Arts & Performance

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.”

A pianist, flutist and harpist perform in front of a lake and trees at Brevard Music Center
Photo Credit Chuck Gilmore, Courtesy of Brevard Music Center

BPR is pleased to announce SummerStages, a six-week long series from our friends at WDAV that brings listeners a collection of past performances at the Brevard Music Center Summer Festival and An Appalachian Summer Festival in Boone. Grab your picnic basket, blanket and your radio or smartphone and enjoy your lunch or dinner while listening to classical music’s great performers and conductors. Tune in on BPR Classic July 19th-August 25th, Mondays 7-9 PM and Wednesdays 12-2 PM.   

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. 

 

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.

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.

Bars in North Carolina  welcomed back customers indoors over the weekend after almost a year of outdoor only cocktail service.  On Friday, the Governor Roy Cooper’s new executive order took effect, allowing indoor service at bars with 30% capacity,  lifting the 10 p.m. curfew and  easing capacity restrictions for a number of businesses and venues.  During Wednesday’s briefing the governor stressed that the new order was part of his continued “dimmer switch approach”  noting that key indicators used to guide decisions throughout pandemic show state’s trends are moving in the right direction.  On the same day the order went into effect, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the country’s recent progress in slowing the coronavirus spread may be "stalling" as highly infectious new variants become more predominant.     BPR’s Helen Chickering discussed the new order and variants with NC Health News Editor Rose Hoban.

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.”

Dancers in colorful costumes from the Krewe du Kanaval in New Orleans
Photo courtesy of Gason Ayisin/WXPN

For Black History Month, Blue Ridge Public Radio is pleased to present Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans, a three-part series February 24-26 at 7:00 PM on BPR Classic.

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.

Brevard Elementary students seen on the screen of a zoom class.
Jeanne DeJong

A Western North Carolina class recently had their original poetry featured on NPR. Jeanne DeJong is a fifth grade teacher for the Online Learning Path at Brevard Elementary School in Transylvania County. She asked her students to write their own "I Dream A World’” poem to submit to Morning Edition and some of her students’ lines made it into the final version that aired Thursday, January 28.

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