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.

Ways to Connect

About 50 people have gathered at a gallery inside the Refinery Building in Asheville’s South Slope. It’s a whos-who among people in local dance, theater, music, the visual arts.

They’re here as a nascent arts alliance, putting new effort behind a familiar message—that city and county officials should prioritize the arts in their annual budgets.

Artists in Asheville aren’t unique in this sense—artists everywhere apply and compete for funding from their state and regional arts councils. They’re the custodians of the portion of your tax dollars that fund arts and culture in our communities.

Morin Photography


At a rehearsal in the Woodfin dance studio of the Asheville Ballet, Rebecca O’Quinn is watching two middle-aged women rehearse a duet O’Quinn created around the prop of an overstuffed loveseat.

 

“They kind of take turns running around the couch and flipping over the couch, and are in relationship with each other, and it’s not clear what the relationship is,” she said of this dance work, part of an Asheville Ballet program May 17-18 at Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville.

 

That unclear relationship could be a metaphor for O’Quinn’s own artistic path.

The Magnetic Theatre

With new works, playwrights often work closely with the director to shape what happens on stage. But once Peter Lundblad finishes writing a play, his involvement with it ends.

“I really like giving it to a director and seeing what they do with it, so I try not to interfere,” he said. “I’m not a details a guy, so somebody else who knows that better. That’s one example of really learning to trust a director.”

Lundblad is perfectly content to leave his new play, “Buncombe Tower,” in the hands of the Magnetic Theatre. And he has left much for the director and cast to interpret. The play is a fantastical, futuristic vision of Asheville and an allegorical commentary on the fallout of gentrification.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Here’s a little perspective: This year’s high school graduates haven’t been able to set foot inside the Asheville Art Museum since early in their freshman year. That’s how long the current, $24 million renovation and expansion is taking.

 

But this past Friday, museum director Pam Myers and some of her staff walked BPR and other local media through three floors and a rooftop of new galleries and other features that, up to now, have never been part of the museum’s 71-year history.

courtesy of Day and Dream


Peter Frizzante and Abby Amaya met seven years ago in New York City on the dating website OK Cupid. They were a musical match from the start.

“We’ve always been jamming and writing things together, but it wasn’t until 2018 when we really got serious,” Amaya said.

“It’s 2018. We said ‘This is it, we’re on the hunt for musicians and we’re gonna get this done,” Frizzante said.

Courtesy of Asheville Creative Arts


Abby Felder wanted to pursue experimental theater after college, so the North Carolina native moved to Asheville seven years ago and co-founded Asheville Creative Arts. It’s the only company devoted solely to producing children's theater in Western North Carolina.

“Working with younger audiences in particular, they are not as hung up on traditional dramatic structures. They’re kind of along for the ride,” she said. “So if you’re giving them a piece that’s more experiment or subverts narrative, they’re just there for that, and they’re more interested in pure storytelling.”

courtesy of the artist

When people describe a musician as a throwback artist, they’re usually hearing sounds and influences from two to four decades ago. To trace where Whitney Moore is coming from with her new music, you have to wind the calendar back nearly a century.

“You get to the ’50s and late ’40s and ’60s, and jazz becomes a thing for the elites,” Moore said. “But the ’20s through ’40s, it was still the music of the people and it served a really sweet purpose, to transmute their suffering or cheer them up.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Six pastors walk into a brewery … It sounds like the start of a bad joke. Instead, it’s a Monday morning at the former Habitat Brewing in Asheville, and this is an improv comedy class.

Clifton Hall is the co-founder of the Asheville Improv Collective and he’s teaching this class—his first with the entire student base made up of pastors and ministers.

courtesy of DeWayne Barton


It’s a midweek morning at Asheville’s YMI Cultural Center. Upstairs, in a gallery featuring his wall-mounted sculptures, Dewayne Barton has just gotten off the phone, protesting his treatment earlier that morning at Buncombe County government office.

“Being black here, being black anywhere, You have to have your own therapy to help you be able to move throughout the world,” Barton said. “The thing I just dealt with this morning is crap. ‘Oh, you need to take your bracelet off?’ I need to take your bracelet off to go through a metal detector? How many people do you tell to do that?”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

NOTE: The beginning of the audio version of this story depicts domestic violence.

Theater students at Blue Ridge Community College, in Flat Rock, can count on an annual dose of creative social work.

On a recent Wednesday, they were in rehearsal for an original play titled “Battered.” It’s a play within a play, with domestic violence underpinning the narrative.

Julia Christgau regarded 2018 as a year of yes.

“I just got cast, cast, cast in all these things. I made three films and I did two plays,” she recalls. “I was like ‘Wow, maybe I’m an actor, finally.’”

Then, through the auditions she took in 2019, the Asheville actress absorbed one rejection after another.

“I’ve got a lot of nos,” she said. “I'm learning to let that roll off my back, and maybe that means something bigger is coming.”

courtesy Jessica Tomasin

Even when she isn’t leading one of her four high-intensity training classes every week, Jessica Tomasin is always in motion.

She’s managed Echo Mountain recording studios since it opened 13 years ago. She co-founded the Asheville Music Professionals networking group, shepherded handfuls of events through her own production company, raised money for charities and given a TEDx talk.

For this week’s Amadeus Festival through the Asheville Symphony, she has curated a discussion and concert devoted to women in music. And right now, she’s in the midst of figuring out how to market her hard-to-explain festival, called Connect Beyond. Happening April 5-7 at various locales around Asheville, the festival explores the intersections of music, film and literature and their role in social change.

 

courtesy of the artist


It’s named for one of the most performed composers in history, but the Asheville Symphony’s Amadeus Festival is about far more than Mozart.

 

This Saturday and Sunday, venerated rock guitarist and annual Christmas Jam founder Warren Haynes joins the symphony for the first orchestral renditions of music he’s associated with, from Government Mule, the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead to his solo work.

Curt Worden/Gloria Bailen


Romances on film sets go back to the silent era. Rarely do we hear about romances like that of Gloria Bailen and Curt Worden.

Bailen and Worden had both worked behind the scenes for ABC television—Bailen as a producer, Worden as a videographer—but didn’t really know each other. Bailen’s friends recommended him and she hired him, 26 years ago.

“I was a freelancer and I was doing a video, and I needed a crew,” Bailen recalled.

Scott Sturdy

Kitty Tsunami is surf-punk-garage-pop band in Asheville led by the couple Meg Caldwell and Tommy Tsunami. They spoke with Blue Ridge Public Radio as they released their debut full-length album, titled “Cosa Nostra.”

 

Kitty Tsunami shares the stage with local improvisational/atmospheric band Pink Mercury March 11 at the Mothlight to close out the Winter Music Series from the Asheville Area Arts Council and Asheville FM. Here, the couple tell a little about themselves and their music.

courtesy of the artist


Jane Kramer almost had it too good. She was in a loving, long-term relationship, making music as part of the Barrel House Mamas and engaged in a career in social work.

“Within about six or eight months, all those things collapsed,” Kramer said. “I was really, really broken. I was just in the wreckage and the shrapnel of all the ways my life here had decayed, and feeling like a tremendous failure, coupled with losing a dear friend in a really tragic way. Suddenly, I didn’t know how to find my identity, even here, in these mountains, where for all intents and purposes I came to be myself.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Margaret Curtis and her husband, their two sons and a joyful chihuahua-dachsund mix named Sally live on a quiet, curvy street on a hill above downtown Tryon. From the surface, it’s the quintessential American picture.

Curtis doesn’t paint such pictures.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Emöke B’Rácz has survival in her blood. In 1956, Her father came to the United States from Hungary as a political exile. B’Rácz was 15 years old when she and the rest of her family followed him to Connecticut.

“I did not speak the language. In Hungary, I was an ‘A’ student, and in the United States, I was at the bottom of the class,” she recalled because I couldn’t say anything very well.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


The best documentary photography happens when skill and vision meet preparation and luck. For Joanne Chan, the formula was a little different.

“I started taking my pictures when I went to pick up my roommate after work. She was working at a place called Honeybuns, and it was an all-nude dance club,” Chan recalled. “My roommate said ‘Oh, I think you should take pictures,’ so I took some pictures and then I made some workprints and presented them in my class, and during the critique my professor said ‘I think you should take more pictures like this.’”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It only takes seconds to tour David Gilbert’s West Asheville home to learn he’s a ferocious music fan.

There are shelves of vinyl albums right past the front door. Toward the back is a long room with assorted music memorabilia and a complement of guitars, amps and a drum kit. This is where Gilbert’s bands rehearse.

Bren Photography


Write about what you know about. It’s a time-tested path countless writers have traveled to bestselling books and films. So when Rachael Sparks took her first turn at genre fiction, her subject was obvious.

“There was a story that came out that, by 2050, 10 million people would die from resistant infections,” Sparks said. “It just gave me a lot of fertile ground to think about what it would be like in that world, to be a survivor in that world.”

Courtesy of the artists

NOTE: This is the second of two stories previewing the 2019 Asheville Fringe Festival.

Vanessa Owen and Gavin Stewart met on the dance floor seven years ago and have danced together and separately ever since. In crafting their new collaboration, they wanted to comment on the country’s immigration debate.

The new work is called “Vessel,” and Owen dances it alone.

Courtesy of the Artist

NOTE: This is one of two preview stories BPR is producing in advance of the Asheville Fringe Festival.

Think of the theater, dance and music familiar to most people. You won’t experience any of that during the Asheville Fringe Festival, home to the experimental and adventurous.

Those adjectives certainly describe the three locally made shows in this preview. The first comes from Judy Calabrese, mother of three, whose one-woman show recounts three decades of relationships with women.

Courtesy of Tellico


Anya Hinkle moved from southern Virginia to Asheville in 2006 for the bluegrass music scene. She says she absorbed the soul of a bluegrass artist from the scene, of all places, in Japan.

“People are really comfortable with a lot of silence, what I would consider awkward silence,” said Hinkle, whose husband is from Japan. They and their daughter visit Japan for a month or two every year.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s about quarter past nine on a Sunday night at the Fairview Tavern in Oakley. Most of the 15 or so people here are local comics who know each other, looking for some time at the open mic that’s just about to start.

But there’s an unusual charge in the air. Hilliary Begley, the comic who launched Hallelujah Hilliary's Comedy Revival at the Tavern nearly two years ago, is back from Hollywood to host the show.

Here is the complete conversation between Darko Butorac, the new music director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, and Blue Ridge Public Radio arts and culture producer Matt Peiken.

Courtesy of Asheville Symphony Orchestra


NOTE: BPR Classic is airing the entire hour-long conversation between Darko Butorac, the new music director of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, and BPR arts & culture producer Matt Peiken. Broadcasts are at 7pm Dec. 28 and 10am Jan. 15.

 

Darko Butorac was a teenager in Seattle when the grunge movement swept the city and American pop culture. But as millions flocked to the music of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Butorac saw classical music as his rebellion.

“Grunge was becoming big and I was like ‘Oh my god I can’t stand this,’” he said. “Put yourself in this situation: You’re coming from socialist-communist Eastern Europe, you move to the Pacific Northwest, and it’s about as far as you can get from Eastern Europe, both geographically and culturally. The transition for me was very difficult, so I didn’t really feel at the moment that I fit in.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


NOTE: The Blue Ridge Orchestra concert referenced in this story has been rescheduled for 5pm Jan. 13, 2019, in Lipinsky Auditorium, at UNC Asheville.

 

It’s an early December evening, and cellist Franklin Keel is rehearsing with the Blue Ridge Orchestra. He’s the featured soloist in their upcoming program, and he wants to hear this Vivaldi cello concerto in a particular way.

“Ignore the half-rest,” he tells his fellow musicians. “Play quarter, rest, quarter, rest.”

Just from this window, you might see Keel as an exacting musician. In a conversation the following day, he insisted that’s far from the case.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


At first listen to his new album, it would be easy to cast Marley Carroll as a musician whose instruments are a computer and software.

“Once I started really getting into computer-based production, that was the thing that showed me it was possible to produce full records on my own,” he said. “Basically opening up this program and hooking up a MIDI keyboard and hearing a Rhodes sound or a Strat or drum set, it just seemed like the whole universe of musical possibilities was suddenly available to me.”

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