Alison Friedman


By Laurie Paolicelli

Alison Friedman, Executive and Artistic Director at Carolina Performing Arts.

Alison Friedman embodies the creative spirit of the arts in every possible way, from her philosophy and vast experience, right down to her manner, look and street cred. As Executive and Artistic Director at Carolina Performing Arts in Chapel Hill, it’s hard to imagine a better fit.

She’s been hard at work for quite a while now, not only here but in far-flung cities across the world. Yet her fresh face, her whimsical attire, and her megawatt smile gives the appearance of someone who could just as easily be relaxing in the audience, rather than sweating away at the helm of it all.

Alison Friedman.

Friedman became the James and Susan Moeser Executive and Artistic Director at Carolina Performing Arts in October of 2021, just as the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic further postponed in-person performances — a challenging space for a performing arts organization to be in. Friedman was up to the challenge. She made plans for what came next. She is always a step ahead.

Before coming to Carolina, she was artistic director for performing arts for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest arts and cultural developments. Before that she was founder and Executive and Creative Director of Ping Pong Productions, a pioneering nonprofit performing arts exchange organization based in Beijing annually presenting more than 250 performances and outreach events across five continents.

AAADTs Michael Jackson Jr. and Sarah Daley Perdomo. Photo by Dario Calmese.

Individually and as a community we continue to experience and grieve the political and humanitarian strife endured by peoples across the world. In this fraught arena where our differences are highlighted, the arts serve as a beacon illuminating the heart of who we really are, beautifully rendering a truth we too often take for granted: we’re more alike than we are different. This is Alison’s siren call.

“My career has been about using the arts to build bridges between cultures, between people, to show us sides of each other that we don’t see through the press, through politics or through business. The arts can do that like nothing else. Beijing, China’s sprawling capital, has history stretching back three millennia. Yet it’s known as much for modern architecture as its ancient sites such as the grand Forbidden City complex, the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties.”

Dorrance Nutcracker Suite.

Under Friedman’s leadership, Carolina Performing Arts is committed to the exploration of reimagined classics. Dance fans will love Dorrance Dance’s new interpretation of the “Nutcracker Suite,” scheduled for Dec. 13. This original take on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s interpretation of the Tchaikovsky favorite promises to provide soul and spirit in equal measure. The performance will pair well with a Dec. 9 visit from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis — a cherished holiday tradition.

Jazz at Lincoln Center with Winston Marsalis.

On Feb. 2, CPA will partner with the UNC music department’s State Department-funded hip-hop diplomacy initiative, Next Level. The following evening, celebrated pianist Lara Downes and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove will present “Tomorrow I May Be Far Away,” their cross-genre collaboration highlighting stories of migration and transformation.

A week later, on Feb. 10, “The Old Man and the Sea” will arrive in Chapel Hill. This Paola Prestini opera, co-commissioned by CPA, combines elements of Hemingway’s novel with original portraits of daily life to examine age-old questions on art and passion.

Then, from Feb. 22-24, audiences can witness another CPA co-commission: “Weathering,” choreographer Faye Driscoll’s latest work. This living, multisensory sculpture uses bodies, sounds, scents and more, inviting audiences to explore the forces that shape human existence.

In February they’ll have the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to look forward to, followed by the Martha Graham Dance Company, in April, premiering a newly commissioned collaboration between Southern Futures Artist-in-Residence Rhiannon Giddens and former Ailey dancer-choreographer Jamar Roberts.

The season features visits from acclaimed musicians too, including pianists Aaron Diehl and Clara Yang (Jan. 26); and Grammy Award-winning vocalist Arooj Aftab (March 23). Additionally, on March 26, Rhianna Giddens will team up with Martha Redbone, Pura Fé and Charly Lowry for an evening of performances that center on belonging from the perspective of Indigenous artists.

Piedmont Laureate Dasan Ahanu presents Writin’ Dirty: Southern Lyricism and Storytelling on March 7, 2024.

This is a stunning slate of offerings. Over the past 18 years, Carolina Performing Arts has been offering opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to experience critically acclaimed, global performances typically available only in the capitals of the world. The CPA moves on, from a triumphant past to an even more promising future. Clearly, Alison Friedman — the globe-trotting cultural and artistic impresario of bridge building — is the ideal bridge herself.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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