Matt Peiken

Arts Producer

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.

He spent ten years at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota writing profiles, opinion columns, and trend stories on visual, literary and performing arts. At WCPO Television in Cincinnati, Ohio, he produced videos and created podcasts for WCPO.com about area artists and cultural events.  Returning to Minnesota, he created an independent online arts television series, 3-Minute Egg, which he expanded into a weekly broadcast series on Twin Cities Public Television.  

Matt has served as a regional editor for Patch.com, part of a national network of hyperlocal news sites. He was also the Managing Editor of the Walker Magazine, the bimonthly publication of the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.

Matt says he was drawn to Blue Ridge Public Radio and Asheville for the opportunity to produce public radio journalism in a region that is renowned for its creative community. He’s especially interested in forming partnerships across Western North Carolina that shine a light on regional artists for new audiences. He received his Bachelor of Arts in journalism at California State University – Fresno, and was the recipient of a National Arts Journalism Program Fellowship and a Poynter Institute Fellowship.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


If the arts in Asheville were a representative democracy, it might look a lot like a new coalition built by the Asheville Area Arts Council

The coalition is designed as a collective voice for the arts community in setting city and county budgets and the shaping of public policies and priorities.

“What’s happened with our arts sector is it’s become extremely siloed, and so a lot of people have had to fend for themselves,” said Katie Cornell, the arts council’s executive director and architect of the coalition. “There’s no way for us to support the entire sector without building a network, so this arts coalition was the way that we’re building this network.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Julyan Davis has evolved into a novelist in part through stubbornness but, as he sees it, also by necessity. Davis is far from blind, but degenerating eyesight has prompted visits over the past decade to ophthalmologists.

“An ophthalmologist some years ago, I guess he skipped the semester on diplomacy, but he said ‘What do you do for a living?’ I said I’m an artist, and he said ‘Oh that’s a shame.’” Davis recalled. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘Just down the road, it might be a problem with your eyes.’ So that kind of inspired me to focus on the writing, sort of as a backup career.”

Davis has earned his living and public profile over nearly 30 years in Asheville as a painter. His first published novel is titled “A History of Saints.” Davis is reading from his book Dec. 1 at Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, where he has presented his paintings for many years.

Matt Peiken | BPR


On a recent Friday night, the avant garde musical duo Okapi performed for a handful of people at Revolve in Asheville. The only illumination came from two table lamps and a few candles behind them and a string of tiny footlights along the cement floor.

Three years ago, Scott Gorski and Lindsey Miller struggled to get gigs. Today, the bass and cello duo might be Asheville’s busiest touring outfit.

BPR News graphic


In the early 2010s, anyone following the author Wiley Cash on Facebook would find what they’d likely expect. There were posts about Cash’s upcoming books and readings, raves about other authors and some photos of Cash’s wife and the birth of their first child. But toward the middle of the decade, Cash began sprinkling in posts of a more political nature.

“I am no journalist, but somebody who engages publicly with ideas and doesn’t only launch my ideas out in a book every three to four years or whenever I can get around to publishing them,” Cash said. “I saw whatever tiny mouthpiece I have in my corner of the Internet or book tour as a valuable place to share the ideas that I have.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Decades before he retired from the ministry, Fred Northup devoted himself to a more creative calling.

“I wrote this play, actually, 40 years ago,” Northup recalled. “And we did it, but I’ll just say, I failed, let’s put it that way.” 

But since that regrettable premiere, Northup never gave up on remounting what he titled “David: The Faces of Love.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Alicia Armstrong can’t count how many times she has turned down Jeremy Russell.

“When he would come to me with the ideas, I would say ‘Dude, that is f***d up,” Armstrong said. “‘I don’t have time for that.’”

There was the time Russell wanted partners to go in on a bowling alley or perhaps an abandoned Kmart and turn it into an “art experience.” For years, he hit up friends to join him in buying a warehouse and renting studios to other artists.

“Jeremy comes in hot and I’m used to it because I’ve known him for a long time,” Armstrong said. “And he does get disgruntled that I am not as exuberant about his ideas.”

Russell nodded in agreement.

“Alicia’s not. My wife’s not. Nobody is,” he said.

But earlier this year, as Russell put it, he caught Armstrong on a “weird day” with the idea of moving both their studios and showrooms into a vacant gallery in the heart of downtown Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Whether on stage or on the page, Gina Cornejo has always brought a focus and fluidity to her identity. For now, she uses the pronouns she/her and they/them. 

“This is me in my own transition of, not only in this time of coming into my own voice within my work, but coming to my own very gentle identifying as queer, identifying as a queer female, even Latina,” Cornejo said. “I’m very much coming to terms with all these identifiers. I just want to keep it open and available.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

“Searching For Jimmy Page” isn’t merely the title of Christy Hallberg’s debut novel. It was an obsession that once compelled Hallberg to  hatch a wild plan to meet the Led Zeppelin guitarist. 

In 2005, Hallberg learned that Page and Brian May of Queen were to judge a guitar competition in London. Hallberg flew there and worked her way backstage at the Hammersmith Palais, armed with an envelope that included a personal letter, a photo she hoped he would autograph and part of the book she had started as her Master’s Degree writing thesis. 

“All I could do was chase him and I stopped him at the top of the stairway and just screamed the only thing that came to mind: ‘Jimmy, I came all the way from America just to meet you,’” she recalled. “It’s not my most dignified moment, but there you go.”

Over the subsequent years, Hallberg crafted that quest into the spine of what became her book. Her central character takes the same flight to the same competition in “Searching For Jimmy Page.”  

The Orange Peel

Live music venues in and around Asheville are back to hosting shows, but it’s anything but business as usual.

Amid evolving Covid-19 restrictions, venues have adopted their own safety protocols on top of local requirements and those required by the artists, affecting audiences, backstage crew and event staff. Still, behind the scenes, venue managers are sweating it out.

“Our biggest lesson learned here is being mask police with 2,000 people in a big, open crowd is really, really hard,” said Chris Corl, general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Center. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

A little after noon Sunday in Asheville’s Pack Square, the first sounds indicating a turning point for the Asheville Symphony Orchestra came from Alicia Chapman, an oboe player testing out a series of reeds for optimal outdoor performance.

“There is a pilot light, a flame that’s inside when I play music,” Chapman said. “I was a little afraid, ‘oh my gosh, it’s dimming,’ but when you have a chance to actually, like today, be around your colleagues and your loved friends and make music together, that pilot light just flames up again and you realize ‘ahh, there I am.’”

Anthony Mulcahy

In one sense, Christopher Paul Stelling is always ready to tour. He drives a Ford Transit van with a lofted bed in the back, and bins of albums, shirts and buttons beneath, along with a makeshift lounge behind the front seats. 

“I got that with 25,000 miles on it, it’s got 155,000, I got it in 2017 and I didn’t tour last year,” he said. “You kinda use vehicles like Kleenex.” 

On this day, he’s pulled the van into the parking lot of Summit Coffee in the River Arts District and walked to a nearby picnic table to talk about the path to his newest record, “Forgiving it All.” Stelling launches the album Sept. 25 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Tom Godleski’s newest play sounds far different than when he first brought it to Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre

 

“He presented me with a very rough script. It was not written in a play format at all,” recalled Artistic Director Katie Jones. “But he had a pretty decent story and then some beautiful songs.” 

 

“They said ‘We are going to do your play, but it’s not ready,’ and I was like ‘what?’” Godleski said. “I thought it was okay. I was satisfied with it and I was happy with it.”

“I cannot tell you how many plays I read that have great dialog and nothing happens,” Jones said. “But in this, it was like, something’s happening. We just need to help him hone in on the characters’ voices and the dialog.”

 

The finished play, as it will premiere on Magnetic’s stage, is a bluegrass musical called “The Sparrow and the Whippoorwill,” and it tells the entwined stories of a war veteran and a nurse who cares for him. It premieres Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 25 at the Magnetic.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Taurus Lenoir remembers journaling as a 10-year-old. As an adult rapper, she rarely writes anything down before she hears a beat. Lenoir said the music inspires her words.

“My sister encouraged freestyling off instrumentals, not even writing a song, just freestyling on that beat, going off the top of your head. So we would just do that for fun,” Lenoir recalled. “She knew what she wanted to do. Me, I was just flowing with the wind. I don’t think she was like ‘Pursue this rap career,’ but I think she was just like ‘You got talent right here.’”

 

Lenoir goes by the stage name Suruat—it’s her first name spelled backwards—and she works in a form of rap music called trap. That often combines minimalist beats with graphic lyrics. She’s performing her music as part of a comedy lineup Sept. 2 at the Orange Peel and over Labor Day weekend as part of the Goombay Festival in downtown Asheville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Oxalis is a weed-like ground cover that can quickly take over a lawn. Travis Lowe saw “Oxalis” as an apt metaphor and appropriate title for his latest stage play, about one woman’s experience with bipolar disorder.  

  

“It can have pretty flowers and it’s very hard to kill,” Lowe said. “So it can look like it’s completely dead for long periods of time and then seemingly come back to life.”  

  

“Oxalis” is premiering through Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective and it’s Lowe’s fifth play produced locally. Performances of “Oxalis” are Sept. 2-5 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News


 

Brittany Jackson and two friends launched a film festival five years ago to showcase work they made, along with short films and music videos from friends. Today, the Cat Fly Film Festival largely serves the same purpose, though that group of friends has widened, thanks in part to the festival.  

  

“When we first had the idea, we were like, ‘We’re gonna screen to empty rooms,’ like this is gonna be the band that nobody comes to their show for,” Jackson said with a laugh. “But everybody turned out and loved it, and so we were like, ‘Well, we’ve probably gotta do it again, right?’” 

courtesy of the artist

Even when he dropped out of high school at 16, hopped trains and hitchhiked his way out of Southern Indiana, the man known to friends and fans today as Cactus believed he was on a mission. 

  

“I didn’t run away, I ran to,” Cactus said. “I always knew there was more out there and I wanted to find it as quickly as possible.” 

  

Cactus is the founding ringmaster of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, an amorphous, horn-based funk hip-hop band with music written for families with young kids. Skidoo won a Grammy Award in 2016 for Best Children's Album. 

 

The band just released its second album in collaboration with the Asheville Symphony. And Cactus has a new audiobook, his first, designed for young people, to teach personal and cultural storytelling through songcraft. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo performs on the second night of the LEAF Downtown Festival in Asheville, Aug. 28. 

Charlie Boss

Indigo De Souza could be a spokeswoman for the DIY ethos. Of the more than dozen tattoos along her legs, arms and hands, several came from her own hand. 

 

“I stick and poke a lot of them, just with a needle and ink. I did this one, this one and this one,” she said, pointing around her legs. “Like this one is a drawing I did when I was little. And this is an image of the church, this church.” 

 

This church-turned-residence, in Madison County, is where De Souza has lived since January. Friends come over to chill in the wide-open former worship hall downstairs. Crammed into a small, quiet space upstairs, there are guitars, keyboards and a couple of weather-beaten drums. This is where De Souza’s DIY musical expressions begin taking shape.

cityofgreer.org


Twenty-eight years ago, Glenis Redmond was a clinical counselor for the state of South Carolina and the mother of twin toddler girls when she learned her excruciating condition had a name, Fibromyalgia. 

After absorbing the ramifications of her diagnosis, she recalls thinking of a prescient line of verse from the poet Lucille Clifton. 

“‘Everyday something has tried to kill me and it’s failed,’ and it was an awakening of sorts,” Redmond recalled. “That poem made me think, ‘Well, if you’re going to be sick, if you’re going to not feel well, what’s going to make you want to get up in the morning?’” 

Robert Johnson, one of this region's most exhibited and collected artists, has died.

Johnson first came to public attention 30 years ago when Asheville entrpreneur John Cram gave him his first solo show at Blue Spiral Gallery. Johnson brought an impressionist's eye to his depictions of forests and fauna, and his paintings were popular with a thread of collectors around the world.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

  


 

Terry Roberts is like many who are certain they have a novel somewhere inside them. He’d go to work every day and carve time in the early mornings or quiet of twilight to writing he now regards as dreadful. 

“It was dreadful in the sense that I was struggling to find a voice, to teach myself how to write fiction,” Roberts said. “And while I think I had a lot of imagination, I didn’t have any training and I didn’t quite know yet how to tell a story.”

He continued writing into his mid-40s before beginning what became his debut novel. He was 55 when a publisher printed that book and now, at 65, Roberts’ fourth novel is out, titled “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black.” Roberts reads selections from the book Aug. 18 at Malaprop’s Books in Asheville and Sept. 14 at the Hot Springs Library

Matt Peiken | BPR News

  


 

The loading dock behind the former post office in downtown Sylva was never intended as a theatrical stage. 

 

But beyond the location, Ashlee Wasmund has created something rarely seen in rural Western North Carolina—a theater company focused on new, original, locally produced work.

 

“I think that has always been on my bucket list,” Wasmund said.

 

She and her husband moved to Sylva from Chicago six years ago when she became the program director of musical theater and dance at Western Carolina University. Her new company, Calliope Stage, premieres on this loading dock over the next two weekends with a program of 10 original theatrical shorts. The vignettes jump from drama to comedy, music and dance—all created by people in the far west of this state, all inspired by an event, person or place from the region.

 

Six performances run through Aug. 5-14 on what Calliope is calling the Loading Dock Stage.

  

The Asheville Symphony is performing a free concert Sept. 19 in Pack Square Park to launch a new season. It will be the orchestra’s first full program since February 2020, just before the start of the pandemic.

 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

 


 

Tarah Singh grew up in Hendersonville, attended private school and had a supportive family of artists and entertainers with a lineage of achievement. Her mother’s stepfather was Ronald Isley, the founding lead vocalist of the Isley Brothers.  

 

“I was around all kinds of creative people that were very successful,” Singh said. “A lot of people joke around with me about the starving artist thing, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I never saw that.’” 

Matt Bush | BPR News

A new noise ordinance in Asheville goes into effect in mid-September. For the first time in 20 years, City Council on Tuesday approved ceilings and specific hours for sound levels, with separate limits for sound coming from residential, commercial and industrial districts.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


The three women of the Smoky Mountain Sirens all had other things happening in music when they came together in 2019. They started like a lot of bands, covering other artists’ songs in local bars. 

  

“It was, like, ‘oh god,' it just felt like selling our souls for a while,” said guitarist and vocalist Aimee Jacob Oliver. 

 

But with the pandemic, Oliver, bassist Ashli Rose and drummer Eliza Hill committed to writing and moving forward with their own songs. The Sirens haven’t released any recorded music publicly but, with the return of live shows, they're still one of Asheville’s most talked-about newer bands.

courtesy of the artist


Anya Hinkle is known largely for her time in the Americana bands Tellico and Dehlia Low. She made moves about two years ago to leave the safety of a band and embark on her own. With the pandemic, those moves grew into a calling.

 

“I really had an opportunity to perform online and work up all these solo shows because I had to,” she said. “I just had that space and that pause button to naturally grow into becoming a singer-songwriter. That pause button gave me the confidence in those songs, in those lyrics, in the vocals, feeling like that’s enough, without a whole band behind you backing you up.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

When Marjorie Dial first walked the rustic 30 acres north of Marshall that once housed East Fork Pottery, she noticed what almost everyone would—the natural beauty. But Dial is a ceramic artist who was also in a position to see something beyond beauty. She saw potential.

“Artists are asked to do so much to make their work, explain their work, promote their work, sell their work,” she said. “This idea started to germinate in me of creating a place where artists felt supported and valued and a sense of affection around making work and going deeply into it.”

East Fork Pottery moved to Biltmore Village, but left the clay studios and kilns on the old grounds. Dial has refurbished the main home and added a trio of living suites and a community kitchen and rebranded the compound as a retreat for artists called Township 10.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


People associate the sound of a lone wooden flute as traditionally Native American. And while this sound accompanies the centerpiece video on the Visit Cherokee website promoting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the video’s text and visuals urge viewers to see the museum as contemporary.

“One of the things we’re most excited about pursuing is looking into what a retelling of our story is going to look like,” Shana Bushyhead Condill, who started in May as the museum’s new executive director, said in an interview. Even tribal members, she added, can too often view themselves through the lens of history rather than as living, evolving people. 

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a Saturday night at the Asheville Beauty Academy—that’s a nightclub, not a salon—and host Marlene Thompson has warmed up a full house as a standup comedy duo from Chattanooga called Good Cop, Rad Cop takes the stage.

Normally, a DJ would spin records here and, indeed, there will be once the evening’s comedy is over. But the reason there’s comedy here at all is a woman toward the back of the room made it happen.

Melissa Hahn isn’t a comedian but, without a dedicated comedy club in Western North Carolina, nobody is more responsible than Hahn for the current landscape for local standup.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville’s River Arts District commemorated Juneteenth through the first weekend of Black art and culture called GrindFest. Here's an audio glimpse from opening night.

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