Mark Nelson, Carolina Performing Arts director of marketing and communications, took the flag to N’Dour, who wore the flag as a cape and ran around the stage.
“I got goose bumps because it just feels right,” Nelson said.
Carolina Performing Arts has brought nearly 500 performances to the Chapel Hill community in the past nine years. The acts range from traditional symphonies to regulars like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but every season also hosts a mix of popular and less familiar acts.
More than 300 student tickets are reserved for each performance. Each student ticket costs $10, and there are free tickets for Carolina Covenant Scholars. Student tickets are only capped for certain performances that sell out quickly.
Emil Kang, CPA executive and artistic director, said he has had people telling him that the programs can be too weird or strange. But it’s part of his vision for CPA — to widen horizons and promote curiosity.
“My fantasy world is that people feel as much excitement about something they don’t know as they do something they already know,” Kang said. “The only way to do that or even have a chance of that coming true is always doing things that are different and not worrying about who it’s for.”
Kang travels nearly every three weeks to build relationships with performers around the world. Shantala Shivalingappa, an acclaimed Indian dancer based in Paris, was one of the performers that he approached.
“In Paris, she sold out 3,000 seats — why should she come here when she can go to (the) Kennedy Center?” he said. “I have a vision and they want to be part of the big idea. The point is that you can see the value of trying not just this, but everything — you want to encourage a generation of people who are excited about trying.”
Durham resident Kate Dobbs Ariail has been coming to Memorial Hall for decades. She said she appreciates CPA for bringing in world-class acts as well as innovative performances such as Taylor Mac, who was named the best cabaret performer in New York.
“Taylor Mac drew a much younger crowd, and they had a different appreciation of what (Mac) did than older people who were not as used to being put upon in that way,” she said. “It’s part of the University’s role to broaden people’s minds.”
She said she knows students who aren’t fully utilizing their opportunities in having CPA on campus.
“You may have a form of music you like better, but you don’t know that until you’ve heard some different kinds,” Ariail said.
The unreached group of students is Nelson’s target. He said he used to be one of them.
“I think of myself growing up — we didn’t have something like Memorial Hall so close to us,” Nelson said. “When I was in college I may have been a little intimidated by this, thinking that this is not for me, and I know there are students on campus who feel the same way.”
But Nelson hopes that students can use their college experience to expand their horizons.
“You learn new things, and you meet new people,” he said. “This small town becomes a little bit bigger.”