September 27–29, 2017 at the National Humanities Center
North Carolina: The New American Heartland is a multi-dimensional initiative—highlighted by a three-day gathering which took place on September 27–29, 2017—enlisting scholars, artists, critics, journalists, educators, economic forecasters, policy experts, activists, community leaders, business owners, and others to critically consider North Carolina’s role as a bellwether for the nation.
Exploring Themes, Raising Questions
The complex challenges North Carolinians face in the early twenty-first century are mirrored in communities throughout the United States—economic inequality, disappearing opportunities in small towns and rural communities, and partisan divisions over a host of issues ranging from racial justice, to environmental policy, to immigration.
Through the lens of expressive culture, specifically the dimensions of food, music, and storytelling, North Carolina: The New American Heartland provided a forum for examining North Carolina’s complex and myriad cultural identities and exploring how the arts and humanities can help us better understand and face our shared challenges.
Food and Community
North Carolina’s rich agriculture and aquaculture heritage is exhibited daily on family dinner tables, in restaurants, at farmer’s markets, in the aisles of grocers, and with the food we eat. How our meals are produced and prepared, and by whom, tells us a great deal about ourselves and our values.
In partnership with EducationNC, we explored the worlds of food, and considered how this most central aspect of our daily lives is intertwined with education, changes in demographics, poverty, regionalization and globalization, and the health of all of our people now and in the future. Throughout this three-day event we also enjoyed the richness and diversity of North Carolina food culture in meals prepared by community chefs employing techniques and traditions from North Carolina’s past as well as those being introduced by new arrivals.
Tradition and Opposition in North Carolina Music
From union songs of the textile mill, to freedom songs of the Civil Rights era, to anthems of transgendered liberation, North Carolina’s rich musical history provides a useful vantage through which to explore the state’s many cultural transitions and political divisions—natives vs. new arrivals; secular vs. sacred; urban vs. rural; as well as separations over race, gender, age, class, and labor.
Our discussions explored the role played by music and musicians in the wake of HB2, Black Lives Matter, and the acrimonious 2016 state and presidential elections. We also considered various historical contexts for protest music and musician activism and enlisted a compelling group of musical artists, critics, and scholars to discuss how the musical landscape of North Carolina continues to shape, and be shaped by, contemporary concerns.
In addition to panel conversations, Heartland showcased the variety and talent of North Carolina musicians in a series of performances presented in partnership with The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC and Mighty Neighborly.
Storytelling and Sense of Place: Finding Home in the Heartland
From its fiction writers, journalists, filmmakers, documentarians, oral historians, folklorists, photographers, visual artists, and politicians, North Carolina has an especially rich storytelling tradition.
Showcasing narratives that involve legendary characters from folklore as well as the domestic affairs of workers and their families, from sweeping historical convergences to the mundane struggles of people from all walks of life, we explored the nuances of storytelling in North Carolina, especially as it pertains to notions of home, identity, and sense of place.
The politics, economics, educational and cultural dynamics of what makes citizens of our state want to call North Carolina home—as well as the forces that make others feel homeless—were explored by some of our state’s most widely recognized and newly emerging voices.
Cultivating a Deeper Conversation: The National Humanities Center
For the past 40 years, North Carolina has been home to the National Humanities Center, one of the world’s leading institutes for advanced study. The Center provides essential support for the humanities throughout the United States and around the world, encouraging excellence in scholarship and teaching while affirming the vital importance of the humanities in American life.
With North Carolina: The New American Heartland, the Center launched a year-long celebration of the humanities in North Carolina and across the country to cultivate a deeper conversation about the myriad ways the humanities help us understand ourselves, our communities, and our histories.