Ulysses Festival draws on Civil Rights Act for inspiration

In 2013, Charlotte’s Ulysses Festival celebrated the arts community by using the theme of technology to root itself in the present.

This spring, the monthlong festival that began this week leans on the past.

Through lectures, exhibits and performances, Ulysses has integrated ideas and themes that honor the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which is approaching its 50th anniversary. The title of the festival – “A Beautiful Symphony of Brotherhood” – borrows phrasing from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

“With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Opera Carolina General Director James Meena, the festival’s head organizer, said this speaks to what he and other leaders in the arts community strive for every day.

“It’s about bringing people from all walks of life to celebrate,” he said, “whether it’s a Beethoven symphony or a beautiful painting at the Mint Museum, or our collective history that we can look at at the Levine (Museum of the New South) or the (Harvey B.) Gantt Center (for African-American Arts + Culture).”

This year’s Ulysses Festival runs about a week and a half shorter than last year’s, and for the first time since its 2012 inception is getting organizational and promotional assistance from Charlotte Center City Partners.

Most events are tied to the theme. “Harriet’s Return” – a play by the Tomorrow’s R.O.A.D. theater company about the life of Harriet Tubman – will be performed at CPCC Friday night; on Tuesday, Charles Davis, UNC Charlotte assistant professor of architecture, will talk at the Gantt Center about black history landmarks and buildings in Washington, D.C.; and “Free At Last: A Choral Celebration of the Civil Rights Era” celebrates the music that defined the civil rights era during a concert at Northwest School of the Arts on April 3.

Other events are not tied to the theme, such as Opera Carolina’s presentation Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” and the Charlotte Symphony concert “A Little Knight Music,” which features selections by Haydn and Mozart.

“The festival is really about celebrating community,” Meena said.