UNC system institutions receive NEA funding to further arts studies

Five University of North Carolina system institutions are receiving more than $200,000 in grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to create programming relating to music, art, theatre, literature and education in 2017 and 2018.

Appalachian State University is receiving two NEA grants for the university’s Black and Global Banjo Roots program. The university will receive $100,000 to support Black and Global Banjo Roots concerts and workshops by bringing in local and national musicians and scholars to engage students. In addition, Appalachian will work with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and the Global South Seminar to create cultural exchanges through music across the state.

The project is spearheaded by Cece Conway, a professor of Appalachian and American literature, who has coordinated the grant with anthropologist James Peacock and Mark Freed, an adjunct professor of Appalachian music.

Neva Specht, dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences said the culture of banjo playing and Appalachian music is important to Boone’s cultural identity.

“Roots music here, there’s just so much of it that people have a great appreciation for it,” Specht said. “It gives students a chance to interact first-hand with musicians, as well as bring in Appalachian musicians who might not otherwise be recognized for their work. They might not think people are paying attention to their work, but when they come to campus and see how in awe the students are of their work, they feel great about what they do.”

Mark Freed, the programs coordinator for the Town of Boone Cultural Resources Department and an adjunct music professor at Appalachian, said the grants have helped bring in international artists to the area to teach young students as well as conduct master classes for instructors.

“The grants also fund our ongoing concert series,” he said. “We hold indoor concerts in winter, fall and spring and an outdoor concert in summer. It also helps fund our music lessons program so that students can learn from these artists, and it costs less than $5 per lesson. The instructors are able to teach group lessons in the style of their tradition.”

Appalachian also is receiving a $25,000 NEA grant to support a series of programs that explore how banjo and fiddle music has been influenced by the interactions of various cultures, including African, African-American, Native American, French and Judaic groups.

“I’m really proud of what Cece has done,” Specht said. “There are not a ton of places you can go for funding for this, and she’s been very successful getting funding. She’s able to keep pushing this program forward, and that’s a great thing.”

Said Freed: “The banjo is an important instrument to this region. There are similarities to the banjos we make here and to their African forerunners. We try to highlight the many cultures involved.”

Other NEA grants awarded to UNC programs are:

  • UNC-Chapel Hill ($50,000): The grant will support the production by the PlayMakers Repertory Company – “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath and “Tartuffe” by Moliere. Both plays focus on religious figures and the communities who believe in them. The plays are designed to facilitate a community-wide discussion of faith through theatre, including panels with scholars and religious groups.
  • Western Carolina University ($25,000): The grant supports the presentation of the traveling exhibition “Return from Exile: Contemporary Southeastern Indian Art” and a related symposium. The exhibition will present more than 40 works from 30 artists, representing five tribes – the Creek, the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Seminoles – who were forced to leave the southeast in the 1830s as part of the Indian Removal Act. The exhibition includes drawing, painting, printmaking, basketry, sculpture and pottery.
  • East Carolina University ($20,000): This grant will fund a study on the social and economic impact of a glassblowing studio in Farmville. The studio, called GlasStation, is a former service station in Farmville’s historic district that has been repurposed as a glassblowing studio and education center. ECU began teaching courses there in January.
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington ($10,000): The grant supports the publication and promotion of the journal “Ecotone” and related activities. The journal features art and writing that reimagines place, and a planned issue will explore the theme of craft and artisanship of all kinds.

In addition, the North Carolina Black Repertory Company is receiving a $50,000 NEA grant for its biennial theatre festival, which will be held in conjunction with Winston-Salem State University and the Black Theatre Network. The festival will include academic presentations and provide artists with the opportunity to perform, network and collaborate.

To qualify for an NEA grant, an individual or organization must apply through the NEA, which announces its winners twice a year.

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu said. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as the University of North Carolina in serving their communities by providing excellent and accessible arts experiences.”