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AUGUST 2005
NEW ERA FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS DAWNS FOR CAROLINA, THIS COMMUNITY
By Chancellor James Moeser The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for The Chapel Hill Herald

 

I trained as an organist but know that one doesn’t have to be a musician to appreciate the attributes of a fine performance in a great hall. Get ready, neighbors! Stellar performances at a state-of-the-art yet classic hall in your own backyard are close enough to touch.

There is extra excitement on campus as classes prepare to begin Tuesday. Historic Memorial Hall, a performance space completed in 1931, reopens next week after three years and $18 million of renovation and expansion.

Structurally and programmatically, Memorial Hall anchors a new era for the performing arts at Carolina, something we’re calling “A Movement to Greatness.” The season that launches with a gala opening weekend Sept. 8-11 boasts more than 40 performances featuring everything from classical, American roots and jazz music to jazz, ballet and modern dance; internationally-acclaimed puppeteers and symphony orchestras – more than 700 performers in all.

Personally, I can’t wait for the season to begin. And I hope you and your family can be with us to celebrate this renaissance in the performing arts at the nation’s first public university and this state’s flagship university.

The richness of this community is enhanced by a strong performing arts program. Indeed, the performing arts and Carolina’s planned Arts Common in the area of campus bordered by Franklin and Columbia streets to the north and east and Country Club and Cameron to the east and south provides a gateway to the University and a connection to the larger community. Our award-winning campus master plan positions Memorial Hall as the centerpiece for an Arts Common incorporating Playmakers Theater, Gerrard Hall, the Ackland Art Museum, and a planned music building and concert hall.

We are grateful for the extensive involvement by community leaders in our vision for the arts common. And we appreciate the high level of interest being shown by downtown merchants and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in capitalizing on the reopening of Memorial. It’s a great opportunity for us all.

The new Memorial will be officially dedicated in a 1 p.m. ceremony and open house on Sept. 8. Then the gala weekend commences with performances by Tony Bennett, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Leonard Slatkin and the North Carolina Symphony. There will be a few surprises, too!

Anyone who enjoyed a performance or a commencement in Memorial Hall previously will remember – perhaps not so fondly – a dearth of restrooms and air-conditioning that consisted of open windows on either side of the auditorium.

Not to worry. The renovations bring with them central air conditioning and expanded restroom space.

Access and comfort outside the hall, too, are a priority. Parking is often challenging on college campuses and in quaint downtowns. The situation is no different here in Chapel Hill. With that in mind, administrators from the Town of Chapel Hill and the University have been collaborating for months to make parking available nearby Memorial on campus and off.

We hope many patrons will enjoy dinner in Chapel Hill or Carrboro before taking in a performance at Memorial Hall and we want to make both experiences as enjoyable and effortless as possible.

As we are doing with projects across the campus, we’ve expanded this treasure with an eye toward sustainability. Rather than throw away the old seats, at least 300 of them found a new home in a different theatre. A basement was dug to accommodate dressing rooms and mechanical equipment, in order to keep footprint expansion to a minimum. Indeed this new day at Memorial marries state-of-the-art lighting and sound with special touches from this great hall’s past, among them a chandelier and four new “baby” chandeliers to match it. The stone markers memorializing those who came before Memorial’s opening and those who helped to make its birth a reality have been restored and displayed prominently in the lobby and side hallways. And the names of many new donors who’ve made this hall’s renovation reality join them in the lobby.

If you’ve not been to campus in a while or are on campus daily but have missed having a lively performance arts life here, the wait is indeed over.

Memorial’s new box office is open and season packages remain available. Tickets to individual performances go on sale tomorrow (Aug. 29). For more information, visit www.unc.edu/performingarts.

“Carolina Performs” – the third opening weekend event – is a free, daylong celebration highlighting the spectrum of student talent on our campus, from jazz combos and string quartets to rock bands, theatrics, comedy acts and dance. I’ll be kicking things off at 2 p.m., but you and your family are invited to drop by at any point between then and 11 p.m. You just may catch a rising star!

I hope you’ll join your friends and neighbors in this celebration of the performing arts. Perhaps I’ll see you at an intermission soon. Enjoy the show!

James Moeser is the ninth chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers may reach Moeser at jmoeser@unc.edu or find him enjoying every free moment taking in performances at Memorial Hall.





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