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

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.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville’s Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance is a small, professional company that only operates in the summer. So in losing 2020 to the pandemic, founding director Heather Maloy hadn’t rehearsed her dancers in two years.

 

“For a lot of them, this is the first time they’ve been—and myself too—in a room with a group of people and no mask on and dancing,” she said during a break from rehearsal inside her dance academy. “Like, it’s a normal day.”

Scott Friedlander

When you think of musicians made for Asheville, Min Xiao-Fen doesn’t quite fit the stereotype. Min grew up in a musical family in Nanjing, China, became a virtuoso of the pipa and performed as a soloist for over a decade with traditional Chinese orchestras.

“I feel lost a little bit in China. Everything’s controlled, China’s system. Even when you play music, you have to play exactly as master taught you how to play. You have to be very controlled, disciplined,” Min said. “I just feel I want a change. I wanted to go to other countries to see if maybe I could change my career. I don’t really know what I want. I just thought maybe I could find something for myself.”

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:

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