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


Saturday’s reopening of the Center for Craft felt far more like a festival than a ribbon-cutting. There were performances by the UNC-Asheville Afro Music and Dance Ensemble, a DJ, hands-on artmaking stations and performance-art installations.

 

Hundreds of people streamed through the doors Saturday afternoon and, wherever they strolled along the Center’s three floors, there were things to do, see, nibble on or experience.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


  “Come on in, welcome to the museum.”

And with that, at 11am Thursday morning, the Asheville Art Museum reopened to the general public. David and Olivia Franklin, in town from Atlanta on their honeymoon, stepped in from the cold to become the museum’s first general-admission patrons.

“We always make it a point to go to the art museum wherever we go, and we felt like we needed to be able to be a part of history,” David Franklin said. “It seemed like a wonderful little bit of serendipity.”

xmasjam.com

One of Asheville’s most popular holiday traditions is taking a one-year hiatus. The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam has raised $2.7 million over 20 years for the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but Haynes said Tuesday he and the Jam are skipping 2019.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Michael Yannette took over six years ago as director of choir and musical theater at Cherokee Central Schools. From the beginning, he faced a challenge he never encountered in his previous 25 years of teaching.

“I remember the first day I got here and I met the old choir director,” he recalled. “I remember going into the cabinets and seeing these little plastic elbow pipes, and he said, ‘Well, we use it so the kids can hear themselves sing.’ They hold one up to their mouth and the other to their ear, and I was like ‘okay.’”

Suffice to say, these students no longer need the elbow pipes. Over the past few years, as the Cherokee Chamber Singers—they've performed at the Smithsonian, Carnegie Hall and DisneyWorld, along with North Carolina’s capital and other locales in the state.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Kate Steinbeck’s eyes light up when she talks about the music that inspired her to play the flute.

“I’m raised on rock ‘n’ roll. You remember Heart? I saw them at the Asheville Civic Center in 1979. I loved Ann Wilson, she was playing on a black flute,” Steinbeck recalled “I mean, I played along with records. I love Traffic. I love Stevie Winwood. Marshall Tucker had a lot of flute.”

The market for rock ‘n’ roll flutists hasn’t been hot since, say, the 1980s. But Steinbeck has brought a rock ‘n’ roll defiance to her musical pursuits, steering away from the orchestral career path to blaze a trail in chamber music.

Mike White

Tyler Jackson shares a West Asheville home where, on a sunny and warm midday afternoon, every window is open and so is the front door, all without screens. Jackson tends to about eight houseplants in his bedroom and it’s all very chill.

The environment contrasts his musical alter ego, whom he calls Musashi Xero (pronounced moo-SAH-shee ZEE-row), and the lyrical content of his new record, titled “Self-Hate as a Viable Currency.” Jackson said the album comes from a place of personal desolation.

“It’s a literal time capsule of where I was this time last year,” he said.

This time a year ago, Jackson was grieving over a close friend who died a few months earlier from a fentanyl overdose. They were only two days apart in age, and Jackson, now 29, considered his friend a brother. The song “No Entry No Escape” speaks directly to his loss and grief.

courtesy of the artist


Judy Calabrese’s upbringing would make for a riveting memoir. There’s a cheating father and a mother who disowned her, fundamentalist Catholicism and the wherewithal as an 18-year-old to pay for and put herself into therapy.

But beyond her own journals, Calabrese found the notion of making art from her own history foreign and terrifying. She went to college to become an actress.

“I wanted to be a fiction writer, and I was terrified when people said my writing was dramatic,” she said. “People would say ‘Is this based on your life?’ and I’d say ‘Absolutely not—these are characters.’ I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on with me.”

courtesy of the artist


The rock singer and Hendersonville native Raphael Morales only recently changed his name to Beaui Roca.

He said never identified with his birth name or easily navigated what he called the minefield of gender expression that came with it. Roca articulates other points of angst in his lyrics for the local rock band Strange Avenues.

“I’m very angry about a lot of things right now,” Roca said. “The first record was very personal and a lot of that content was about me, specifically. I was writing about addiction, depression, kind of like co-dependence and fear of yourself and alcoholism.”

Courtesy of Katey Schultz


Katey Schultz went to college to study philosophy and become a memoirist. Then one day, out of nowhere, one short sentence popped into her mind.

Jet was bull tired, hound dog tired.

And that sent her down a rabbit hole, one sentence, one story at a time, into the world of fiction.

“Nonfiction is always there for me. It’s how I make sense of the world, through journaling or writing personal essays that might never leave my own desk,” Schultz said. “But fiction was enthralling because I could ask questions and imagine answers with precision and heart, so sort of combine my imagination with research, and then find the middle ground of realist literary fiction where, in some ways, the truths I was writing in fiction were truer than real life.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

The Asheville Art Museum has finally set a reopening date — Nov. 14.

The museum has been closed for three years while completing its $24 million renovation and expansion, with a number of construction and permitting hiccups along the way pushing back the project timeline.

 

The museum will reopen with 54,000 square feet — up from 12,000. It will feature a new rooftop sculpture terrace and cafe, atrium, public art installations, an all-ages play space and 10 new galleries showcasing the permanent collection.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Aaron Lipsky is a 16-year-old junior at Asheville’s A.C. Reynolds High School. But by many measures, Lipsky is far beyond his years.

Lipsky is a clarinetist, rehearsing here with another clarinetist and a pianist for a concert he put together. Lipsky estimates his business, called Clarinet and Friends, drums up eight or nine performances every month at churches, house concerts and retirement communities throughout Western North Carolina.

“It’s kinda based on this idea the clarinet can play so many different styles of music that I just wanted to play as many concerts as possible,” Lipsky said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Julyan Davis is a British native who moved to the American southeast 30 years ago on a hunch, that he would find the paintings he wanted to make in the people of these hills and hollers.

“Where I grew up, it’s very manicured. I was always sort of drawn to a more gritty landscape, and the South particularly interested me,” Davis said. “The south has a great tradition of photography, but in painting, there wasn’t really that, so I felt my work filled a niche. It was sort of discovering the beauty and melancholy of places that were generally falling down. It was the vanishing South, really.”

Sandra Stambaugh

Until now, renting the 500-seat Diana Wortham Theater was impractical and unaffordable for smaller-budgeted arts organizations. But a renovation and rebranding has opened two smaller, black box spaces at the renamed Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, and the Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective is the center’s first formally recognized resident company.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


From his warehouse in West Asheville, Brian Boggs designs and builds wooden chairs with tools and machines you just can’t find at a Home Depot.

Every carving tool that fits in your hand and every machine to cut and shape boards, Boggs built them himself.

“The way it saws makes a huge difference in how you work the material,” Boggs said. “It gives us an edge that most woodworkers just don’t have.”

Up close, the contraptions look like high school shop class projects. But they’re at the center of an operation employing seven people, plus Boggs’ wife, and preparing for the Dubai Hotel Show, in the United Arab Emirates.

courtesy of the artist


The members of the Asheville band Secret Shame never really address the roots of their name. But when guitarist Nikki Gish talks about the music on the band’s new album, “Dark Synthetics,” Gish reveals a personal secret that could have broken up the band.

“I have a major mental illness and I think that played a part in a lot of what shaped that album,” Gish said, citing a bipolar disorder that causes simultaneous mania and depression.

 

“During that time being untreated and then having this mental illness play out in the practice space, (the band) were very much a part of my paranoia and psychosis and delusion I was experiencing at the time,” Gish said. “I think that shapes the music—that’s literally what they were feeling—and chicken wire and duct tape were the only things that held it together.”

Secret Shame’s album-release show for “Dark Synthetics” is Sept. 16 at the Mothlight in West Asheville.

David Huff Creative / davidhuffcreative.com


The Asheville Art Museum's long-awaited reopening is awaiting longer than anyone hoped or anticipated.

Just a few months ago, museum officials gave area media a first look from inside the renovated galleries and announced an opening sometime in the summer. Now that summer has passed, leaders now are saying the museum won’t welcome visitors again at least until October -- three years after the museum closed for its $24 million renovation.

Liz Williams


Al Murray and Liz Williams met less than a year ago, but their pairing as artists in a new exhibition is two lifetimes in the making.

The exhibition “Up/Rooted” is at Revolve Gallery, in Asheville’s RAMP Studios building, through Sept. 3. The Campaign for Southern Equality supported the creation of this work and is presenting the exhibition.

“I’ve always been drawn to metalwork as an expression of a working-class masculinity that I’ve never known how to embody,” Murray said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s difficult to tell which is more unsettling, the memory Edwin Salas carries of his rape 30 years ago inside a Costa Rican museum or that the rape shaped him as an artist.

“The man closed the door in a little room with a collection of insect and began to hit me,” Salas recalled. “From there come from my first performance, in Italy, about a pedophilic relationship.”

Even more disturbing: That might not be the most traumatic episode in Salas’ life. Born in Mexico, Salas said he was just 3 years old when, as he later learned, his mother was kidnapped, tortured and murdered.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Every day, more than 17,000 cars pass through the intersection of Broadway and Woodfin, on the northern edge of downtown Asheville. There’s a new effort to steer them south and to steer motorists’ to think of this as a cultural corridor.

“The gateway entrance to the north end of downtown seemed to lack definition,” said Chris Joyell, director of the Asheville Design Center and on the core committee behind what’s called the Broadway Cultural Gateway planning project.

courtesy of the artist


Three decades ago, as the principal cellist of the Asheville Symphony, Judith Glixon performed pieces from Bach, Benjamin Britten and other composers for the sheer love of the music.

But over the years, long after moving away from the southeast, Glixon’s commitment to social activism has grown and rivaled her devotion to music.

“I call myself a Type A personality with a Type B constitution,” she said. “I was wearing myself out with various kinds of activism, working as a freelance cellist, raising my daughter and doing my part-time psychotherapy practice.”

There are elements of each—activism, music, therapy and motherly care—wrapped into what Glixon is calling “One Cello, One Planet.” It’s a program of solo cello music Glixon has themed around climate change awareness.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Author Megan Shepherd and her family live on an old farm on six acres in the town of Etowah, near her native Brevard. They keep bees. Chickens roam the backyard. There’s a wooden shack that once stored corn, and there’s a small, rustic guesthouse where Shepherd—accompanied by her 6-year-old Terrier mix, Bascom—does much of her writing. 

“As a writer, I spend so much time in my head and I struggle with actually physically connecting to the world,” Shepherd said. “So to get out there and have to breathe fresh air, work in the soil, be in nature, it’s really a healthy lifestyle. I quickly discovered I’m a terrible gardener, but I love it. For me, it’s a perfect balance.”

Photos courtesy of Ryan Anderson


At the time, five years ago, it seemed like another forgettable gig. Todd Weakley’s band shared a bill at the The Odditorium in West Asheville with a duo -- Ryan Anderson and his brother. Weakley remembers Anderson approaching and introducing himself.

“And my initial impression was like ‘Oh no, it’s gonna one of those shows,’” Weakley recalled. “But when he played, I was absolutely transfixed and I felt compelled to know more about this person.”

Sandra Stambaugh


If you want to stage a dance or theater production in downtown Asheville, your options are limited. You could rent the 40-seat BeBe Theatre or the 35-Below space, operated by Asheville Community Theater, which can hold about 75 people. But if you want marquee appeal, something that can draw foot traffic, you have to rent the Diana Wortham Theatre.

“The ability to fill a 500-seat space, for a local company, is sometimes overwhelming,” said Rae Geoffrey, the Wortham’s executive director. “The size and scope of Diana Wortham Theatre over the years has gotten too large for a lot of people and it has become used so often we frequently don’t have space in there.”

In the past few years, Geoffrey and the Wortham’s board grew concerned. They believed the theater’s programming didn’t reflect Asheville’s racial and ethnic diversity and ticket prices were out of reach for many. So they committed to expanding both the capacity and accessibility of the theater.

In September, the rebranded Wortham Center for the Performing Arts will hold three separate spaces -- the 500-seat main stage, a flexible black box space that can hold up to 100 and a multipurpose studio that can seat up to 60.

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.

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.

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