BFD of the Month: Sensoria Festival at CPCC

Courtesy, CPCC

Everyone's short on cash and time these days. If you have just one cultural outing this month, let it be our BFD. Actually, this month's BFD is dozens of events, all sponsored by CPCC as part of their annual arts festival. And most of them are free. It's like an all-you-can-eat cultural buffet! Eat up, Charlotte.

CPCC’s yearly celebration of the arts started seventeen years ago as a modest literary festival. But it’s grown to include music, visual arts, history, culture, food, and film.

 Yet storytelling remains at the heart of Sensoria.

The festival is democratic in the way it embraces all the arts (comic books are included along with opera) and in its pricing structure. Most events are free. Another example of its democracy: Established artists don’t hog the stage; aspiring artists get their chance to shine. 

So, while professional-caliber productions like Made in America: A Tribute to Gershwin and Bernstein and Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam are part of the schedule, you can also catch students in spoken word, open mic-style performances.

“We work hard to keep this festival free,” said Melissa Vrana, CPCC’s associate dean of arts, communication, and culinary arts. “It could be a significant revenue stream, but as educators, we’re adamant that Sensoria be our gift to the community.”

CPCC is able to offer most of the events free due to the involvement of their own professors and community sponsors. For instance, a grant from the Charlotte Area Education Consortium is funding the the most significant event of the festival — a visit from Renaissance man Russell Goings.

Goings played pro football, started the first black-owned firm to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and founded Essence magazine. He was a good friend to Charlotte-born Romare Bearden and owns the largest private collection of Bearden’s art.

He’s sharing his private collection of nearly thirty of Bearden’s pieces from April 13-30 in the Pease Gallery.

On the morning of April 18, Goings will discuss “Facing and Overcoming Adversity,” in which he’ll focus on his book of poetry, The Children of Children Keep Coming. His epic poem traces the history of blacks from the Middle Passage through slavery through the Civil Rights era. The work has been called an African-American version of The Odyssey.  Later that evening, he’ll deliver the festival’s keynote lecture. 

Other intriguing Sensoria events:  

Bechtler on Campus (April 16) pairs modern visual art with music. The concert is the brainchild of CPCC’s music and art departments and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. The music of Dr. Craig Bove, an emerging composer and CPCC professor, will be included alongside luminaries such as Philip Glass and Igor Stravinsky.

CPCC’s simulation and game development program will lead The Art of Immersion: A New Way of Telling Old Stories (April 16) and examine how social media, blogs, and video games are changing the way people share stories. Vrana said, “CPCC is one of the few colleges in the Southeast to have a motion capture studio. Students in our emerging technologies program create video games and mobile apps and operate computers with body motions instead of a mouse or keyboard – something that was widely considered science fiction when seen a few years ago in Minority Report.”

In From Grits to the Allman Brothers: Why America Looks to the South for Authentic Culture (April 17), a UNC professor explores what makes the South unique. That same day, food writer and culinary instructor Sandra Gutierrez will discuss her cookbook, The New Southern-Latino Table, and offer a live cooking demo and tasting.

The Early Music Consort (April 18) gives listeners a chance to hear instruments that haven’t been played much since the Renaissance. Find out what shawms, dulcians, and sackbuts sound like.

CPCC gained national attention in January when President Obama hailed the college’s workforce training in his State of the Union speech. A Slate article two days later lauded the college’s arts programs. “As a kid, I had occasion to visit one of CPCC’s six local campuses a number of times over the years—primarily as a young patron of the arts,” said writer J. Bryan Lowder. “They’re known … for having a wonderful theater program, and in the summer, camp and church groups cart in kids by the van-load to see My Fair Lady and similar fare.”

Vrana said people occasionally ask her, in reference to Sensoria, what the arts have to do with developing a trained workforce. “I tell them how important the arts are to the economy,” she said. “The arts are how you turn around a neighborhood in transition. Who moves to an emerging neighborhood first? It’s always the artists. At CPCC, we want to marry industry with the creative culture.”

That’s a story worth sharing.

Organizers expect between 6,000 and 8,000 people to attend events during the 2012 festival, which runs from April 13-21. For more information, visit  

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue