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

Courtesy of Aaron Snook


Aaron Snook has devoted his professional life to creating theater off the beaten path.

“I started envisioning a theater that was different, that was more inclusive, and more community building,” he said. “The mission itself is to create new American myths.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Monica McDaniel didn’t grow up with theater and hasn’t seen much theater as an adult. So even she can’t quite answer why she thought about writing her first play.

“I was sitting at a family member’s house, watching TV and I was like “What would you think if I did a play?’ And she was like ‘OK?” And I just went home and wrote a play,” McDaniel recalled. “I feel like God gives me something and I go with it.”


Listen to the Asheville band Town Mountain, and you hear mandolin, banjo, the twang in the harmonies—all the markers of bluegrass.

But listen a little more closely. There are socially conscious lyrics and, on the new album—gasp—a drummer. From early on, band members say Town Mountain never quite fit within the bounds of traditional bluegrass.

Caity Fares

Susan Patrice can trace generations of violence and trauma against the women in her family. So in photographing people of the South, Patrice had to scale her own hurdles stemming from trauma.

“Documentary photography is a deep relationship, and part of what makes my work so successful was the quality of connection with the place and the people,” Patrice said. “One of the outcomes of trauma is it isolates you, it separates you.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Matt Wilson remembers tagging along with his older brother, Brian, to comic book shops near his family home of Shelby, N.C. Brian was interested in the investment potential of comic books. The younger Wilson had a different motive.

“I didn’t know about the collectibility aspect of it,” he said. “More than anything, I just liked reading them. I’d find some books to buy and I would just read them over and over again, cover to cover.

Courtesy of Tina Barr

Tina Barr earned a PhD in poetry and a tenured professorship at a small college, and then she met a jazz pianist.

“My husband was willing to do his work or die, so he spent years living in Brooklyn, sleeping on a futon rolled up under his piano,” Barr said. “He really was an example to me of how to be an artist, and so I feel like now I can call myself a writer.”

Courtesy of Okapi

Scott Gorski and Lindsey Miller are lucky they found each other, because it’s hard to imagine them making music with anyone else.

“You learn what you like by identifying what it is you don’t identify with,” Gorski said. “That’s an easier way of exploring and identifying what it is that resonates with you.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Only those involved with local theater might be surprised Steven Samuels is back in action.

In September of last year, Samuels was fired from Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre, which Samuels co-founded and ran for eight seasons. He was still smarting, still angry, when he decided, in some respects, to pick up right where he left off, but with a fresh company.

“My concern and caring for other artists is so strong that, even though I knew the best thing I could do was focus on myself and my family, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I had to find a way to support these other artists, as well.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Jamieson Ridenhour remembers himself as a 10-year-old, reading the original “Dracula” novel and staying awake with his mother well past midnight to watch classic horror movies.

Nearly four decades later, Ridenhour has built a career from his early obsession.

“Good horror writing works when it’s more than just the horror, when it has some kind of psychological depth to it,” he said. “There’s a metaphor for something else going on.”

Sandlin Gaither


Imagine you’re in a band performing at a club or even if you’re just a solo artist with a guitar in a coffeeshop. You want to sense people are listening. You want engagement. You want applause.

That is, unless you’re one of the members of the longtime Asheville trio Free Planet Radio. They recall a recent show at the Light Center in Black Mountain that was one continuous flow of music for nearly 90 minutes.

“Everyone is lying on their backs with their eyes closed,” said guitarist and composer Chris Rosser. “It’s more like a meditative experience, definitely the opposite of a concert, really.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Melodie Galloway is bothered by what she sees every time she takes the podium at a rehearsal of the Asheville Choral Society.

“We are very, very white,” she said with a chuckle. “We have a few people of color, but we are heavily caucasian.”

Magnetic Theatre

As Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre prepares to open its new show, 13-year-old Cory Silver has two concerns.

“Of course my main goal is to pull it off,” he said. “But my second goal is definitely to not offend anybody.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Like the artform it’s dedicated to, Asheville Bookworks is hidden. You could stand right in front of its building in West Asheville and patronize four other storefronts without ever knowing—because there’s no sign to tell you—the entrance is tucked onto the side.

That’s worked just fine for the screenprinters, papermakers and mixed-media book artists who, since 2004, have regarded Asheville Bookworks as their town square.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Browse around the Cottage Craftsman, a gift shop in the center of Bryson City, and you’ll see candle holders, wall hangings, baskets, pottery, jewelry, a small selection of wine.

Paige L. Christie is too modest to point them out on her own—and they do look a bit out of place— but if you ask her about the fantasy novels displayed on a small stand near the register, she’s more than happy to tell you a little bit about the author.

“I’ve been developing the world of my novels since I was about 14 years old,” Christie said.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Like many novelists, Jacqui Castle stumbled into fiction through a side door. She mixed a background in psychology, some surrounding social and political upheaval and a few encouraging friends to wind up with “The Seclusion,” her debut novel.

“For years, people have been telling me to try to write fiction, and I just kinda brushed it off,” she said. “I hadn’t really felt a drive to do that, but once I started, I haven’t stopped.”

Courtesy of Bask


Zeb Camp was studying Appalachian history and Southern literature four years ago, at UNC-Asheville, when he began writing lyrics for the Asheville band Bask.

While folk, bluegrass and the iconic singer-songwriter are the soul of our regional music scene, guitar-driven heavy music is emerging here, and Bask is at the forefront. The music is soaked in heavy guitars, but the tone and lyrical sentiments are baked in this part of the south.

Courtesy of Jeanie Linders

Jeanie Linders has inspired a lot of people to think they, too, can create or copy a hit stage show and change their own lives forever.

“My show has been knocked off 14 times by other people,” she said. “There’s ‘Weight Watchers: The Musical,’ ‘Assisted Living: The Musical,’ all written by guys that think it’s different. Because the show was a cash cow.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Most people associate the Brevard Music Center with summer classical concerts featuring world-class performers in an open-air auditorium. Away from the spotlight, about 400 teens and twentysomethings come from around the country to spend most of their summer studying classical performance at Brevard Music Center.

“I’m totally illiterate when it comes to pop culture, because my head is in classical music,” said Myles McKnight, an 18-year-old violinist from Hendersonville.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


The remote, Western North Carolina town of Highlands is known for its leafy mountains, tony shops and pricey living. Only 941 people claimed it as their home on the last census.

That doesn’t seem to deter some of the nation’s top young stage talent from spending their summers at Highlands Playhouse, building up their resumes and entertaining a largely senior audience with the tried and true in musical theater.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Robert Beatty was still in his 30s when he sold his tech company for millions of dollars and moved with his wife and three daughters from Michigan to 32 acres of green forest in Fletcher.

 

Beatty never had to work again, and his story could have ended there. But success in business was just one of his two life goals. Beatty set a detailed, determined plan to fulfill the second.

Eakin Howard


Brooklyn Reese is 12 years old and, when she’s healthy, she’s sort of a second mother to her younger sister and brother.

“Before I got sick, I had a lot of responsibility, because Izzy, she had trouble with math and homework, so when we got home from school, I’d help her with her homework,” she said. “And I’d take care of Jackson and give him a sippy and make him a peanut butter sandwich.”

Holly Kays


Holly Kays studied creative fiction in college and saw herself on a path to becoming a novelist.

 

“Everybody who likes to write is writing a book at some point,” she said. “Most of those books never actually wind up being written.”
 

Like most budding novelists, Kays has another job to pay her bills. Unlike most, Kays works for a sympathetic boss.

Natural Born Leaders


Mike Martinez doesn’t like talking about growing up in Union, N.J., but he will say moving to Hendersonville as an 18-year-old saved his life.

“I was getting in trouble in ways I don’t necessarily want to talk about, but I was not headed on a good path,” he said. “I’m not even sure I’d be alive if I lived in New Jersey.”

Photo: Casey Lance Brown. Background: Clinton C Brown


If you feel a rumbling in the air this week, don’t look to the weather report. Instead, check out the schedule for the Asheville Percussion Festival. To the ears of founder River Guerguerian, this festival is as much about community as it is about music.

“I look at it like there’s a kitchen, there’s 10-12 cooks, each cook brings one recipe,” he said. “You put the recipe on the table and we all work on it together.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Like a lot of excited, ambitious entrepreneurs, Heather Maloy put her head down and bulled forward with her plan: She wanted to create a fulltime professional ballet company in Asheville.

“With it being a summer tourist community and being very alive in the summer, it seemed like a great starting point,” she said. “But I wasn’t really thinking fully how to get past that summer point to a year-round point.”

courtesy of Janet Oliver


From her earliest memories, Janet Oliver was different than every other child she knew in Batesville, Ark. Her father was a white civil rights lawyer, her mother black, and the adults around her—particularly the women in her matriarchal family—pushed her to greatness.

“The women around me said you will get a great education, you will leave Arkansas and you will have a life,” she said. “I was self-directed, I was opinionated, I was articulated and I was obedient, and I think they liked that factor far more.”

After a season devoted to auditioning six finalists, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra has tapped Darko Butorac as its next music director. Butorac succeeds Daniel Meyer, who departed the orchestra after the end of the most recent season, his 12th in Asheville.

Butorac, 40, began his life in classical music as a cellist, but had his first chance to conduct an orchestra when he was 17. From then on, he knew he wanted a life on the podium.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s hard to miss Sharon Cooper on the dance floor. Her expression is almost always wide-eyed, focused and intense. Even her slowest movements carry urgency.

But then there’s Cooper, the pediatric nurse. With her young patients, she’s smiling, animated and tender.

“I’ve always been interested in it, and always very interested in the body and the way it works and muscle systems,” Cooper said of nursing.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

EDITOR'S NOTE: The audio version of this story includes incorrect information about the frequency of flooding of the French Broad River. The river has crested above 10 feet during seven of the past 15 years, drawn from National Weather Service data.

Around 11am Wednesday, Pattiy Torno stood on the steel mesh deck of the open gallery and meeting space at 14 Riverside Drive, looked out over the brush at the rising tan-brown waters of the French Broad River and sighed.

“If the river gets to 11 feet, I’m moving my stuff. It’s that simple,” she said. “I have a storage locker about two blocks away specifically for this purpose.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Before she went by the singular name of Lytingale, Lois Henrickson envisioned a career fronting a folk rock band.

“Any day now I’m going to be discovered. Don’t you know this?” she said with a laugh.

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