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

Ten years ago, Natalie Portman won the Academy and Golden Globe best actress awards for her starring turn in “Black Swan.” There was, however, at least one critic of the film.

“It’s just a horror flick. It has nothing to do with ballet,” said Gavin Larsen, whose career in ballet has been far more quiet, far less dramatic. Today, in her late 40s, she teaches at the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville.

“Part of my mission is to dispel the myths about what it means to be a ballet dancer, and to propagate the truth about how beautiful a life in ballet is,” she said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Here’s how tight Nikki Lee’s family is: She convinced her mother and three adult children to move last fall from a lifetime in Cincinnati to the unknown of Asheville.

“One of my clients years ago had always told me that I’d connect well in Asheville because I seemed like the hippie type, and I am,” Lee recalled. “We just visited and we fell in love with the mountains.”

Like many who move to this area, Lee arrived without much of a plan. What she did have was her faith—her unwavering compass throughout her life. Around 2012, that compass pointed her to sell her thriving hair salon and devote herself to writing.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

A 10-minute walk and a half-century of histories separate Asheville’s YMI Cultural Center from the First Congregational UCC Church.

“This church is very white,” said Mandy Kjellstrom, a church member and an organizer for social justice art exhibits at the church’s Oak Street Gallery. “I’d say we only have three or four people in our congregation who are black (out of) 150, 175.”

The Young Men’s Institute, on the other hand, has been a center of Black culture since the early 20th century. Now, leaders with the church and center are calling each other “sisters in reciprocity” over a commitment to share visual art exhibitions organized by and highlighting local Black artists and issues affecting the Black community.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Sherrill Roland’s convictions in a courtroom, on four misdemeanors, were later overturned at a retrial. But they focused Roland’s personal conviction—to use art that both helps him process and heal from his experiences while engaging an unwitting public about certain fears and stereotypes about the convicted.

 

“My body needed to be a part of it, I needed to be involved in the engagement,” Roland said.

 

With what he calls the Jumpsuit Project, Roland chose to wear an orange jumpsuit, like the kind associated with inmates, wherever he appeared and traveled on the campus of UNC-Greensboro. Roland did this throughout the 2016-17 school year as he pursued his master’s degree in art.

 

“It was a very dramatic, traumatic experience for me, and it took a while for me to get comfortable giving up this type of information or experience just as easily or as up front as I tell people I’m from Asheville,” he recalled. “Soon as I was able to expose this big burden, that’s it—the weight’s off there now.”

The Asheville Symphony Orchestra has a new executive director.

 

Daniel Crupi comes to Asheville from the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra in New Mexico, where he served two years as executive director. Before that, Crupi spent more than five years in various roles with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. Crupi earned his master’s degree in music from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in 2013.

 

 

Two elder Black jazz musicians are laughing while reminiscing about their shared past.
Eric Waters (ericwatersphotography.com)

Artists color our communities, bring creative thinking to challenges and issues and expand our understanding of the world. But quantifying that impact—showing the value artists contribute—is often difficult beyond economics and hard numbers. Many in the arts struggle to sell their work or simply work in ways that isn’t sellable. Because of that, even before the pandemic, economic instability was an everyday reality for many with careers in the arts. 

 

In this episode of The Porch, from BPR News, we explore this question: If communities benefit from the work and presence of artists, what is our collective responsibility to publicly pay for the arts? 

 

This episode includes:

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Even through their masks, you could sense the smiles across the faces of John and Judy Nelson, of Asheville, as they waited to get into Friday night’s concert at Isis Music Hall.

“I am ready to sit back, have some good food and listen to some good music,” John Nelson said. “It’s gonna be a great night.”

And it’s the kind of night few in this region have been able to experience over the past 13 months—live music inside a club. But as North Carolina has relaxed some conditions for indoor gatherings, local venues have started booking indoor shows—with capacity restrictions and masking protocols in place.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

When she gave birth 2½ years ago, Rose Wind Jerome didn’t know she was having twins. The first child is her daughter, Evie. The second is the photography project for her master’s degree thesis.

“I got interested in these dynamics and these gender roles when I became a parent and started photographing in my home,” Jerome said.

More than a dozen photographs originally intended for an MFA exhibition derailed by the pandemic at the Savannah College of Art and Design are showing through April 3 at Revolve in Asheville

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Even before opening Momentum Gallery, on Asheville’s Lexington Avenue, Jordan Ahlers had his sights elsewhere—a larger space on a familiar street.

More than two years after beginning a complete renovation, Momentum has moved and reopened a block east, on Broadway. Before opening Momentum, Ahlers spent many years as the director at John Cram’s Blue Spiral Gallery, several blocks south on Broadway.

“It’s a far superior space for a number of reasons,” Ahlers said. “It’s much more visibility. It’s a much bigger, better space on the main north-south route through town.”

One year into our shutdown, the impact on our region’s artists stretches beyond economics. Some artists say the psychological effects have been as devastating as the financial ones.

On our March episode of "The Porch," we devote the hour to artists of this region coping with their mental health through a year of turmoil. BPR News is airing the program 9am March 19 and 3pm March 20.

For this online version, we've divided the episode into six separate interview segments below. You can listen in any order. You can also listen to the complete episode here.

For anyone seeking immediate mental health help, here are links to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) and Hope 4 NC, an around-the-clock support line run through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (855-587-3463). The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline (800-950-6264), with around-clock crisis counseling available by texting "NAMI" to 741741.

In this episode of BPR News Presents: The Porch, we talk with—

  • Musician, poet and writer Chelsea Labate
  • Mike Martinez of the ska-rock band Natural Born Leaders
  • Autobiographical storyteller and actress Barbie Angell
  • Melissa Hyman of the folk duo The Moon & You
  • Psychologist and researcher Dr. Christa Taylor
  • Psychologist and dance therapist Dr. Ilene Serlin

(The BPR News Presents theme song is The Vibes by Audiobinger).

The people who call themselves Nye and Terran met two years ago at a goth picnic in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

“We decided we should have a meeting to see whether or not we were psychopaths,” Terran said. “So we picked a neutral location that now lives forever as the Waffle House of Friendship, so that we could get to know each other and decide whether we wanted to be friends, and it was like a fire started.”

That fire, as Terran put it, has resulted in an artistic achievement astonishing in its breadth and ambition. “Vacant Arcadia” is a musical theater opus airing online, in sound only, over 10 episodes spanning about 5½ hours. The show premieres March 18 through an online company called Holophonic Theatre.

"Hindsight 2020"

Every college student has experienced academic and social turmoil over the past year. Few have had the encouragement, as Tristan Rice has, to put it into song.

 

Rice and a couple dozen other UNC-Asheville students answered an open call in the fall to write music, poetry and plays, make dances and create digital art inspired by the past year of the pandemic and social justice movements.

 

Stephanie Hickling-Beckman, the founder of Asheville’s Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective, rehearsed and coached the students, whose work comes together in “Hindsight 2020,” a variety show streaming over video March 5-6 through the university’s theater department.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Even in his early days making paintings, Joseph Pearson understood there was no place in and around Gulfport, Miss., for Black artists.

“There were no artists that I knew in the neighborhood who were doing anything,” Pearson recalled. “If there were, of course, they would have been white artists and we wouldn’t have had contact because of segregation.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon along the Reed Creek Greenway in north Asheville. As joggers and people walking dogs pass by, actors are running through a new play, performed in vignettes over a mile-long stretch of the trail.

“Something I Cared About” is the first in what the Magnetic Theatre’s leaders are hoping will become a “Walking with Magnetic” series of outdoor shows. “Something I Cared About” runs Saturday and Sunday afternoons through March 14.

It’s just the latest in a string of inventive pivots for a company built on original shows inside its home theater in the River Arts District.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Claire Elizabeth Barratt once drove alone from Asheville to Albuquerque, N.M.—26 straight hours—without stopping except for gas.

“I’m actually thinking of maybe doing a cross-country trip as a durational performance,” she said. “Just doing the whole I-40 coast to coast and calling that the performance.”

Nicole McConville

Coming off a devastating year for the creative sector, new federal tax laws could help self-employed people, including independent artists and other freelance creatives.

Hannah Cole, an Asheville painter who also runs a tax preparation service, points to sick and family leave credits. These are designed to help those who lost work and were forced to quarantine, tend to someone with Covid or care for kids whose schools were closed.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

When Lara Nguyen first learned of her rare cancer—uterine leiomyosarcoma—she had just come home from teaching in Prague and was just starting work on a major mural in Grand Rapids, Mich.

She had a full hysterectomy in 2018, when the cancer was still in its early stages.

“It was a wonderful distraction,” Ngyuen said of her work on the mural. “There was still some hope there, catching it early. But then in January 2020 it came back, it metastasized into my left lung. Then a day after Father’s Day, June 2020, it recurred and just last week I found out, even under chemo right now, it has metastasized into my right lung, as well. We just found this out a few days ago.”

Yet here she is, inside the Center for Craft in downtown Asheville, talking in detail about the exhibition inspired, in large part, by her cancer. Nguyen’s exhibition, which also showcases work from three art students from Warren Wilson, is on view through March 12.

Virtual theater is commonplace during the pandemic—that is, if there’s any theater at all, people are watching it streamed on screen.

Mike and Brenda Lilly are a married couple in Asheville taking virtual theater one step further. They estimate spending about $4,000 of their own to adapt a stage play into a short film.

“The Man in the Bright Nightgown,” based on a one-man stage play of the same title by Greensboro playwright Tom Huey, is a 40-minute film screening through February under the umbrella of Asheville Community Theatre.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


  These things usually work in reverse. Luke Whitlatch already had some success as an artist in Los Angeles when he and his wife chose to move to Asheville.

“I play bass for a band called Rocky Mountain Roller,” he said. “I met the two guitarists for Rocky Mountain Roller two weeks after I got here.”

So, two weeks into his Asheville life, Whitlatch found a band. It took him another three years, through the Tracey Morgan Gallery, to land his first local show as a visual artist. The exhibition is on view through late February.

John Warner

Nearly a year after announcing his departure and eight months after rescinding that departure, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra’s executive director now says he's, indeed, leaving.

David Whitehill is moving to Canton, Ohio, to become the President and CEO of ArtsinStark, a nonprofit arts council focusing on children, the workforce and creating healthier communities in Stark County. Whitehill and ArtsinStark separately announced the move on Sunday.   

courtesy Caleb Beissert

Last March, when the public still grasped the reality of a pandemic, Katie Jones looked at the calendar and thought the Asheville Fringe Festival, which she directs, might have to do things differently in 2021.

“Our initial thoughts were actually that we might just cancel altogether,” Jones said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

While coming of age in London, Farhad Kanuga felt pulled in two directions: Taking part in the political and social protests pervading the city and documenting those protests with his camera.

“I felt I was a photographer as well as being part of the demonstration, which as I grew older, I learned it goes one or the other—don’t go as both,” he said. “Just missing moments when you’re cheering or what have you, doing something other than keeping your eye on what’s going on, being ready for that click.”

Ash Devine


 

Ash Devine was giving an online ukulele lesson to a 10-year-old boy Wednesday afternoon when news about the turmoil at the nation’s capitol scrolled on her Facebook newsfeed. Devine finished the lesson and immediately went on Facebook Live herself.

“I was seeing so much stress and fear and panic in people’s posts and knew I had something to offer to redirect that into a more unified, positive direction,” she said. “I thought, let’s do an intervention with song, that we can get through this together.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


 

Robert Johnson is one of the most exhibited and collected painters in Western North Carolina. At age 76, he says he’s at peace with a grim health prognosis. He recently talked with BPR's Matt Peiken about his path as an artist—from the psychedelia of 1960s San Francisco to landscapes around the world and back to the mountains outside his door.

courtesy of the artist


Carly Taich didn’t post anything on social media, light a candle in mourning or plan a post-pandemic farewell tour.

She had devoted her young adult life to her own fearless folk pop, as she calls it. She had made two full albums over the previous eight years, And sometime in the middle of 2018, at age 27, she’d prepared herself to say goodbye to music altogether.

‘I was very uncomfortable with the industry of music. It just got to be a toxic relationship,” Taich said. “The toxicity comes from not enjoying performing anymore, not wanting to write, comparing myself to everyone, like not even being able to enjoy other people’s music because it was always a contest.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Like many artists, the Asheville painter Julyan Davis didn’t feel much like painting this past spring, at the dawn of the pandemic.

“I actually got quite depressed because I felt there was this extraordinary chance for the world to think, and I certainly didn’t want to paint about it,” he said.

So Davis thought a bit, read the news a lot and, around June, began connecting the dots between what he wants to say on canvas and the times we’re in. Davis’ COVID paintings, as he calls them, are surrealist and mysterious, and they draw their dark, windswept color pallet and many of their old Appalachian settings from an earlier Davis’ series he calls his “Murder Ballad” paintings.

exploreasheville.com

Live concerts with live audiences seem so long ago—no masks, no social distancing and, also, no concern for volume.

But for the first time in 20 years, Asheville officials want to update the city’s vague noise ordinance to reflect concerns and complaints from a growing residential population. And that has raised alarms in a music community nearly muted by the pandemic. 

Carrie Hachadurian

In her debut collection of short stories, Waynesville author Leah Hampton makes sure to grab readers from her first sentences.

The story “Parkway” begins with, “We find bodies all the time. Lots of folks come up here to die or kill or get killed."

The story “Saint” opens this way: “Your brother is going to die in twelve years.”

And in “F*ckface,” the title story opening the book, Hampton begins with “Nothing’ll ever fix what’s broken in this town, but it would be nice if they’d at least get the dead bear out of the parking lot at Food Country.”

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