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CFCC's Humanities and Fine Arts Center Partnering with DPAC, Carolina Theatre, and Local Arts Venues

Cape Fear Community College
artist rendering of CFCC's Humanities and Fine Arts Center

Cape Fear Community College opens the inaugural season of its Humanities and Fine Arts Center in October with a performance by the North Carolina Symphony.  Although the orchestra shell is not yet installed and the seats are wrapped in plastic, the area’s newest and largest performance venue is already starting to build an army of volunteers in an innovative way. 

But when asked whether further performances of the North Carolina Symphony will populate the HFAC season, Director Shane Fernando says the ink is not yet dry on the contracts.        


RLH:   Is the North Carolina Symphony is going to make the Humanities and Fine Arts Center its Wilmington home?

SF:  They have not made that announcement yet.  They have been exploring.  And it’s interesting because they sent out a survey to their membership and it was amazing seeing that a great number of them had not come downtown to a performance in many years.  That includes Thalian Hall which is astounding.  Many of them remember downtown 20 years ago – 30 years ago.  Obviously, it is a much different place. 

But then also in the response, over three-quarters – over 75% -- said that they would definitely come downtown for the performance and there was less than 9% who said that they would not.  So within that range, there are great number of people who don’t come downtown for performances who are now open to it. 

RLH:  And that leads right to the question – we had a discussion on CoastLine several months ago about the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, and you and Tony Rivenbark were talking about collaboration.  There’s been some well-placed trepidation on the part of other venues in this community.  What is this new building going to mean for them and for their ticket sales?  The North Carolina Symphony has traditionally been at Kenan, so what will this mean for a venue like Kenan?

SF:  Each venue’s going to have to do some soul-searching in terms of what their mission is for the community, and each venue does have a different area – a different place of service for our community.  A program that would be on Thalian Hall’s stage would not work on our stage where it would not work on Kenan’s stage and vice versa. 

And there was a lot of concern – I guess, just to draw an analogy – when DPAC was being built – this major performance venue in the heart of downtown Durham – about four blocks away from the historic theater – Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham.  And Carolina Theatre was not as financially healthy as Thalian Hall.  It had been running in the red for many years.  And actually both venues made a commitment to each other to work together.  And within a couple of years of DPAC opening, Carolina Theatre went into the black and has been wildly successful. 

RLH:  And you are collaborating with some of these other venues that are outside of the Wilmington metropolitan area.  Tell us about that.

SF:  Yes, yes.  I’m working very closely with Durham Performing Arts Center, DPAC, and having conversations also with the Carolina Theatre in Durham – major performing arts in the Triangle area. 

And so it’s actually a great relationship and there are many opportunities for us to co-present and bring programming down here together.  So there’ll be – it wouldn’t surprise me to see Carolina Theater or Durham Performing Arts Center bringing programming here.

RLH:  And what can you tell us – in a general sense – about what people can see during the first season?

SF:  Again, we’re being very intentional in terms of our programming to not replicate anything that is already being done within our community.  First and foremost is we don’t have the large-scale, touring Broadway theatricals and we wanted to make that a regular occurrence here in the Port City. 

Another series that is in development is the Star Series which will be those headliner concerts and comedians that you would see at DPAC or you would see at these larger performing arts centers. 

And then we’re taking the performance off the main performance hall and putting it in the Black Box and this would be the contemporary dance series.

When you go to a large market, you go to New York or L.A. or London and you see the newest work by the most up-and-coming choreographers you don’t see it in a theater.  You see it in a studio – like Alvin Ailey Studios or in a basement somewhere – and it’s a completely different experience because you are feet away from the dancers and you’re right there in the piece.  And so I wanted to replicate that experience here in Wilmington. 

RLH:  Well, Shane Fernando, thank you so much for joining us today.

SF:  Well, thank you for having me.


Listen to the short story on a multi-venue volunteer pool here.

The Humanities and Fine Arts Center will need about 70 people per show to run Guest Services.  That translates into a volunteer roster of between 600 and 700.  But the Center’s Director, Shane Fernando says he has no intention of pulling active volunteers away from neighboring arts venues.

"So we began talking with Thalian Hall and we’re in talks right now for developing a Wilmington theater volunteer program where we would coordinate our volunteers together.  And there would be a central resource – a central sign-up to volunteer, and they would have to commit to multiple venues."

Fernando says he expects other arts organizations to participate in the volunteer pool – which would also be a chance for venues to share safety training. 

Tracy Wilkes, the recently-retired founder of Dreams of Wilmington, is now on staff as Community Engagement and Guest Services Coordinator to spearhead the program.  

To apply to the multi-venue volunteer pool, follow this link:


or contact Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Wilkes:

twilkes489@mail.cfcc.edu or 910.254.5278 x203

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.