Arts & 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.

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.

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.

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.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the Rabbit Motel in Asheville’s South Slope drew touring black musicians to the four tiny rooms out back and the soul food restaurant facing McDowell Street. On Saturday, the motel launched its new life as SoundSpace, with the four motel rooms converted to rehearsal studios for bands to rent by the hour or month, with plans to refurbish and reopen the soul food restaurant in about a year.

Lexi Yauch

The holidays are traditionally box office bonanzas for theaters, musical artists and anyone who can stage a version of “The Nutcracker.” But with the pandemic sidelining almost everyone’s plans, two Western North Carolina productions are finding unique ways to carry on.

Matt Peiken | BPR News


Artists often clean their studios before visitors arrive. But inside her Swannanoa home, Jenny Pickens’ painting studio is always immaculate.

The first clue that this is so: Pickens’ studio is carpeted—a rarity among painters—and you won’t find a drop of other color on the plush butterscotch.

“Growing up, I had limited space. My grandmother, oh gosh, she would fuss at me all the time—‘you wake up with a crayon, you go to bed with a crayon,’” she recalled. “I had to be clean with whatever I used.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News


It’s a Saturday afternoon at Asheville’s Arthur Edington Center, inside what was once an elementary school classroom converted into the well-lived-in home for the black and brown teens of Word on the Street.

Keitra Black-Warfield, a 15-year-old who attends Erwin High School, is among eight others at tables or on the floor, are painting, drawing and adding textiles destined for murals to hang from the walls here.

“It changed me for real,” Black-Warfield said of the program. “It taught me about your community, about your family, about your connections you build with people.”

  Deborah Lewis-Smith grew up in Asheville, and the first thought she had upon meeting John Cram, in 1971, was he wasn’t going to stay in town very long.

“John was bigger than Asheville,” Lewis-Stein recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh, he’s going to get bored and leave.’ Instead, he brought the party to Asheville.”

That party is continuing strong in the wake of Cram’s death Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 72.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

  Public art often invites public debate, but a new sculpture in downtown Asheville has drawn a surprising group of critics—the people the sculpture was created to honor. 

This past week, Hotel Arras unveiled a 14-foot-tall steel sculpture at the northeast corner of Patton and Lexington avenues. It was conceived and designed as an homage to street performers.


A comedian performs in a back yard under string lights before a small crowd.
Photo Courtesy Melissa Hahn

Melissa Hahn had found a way to make it in comedy—not with her own punchlines, but by presenting funny people five to seven nights a week, at assorted Asheville venues, through her company Modelface Comedy

“In February, I did the biggest show of my career. I got to produce a live comedy special for Bobcat Goldthwait at the Mothlight,” she recalled. “And then a month later, the world stops.” 

There were four full-time staff and one part-timer, when Katie Cornell took over just a year ago as executive director of the Asheville Area Arts Council

Today, Cornell is the entire staff. The council gave up its South Slope offices, gallery and rental studios, inside the Refinery Building, and now has no physical space beyond Cornell’s home office.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Eighty-one years ago, when Asheville had two daily newspapers, the new art deco building that housed them across from the Grove Arcade featured tall ceilings, glass block windows, frosted light sconces and vast, marble floors with custom inlays. On the third story, long ago hidden beneath asbestos tiling, there was another unique floor. 

“And you see all these pock marks?” Gar Ragland said, pointing down. “These are cello stands, these are mic stands, I mean, who knows?”

When Ragland learned this was also the one-time home of WWNC-AM Radio, he knew he’d found the home for his own dream—of resurrecting an artifact from a bygone musical era while giving Asheville something altogether new: A vinyl records pressing plant.


Asheville’s most well-known painter has died. Jonas Gerard was an icon of the River Arts District, where he had a thriving gallery and studio since moving to Asheville from Florida in 2006. Gerard died Friday morning at age 79.

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Lexi DeYeso remembers the pride and passion she felt early this summer as Black Lives Matter protests unfolded in downtown Asheville. 

“I do stand with the movement and peaceful protesting,” DeYeso said.

But when people disrupted the protests by smashing store windows, DeYeso’s boutique, Hazel Twenty, was among the first hit.

“I was screaming, I was shaking,” she recalled. “I was powerless and angry, really.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Asheville’s two leading visual arts institutions are reopening this week to fit within the guidelines of North Carolina’s Phase 2.5 restrictions.

The Asheville Art Museum has reopened for members and on Saturday reopens to the general public. Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center opens its doors Sept. 16. Both are requiring face coverings for all visitors.

Kristen Marie Greene of KMG*Photography

Eleanor Underhill’s new record is called “Land of the Living,” and listening straight through can be a little dizzying.

Her songs skip from ‘90s alt-rock (“Strange Chemistry”) and synth pop (“Run with the Wolves”) to banjo-inflected techno (“Middle of Life”), straight-up R&B (“Easier Than This”) and the rootsy Americana at the foundation of Underhill’s musical history. And then there’s the intimate storytelling, some of it from a third-person distance, some from first-person vulnerability.

Jern Watson

Earlier this year, just as Covid-19 shut down the nation, Jared MacEachern moved with his girlfriend into the home he just bought in the mountains of Santa Cruz, Calif. As the wildfires there forced them to evacuate just a few days ago, MacEachern sounded surprisingly calm as he spoke from a friend’s house in San Francisco.

“The air at the house, there are times when it’s clear and we can’t even tell, and there are other times it’s really smoky, it stinks, my throat gets really scratchy,” MacEachern said. “But luckily, the flames have stayed a good distance away, so we’re thankful for that.”

His outlook in the face of potential disaster perhaps stems from a greater life perspective.

courtesy of the author

In the late 1990s, so few students from Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva moved on to Ivy League colleges that even the school’s secretary seemed baffled to learn Annette Clapsaddle earned acceptance to one. That’s how Clapsaddle remembers it, after taking a phone call in the front office from her mom, telling her about the news.

“I got off the phone and the secretary looked at me and said ‘What was that about?’ and I told her and she said ‘Are you playing basketball there?’ and I said ‘No,’ and she was like ‘Oh,’ Clapsaddle recalled. “And that’s all she said, like, if you’re not playing sports, oh well.”

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Around 9:30 this past Friday night, Asheville’s Pack Square sounded eerily familiar. There were no protestors or counter-protesters surrounding the Vance Monument, no police on bikes or in riot gear. A busker serenaded people—almost all of them white—waiting in a tightly packed line outside French Broad Chocolate.

If it weren’t for the relatively few wearing masks, you’d swear this was so 2019.

But if you rounded the corner onto Broadway and looked up at the facade of the Asheville Art Museum, you saw beautifully rendered drawings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop and, yes, George Floyd, dissolving into text quotes from the novelist James Baldwin and the activist Cece McDonald, along with the call to “Defend Black Lives.”