaped in tandem with the community,” Graham said. “The more we can work with students, and other faculty members and staff and administrators to recognize that we are part of the arts ecosystem of this area, the better. “
Ripp echoed this, saying that The Commons is for everyone, especially because the artists involved are addressing relevant social questions and concerns of this area, such as immigration, black masculinity, community building, and participation.
“Whether or not you are an arts person, these things should matter to all of us,” she said. “The Commons is a chance to see how art fits into societal concerns and how art can help work toward change.”
Find out more about The Commons and the selected artists at https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/artsthecore/artists-in-residence/the-commons-2019/.