Today we are profiling CPA Postdoctoral Fellow, Aaron Shackelford. If you are looking for Aaron, you won’t find him at his desk. He’s often out and about on campus meeting with faculty, teaching Carolina’s best and brightest, or guiding CPA artists to their next classroom engagement. Aaron directs activities for Arts@TheCore, CPA’s initiative to bring arts to the heart of Carolina’s academic mission. He coordinates artist residencies, classroom visits, masterclasses, lectures and workshops…you name it! Below, he shares with us some of his favorite CPA memories, what he’s up to now, and his personal connection to the arts.
How long have you been working for Carolina Performing Arts?
I’ve been at CPA since January 2013. I’ve been working with CPA for many years before that, coordinating programs that brought Honors Carolina students to performances and talking with artists, as well as developing their performance experiences.
Do you have a favorite CPA performance?
Nederlands Dans Theater has always been my favorite company to visit CPA. Their performances inspire deep and beautiful emotions, with a combination of meticulous choreography that interacts with compelling staging and haunting musical choices. When an artist makes me literally catch my breath in fear, and then in awe of the beauty of their movements and imagery, that is my favorite experience in Memorial Hall or anywhere else.
If you could play any instrument what would it be and why?
The piano, of course. Because whenever I see a piano in public I always wish somebody would sit down and start playing a tune.
What’s something exciting you are working on right now?
Right now I?m working on a lot of events that will make April an exciting month for students. We have two master classes for dancers, with Martha Graham Dance Company and Kyle Abraham. Musicians from the English Baroque soloists will also hold a joint master class in performance with UNC music students, and then a showcase of students from four different courses who have been collaborating all semester to create their own artistic responses to CPA performances. After that I hit the bricks all across campus to talk with faculty about next season, which I can say is going to be a dynamic year.
Do you have a favorite or funny CPA memory?
We were running late, and I had the responsibility of getting Dorrance Dance — one of the premiere tap dancing companies — to Top of the Hill in time for dinner. They are a fun and gregarious group, always generous with their time and willing to talk to everyone. After a post-performance talk, they made sure to make time for every one of their fans.
I had finally gotten them out of Memorial Hall, and walking down Cameron towards dinner. Ten minutes until the kitchen closes! We’re going to make it!
And then…for the first and only time in my ten years in Chapel Hill…I see two buskers tap dancing in front of the Ackland. Of course the folks from Dorrance are thrilled. They stop, they dance, they talk, and an impromptu dance session breaks out right there on the sidewalk. That is what makes the arts, and artists, so compelling, this instant camaraderie and connection purely through dance.
And somehow we made it in time for dinner, too.
What do the arts mean to you?
I believe that the arts provide the only means to truly express our emotions and experiences. They allow us to represent trauma and ecstasy, love and violence, boredom and uncertainty. Those encounters hold true for both artists in the midst of creating their work, and audiences who approach art both familiar and strange.
I believe the arts are important because they give us access to these experiences. They enable us to become better at creativity, analysis, empathy, and comprehension. For both my work and my life, the arts provide a means to make connections with the world. I mean this in both a literal sense — the arts provide a way to process what it means to live — and in the metaphorical world of academic research and ideas.
Too often, I think do we try to impose narratives upon our world. We like to tell too many stories to make what we see fit into a handy framework. Yet the world does not operate that way, and the arts allow us — invite us — to dive into the messy, impressionistic, non-narrative realities of life.