How to Enjoy the Arts in Raleigh Today

Four museum folks share how they’re getting their local culture while social distancing. 
by Melissa Howsam  |  photography by Gus Samarco

“It’s deeply important that the local arts community continue to thrive,” says Evelyn McCauley of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, “and it’s something I will never take for granted, personally. I have turned to music, poetry, visual arts, crafts and theater to help soothe the anxiety and to enrich my days as I stay at home.” 

And certainly, the #MuseumFromHome movement—encompassing virtual performance streams, readings, concerts and more—is helping us to not simply survive, but thrive. It’s an outlet for artists and performers and a way for art appreciators to maintain normalcy. We asked four local museum folks to share how they’re absorbing culture right now—and a few of their answers may surprise you.

Brandon Cordrey, executive director, VAE Raleigh, @vaeraleigh 

What’s is bringing you joy?

I really enjoyed watching the toilet paper art roll for VAE’s Toilet Paper Art Benefit Auction which supported the NC Artist Relief Fund. You can view those works on Instagram via the hashtag #doodiedoodles. Toilet Paper Art is just hilarious. It is a kitschy marker of the times without being offensive. It is a bit absurd. And it is a very unforgiving surface—I know because I made a piece and donated it to the auction. Plus, it was for a good cause! 

What are you listening to…

Jamie Dawson, owner of Aspire Homes and ERA Dream Living Realty, and his family have been hosting awesome evening concerts! 

To enjoy the process…

Adam Cohen posted videos of him drawing via Facebook live. Adam is just such a great artist and was a political cartoonist, so his drawing style is so competent and confident. I really envy and enjoy his skill!

To get to know artists…

Artspace has been posting videos of their staff walking through their current exhibits and talking about them in detail, which has been really fun! Artspace’s Annah Lee curates great shows and she writes and speaks about them so well, so it is a real treat to be able to tune in to hear her talk about the work. It is actually an opportunity that not everyone has under normal circumstances. This increased access is almost a benefit of our current world. 

What are you watching?

We are enjoying watching films on Mubi, which provide lesser-known independent film options. Mubi is great because it provides a change of pace from all of the other streaming services. It is curated. It isn’t passive. It has a perspective and I love that about it!

How are you exploring?

Beyond that I have been searching out and following more artists on Instagram, just to increase the variety of visual artists in my Rolodex. 

Evelyn McCauley, marketing and communications, Gregg Museum of Art & Design

“It is vital that virtual performances are attended and supported, that arts funds are increased through donations and other support, and the value that all the arts bring to our daily lives continues to be recognized,” says McCauley.

Where do you get your virtual arts?

Virtual arts are everywhere it seems. The Gregg Museum has worked really hard to provide all its current—and some past—exhibitions online for its visitors while the museum is unavailable for visits. We currently have several virtual tours and a mobile device tour available for viewing. One advantage of this approach is an opportunity to provide in-depth information for each object and a deep dive into some of the exhibitions’ history, including videos and recorded narrations, as well as keeping the experience of viewing the art as close to reality as possible. This process has also helped us develop ideas that can be used long-term moving forward, even after the current restrictions are lifted. The hope is that it will expand our ability to make art even more accessible to the community. 

Where do you look for new stuff?

Arts NC State has a great listing of virtual events, living room concerts, live feeds and other events I refer to often. Some notable offerings coming from Arts NC State include Concert From Your Couch, online courses and craft demonstrations. Additionally, NC State’s library is offering virtual poetry readings.

What do you like to watch?

The North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival has been hosting some incredible discussions and online play readings with theatre professionals, as part of its virtual offerings. Almost all are Facebook events and can be found on their page. The latest event is a discussion with Donna Hoke about her play Teach and online reading of her play Seeds. By offering these online events now, NCWTF affords many more people the ability to interact with such artists and helps keep the ideas flowing in this challenging environment. Its annual festival is coming up in July, and one hopes this activity will continue the interest the festival has built so far. 

…and to listen to?

NC Opera has been emailing links to selections from its previous seasons to about 6,000 friends, supporters and audience members in the face of multiple cancellations. (links to these performances can be found on Soundcloud and Vimeo: Eugene Onegin, Tristan und Isolde, Rusalka.) The links have been sent out as a way of letting us know they plan to continue. They have rescheduled their spring 2020 productions, thankfully, so the awareness maintained by these mailings bolsters their promise of providing fine operatic performances in the Triangle. 

What else do you enjoy?

Many of the larger arts groups have offered virtual events and links in the face of entire seasons being canceled. One cannot deny the value of remembering the joy of a past experience, or a detailed look at an online performance, or the excitement of anticipating upcoming concerts and performances and free offerings. Some other groups I frequent are: North Carolina Master Chorale for profiles of singers, staff performances and upcoming music; and NC Symphony‘s virtual music education—all their educational resources are now online. 

Valerie Hillings, director and CEO of the North Carolina Museum of Art

What are your favorite *virtual* ways to enjoy local arts these days?

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the umbrella organization over our state’s resources for the arts, history, libraries, and nature, is always posting fun facts about the rich history of the arts in North Carolina. Check out their Instagram for a highlight on the arts, which features a deep-dive into artist Nina Simone. We partnered with them on an entire weekend of events last year to celebrate the North Carolina singer.

CAM, which has shared information about the Raleigh Fine Arts Society’s NC Artists Exhibition, which opened just before we had to all stay at home. It’s so exciting to have time to get to know the selected artists and their work in greater depth before going back to see the show again when CAM reopens.

What other kinds of arts do you follow?

The culinary arts scene in Raleigh is incredible. I have been so impressed with the creativity and perseverance of local restaurants, bakeries, and chefs over the last few weeks as we all navigate our new normal. A few I follow: @crawfordnson, @unionspecialbread, @mandolinraleigh, @yellowdogbread, @localsseafood

 What local artists do you follow?

Through great challenges, great art can be created. I love following along with North Carolina artists like Thomas Sayre, who created the Museum Park’s iconic “Gyre,” and Martha Clippinger, Maria Britton, and Shaun Richards, artists featured in our exhibition Front Burner: Highlights in Contemporary North Carolina Painting. (See interviews with all four here.)

And of course, NCMA: Our staff has curated music, film, meditation, and family activity recommendations each week inspired by visitor-favorite works of art in our collection. We release “NCMA Recommends” picks every Friday in our newsletter (sign up here or see the archives at and throughout the week on social media. Don’t miss the Zoom backgrounds and artist interviews!

Gab Smith, executive director, CAM Raleigh, @cam_raleigh

What are your favorite ways to experience art from home these days?

Two of our faves from the community are Urban Sketching with Scott Renk and the Downtown Raleigh Mural Tour. Urban Sketching is a terrific way to draw—no experience necessary. And, with the Mural Tour, I love that friends and families can walk or ride their bikes to experience murals all over our city. 

Has CAM offered any virtual tours?

Yes! There is a lot of CAM virtual programming to enjoy: CAM to Go Virtual Creation Station, Kennedi Carter Virtual Gallery, Corey Pemberton Virtual Gallery, Behind the Scenes: The Making of Kennedi Carter: Flexing/New Realm, Virtual Artists Talks