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

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Randy Shull is giving a personal tour of his recent artworks. They’re displayed around an expansive Biltmore Village warehouse gallery most artists would covet.

What’s remarkable, at least for an artist in an increasingly gentrified Asheville, is this gallery belongs to Shull. He’s preparing these pieces for an exhibition at a much smaller space—the Tracey Morgan Gallery in South Slope. Opening reception is July 19 and the show runs through August 24.

“There’s this need to continue to work because I do have it so good,” Shull said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s a Tuesday night at the Battery Park Book Exchange, and three authors have shown up to this meeting of the Western North Carolina Mysterians.

It’s a critique group for local mystery writers and Michael Havelin, the group’s founder, is in the hot seat.

“So I think your prologue is too long. It’s sort of like an infodump,” one Mysterian tells Havelin. “And then a lot of the stuff in chapter --”

“Well, you know, you say that to me every time,” Havelin says. “Wait til we get to your stuff.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Pick your favorite artworks -- music, dance, painting -- and you think they’re created from a place of impassioned inspiration. Then you meet James Suttles, a native of Brevard coming from a different motivation for his low-budget horror films.

“Every decision that we make, whether it’s creative, whether it’s casting, is all about ‘How do we position this to make money?’” he said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

If you go back far enough in Asheville to remember Biltmore Lanes and the Skateland Rollerdome and local R&B bands such as Bite Chew Spit and the Innersouls, then walking into the front gallery of the Orange Peel will feel like a nostalgia trip.

A new permanent exhibition of photos, newspaper clippings and other artifacts traces the history of the building, from its groundbreaking in 1946 and its varied incarnations over the subsequent decades until its branding in 1974 as the Orange Peel, primarily a home for R&B and soul club and a bridge to its renovation in 2002 into the club people know today.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Just before noon on Wednesday, Bill Thompson sat behind his desk inside an otherwise empty Satellite Gallery. He had just scrolled through the hundreds of comments and likes on his Facebook post from the day before, announcing he’s about to close his gallery after 13 years on Broadway, in downtown Asheville.

“The outpouring of love and support comes through when you close the doors, and you’re almost like, ‘Where was everybody when we were open?’” he said. “If you’re going to be supportive of the arts and the local community, it doesn’t mean liking their stuff in social media. It means being supportive financially towards those artists who you say you love their work and to that gallery who you say you love what they’re doing.”

Sandin Gaither


Amanda Anne Platt and her band produced their first two albums on their own and were preparing a third without drawing interest from a record label.

“It was hard. I think every time you experience any kind of rejection in the arts, it makes you question your validity as an artist, which doesn’t make sense,” Platt said. “The music business is not music. If you’re not having monetary success, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist. I still have to remind myself of that. Every day it’s hard.”

Lauren Van Epps


A couple Saturday afternoons ago, Melissa Hyman lugged two Hefty bags down Asheville’s Lexington Avenue to the trunk of her car. They were filled with blankets.

“I don’t know if we’re gonna put anyone to sleep, but I kinda want to,” Hyman said. “I want to have a set up in front of the stage of just lots of pillows and blankets and see if anyone falls asleep there.”

courtesy of the artist


“American Idol” introduced Caleb Johnson to the nation as a powerhouse rock n roll vocalist. He proved he could pull off Steven Tyler, Steve Perry, Robert Plant. Even if you graduated Asheville’s Irwin High School alongside Caleb Johnson, you probably remember him more for winning Season 13 than for anything Johnson has done in his home city.

Now, five years later, like many whose fame has come from “American Idol” and other singing competitions, Johnson is motivated to prove he’s worthy of attention for his own music.

His new album is called “Born From Southern Ground,” and it’s born to showcase Johnson’s range and power.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


If you’re a personal, face-to-face friend of a young African-American man in Asheville named Clifton Peterson, the rest of this story is fake news. But unless proof appears to the contrary, it appears the fake is Clifton Peterson.

Fake profiles are as old as social media itself. What’s notable here is someone using the name Clifton Peterson spent nearly a year creating posts and comments to disrupt, divide, engage and enrage communities on Facebook pages devoted to Asheville Politics and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s a Saturday afternoon at the Arthur Edington Center in Asheville’s Southside. Two teenage girls are interviewing a woman named Charlotte, recording her observations and experiences growing up in this neighborhood.

“What changes have you seen in your community?”

“Well, changes I have seen ... Greens is a lot different from when I was back as a kid, when Mr. Green was alive …”

Youth of color are collecting stories from adults of color from this neighborhood through a project called Southside Stories. The stories are taking the form of video, audio, photography and visual art. Once the teenagers have collected and edited the stories, they’ll present them at a public showcase 4:30pm June 15 at the Edington Center.

Courtesy of the Resonant Rogues


You can imagine the first conversation between the musicians Keith Smith and the singularly named Sparrow:

“Oh, you were 18 when you started hitchhiking around the country? I was 18 when I started hitchhiking.”

“I hopped freight trains for three years.” “Well, I joined the circus.”

“And you’re a songwriter? Well, So am I.”

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.

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