What not to miss during the 10-day Sensoria festival—an all-you-can-eat buffet of music, theater, Pulitzer-Prize-winning literature and food

Americans love self-help. There’s no archetype we admire more than the Person Who Pulled Himself Up by His Bootstraps.

“There’s a sense that we can fix anything if we just learn the keys,” says abstract artist Felicia van Bork. But some things that break, of course—from dinner plates to democracies—are beyond repair.

You can see the artist’s take on our self-help culture during this year’s Sensoria festival, Central Piedmont Community College’s annual gift to the community since 1993. What started as a literary festival has grown to become a celebration of all art forms, including music, visual and performing arts, film, history, food, and more. Many events are free, and even ticketed events are reasonably priced.

This year’s festival will run from April 6 to April 15, and more than 15,000 students and community members attend every year.

An abstract artist whose work tells a story, van Bork is the featured artist for 2018 for Sensoria, and her work will be on display in CPCC’s Elizabeth Ross Gallery during the festival. Her exhibit includes two series she created and is presented in conjunction with her local gallerist, Jerald Melberg.

Her “How to” series includes more than 150 collages that focus on “society’s faith in how-to books and videos,” she says. The titles van Bork gives her nonfigurative paintings—“How to Convalesce,” “How to Bury a Secret,” “How to Leave the Nest”—offer clues to their meaning. The artist’s best friend recently studied one of her paintings, looked at the title and said, “The meaning of this one’s pretty tragic.” van Bork agreed but added, “I’m making joy out of them.”

“Felicia’s abstract work doesn’t leave you asking, ‘How am I supposed to feel?’” says Amy Bagwell, a poet and CPCC professor who’s also the co-chair for literary events at Sensoria.

van Bork is a part-time art instructor at CPCC whose favorite part of the job is her students. “Many of them are giving themselves a second chance,” she says. “They’ve had life experiences that make them ideal art students. They bring soul to their work.”

Felicia van Bork

Sensoria began as a literary festival, and there’s always a strong literary component to it. In recent years, acclaimed authors Ron Rash and George Saunders have been keynote speakers. This year, U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith will do the honors.

The Harvard- and Columbia-educated writer’s poetry is gorgeous and relatable. She doesn’t just cover big topics such as love and death. One of her poems, “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” is about … David Bowie.

The Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy Award—named for Sensoria’s founder—is one of the festival’s biggest deals. This year, the honor goes to Maureen Ryan Griffin, a writer, poet and teacher who’s been connected to CPCC since she moved to Charlotte after college in 1978. One of the first things she did was enroll in a public speaking course at the college.

She went on to take a photography class so she could take better pictures when hiking. When she and her husband bought a house, she took a landscaping course. She later turned to the English department when, as a stay-at-home mom, she decided to explore her love of the written word and what she might do with it.

CPCC became a family affair when her husband pursued an associate’s degree there. He later ended up becoming the director of campus printing, while Griffin has taught numerous writing classes.

“We both value or association with CPCC, which has enriched our lives in so many ways,” Griffin wrote to Amy Bagwell upon getting news of her award.

Griffin’s poetry is lyrical and, like van Bork’s art, understandable. She elevates the mundane. In “Before I Go,” she writes: “… I’m not asking for Paris again, or even/Broadway, although that would be nice./I’ll even take another afternoon/with a teething, whiny baby/if you’ll let me simmer/one more pot of turkey soup.”

At this year’s festival, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, CPCC and UNC Charlotte’s department of music are presenting Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” which he completed in 1962 for the rededication of Coventry Cathedral, almost entirely destroyed in a WWII bombing.

His masterpiece intersperses text from a Latin Requiem Mass with the poetry of English soldier Wilfred Owen, a pacifist who nevertheless fought in WWI and was killed in battle a few days before armistice. His poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” recounts a fog-of-war battle in which British soldiers were attacked with chlorine gas. One couldn’t get his mask on in time.

The last two lines of the poem (“Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori”—which Owen refers to as “The old Lie”—translate from the Latin to “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.” Owen warns there’s nothing sweet or honorable about dying in battle.

This massive, impressive plea for peace includes two orchestras, mixed chorus, boys chorus, and three soloists—all conducted by Maestro Alan Yamamoto, CPCC’s division director for the arts.

Chef Bruce Moffett (of Barrington’s, Stagioni and Good Food on Montford) is a maestro in the kitchen. His “In the Kitchen” event, which he’ll lead with food writer Keia Mastrianni is a workshop for CPCC culinary students followed by a public presentation of small bites they made.

If you still want more—beyond the food, paintings and music—Sensoria has you covered. There’s opera (“The Elixir of Love”), theater (“On Golden Pond”), film, even a special-effects makeup workshop.

From April 6-15, Sensoria offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of music, theater, food, literature, opera and more. Help yourself.

Want to go?

CPCC’s annual Sensoria celebration of literature and the arts runs from April 6-15. Check out the full schedule and order tickets at sensoria.cpcc.edu.

Photos courtesy of Central Piedmont Community College

This story first ran in the April 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.