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Carrie Mae Weems will be Carolina Performing Arts' artist in residence

Weems is well-known for her photography focusing on social issues within the African-American community. She has been on campus since Monday and spoke at a town hall Wednesday in the Campus Y.

“I want to activate the community to sort of ask themselves a set of serious questions about the role of art in society and what it means to be a democratic society and a progressive society,” Weems said. “That’s the work.”

Aaron Shackelford, director of engagement at Carolina Performing Arts, said he hopes having Weems on campus will help generate important discussions about issues on campus and abroad.

“We knew Carrie’s work and we were already admirers,” Shackelford said. “At Carolina Performing Arts, we really believe in the impact and power of artists to create and drive those conversations. The opportunity to bring her to campus and facilitate those conversations was one we wanted to explore.”

Jina Valentine, an assistant professor in the art department, is helping organize the artist residency.

“Carrie will be working across departments to work with us to curate performances, symposiums, exhibitions,” Valentine said, “But she’s also very interested in how to involve students from other classes on campus in conversations on power and social justice.”

Weems said a big part of her goal is to generate civic activism across the entire campus.

“I love when people think about things,” Weems said. “Art and social engagement doesn’t have to be this sort of boring, snobby, left-wingy, dull, ‘rah, rah, chant, chant’ wave the banners. It can be comedy, it can be poetry, it can be silence, it can be dance and choreography.”

Shackelford said Carolina Performing Arts will meet at the end of the week to devise a more specific plan for Weems’ stay going forward.

Weems said she is happy to have the opportunity to work with the UNC community.

“I’m very excited to be here on this historic campus in this part of the country,” Weems said. “It’s absolutely beautiful here and they have some extraordinary resources — it is so important to the rest of the country, so to be here and have access to resources, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m really happy to be working with the performing arts center, but also with the larger community here at UNC to figure out inventive and dynamic ways to really activate the entire campus.”

During the town hall, Weems asked students to think deeply about decisions they are making in regard to their career.

“I do the work that I do because I can’t help myself,” Weems said. “It’s not a project, it’s not concern. It’s a way of life, it’s a philosophy, it’s a moral compass for me and I’m guided by that.”

She encouraged artists to use their creativity for specific causes.

“The thing that separates people that have made a conscious decision to work at this intersection of art and civic dialogue, is you’ve made a conscious decision to use your artistic expression, to use modes of production in service in something that’s very specific,” she said. “I think of that in terms of the constant push for a deeper democracy.”

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