What kind of person can keep their finger on the pulse of WNC’s ever-evolving arts scene? The short answer: It takes a very rare breed, and Mountain Xpress has been lucky to find two of these rarities to helm our arts-and-entertainment section.
Saying goodbye, at least for now, is outgoing A&E Editor Melanie McGee Bianchi, who has helped shape her section for more than a decade. She connected with Xpress in 1997 as a freelance writer, then took on roles ranging from arts reporter to editorial assistant before starting the editorship in 1999. Under her steady hand, our arts coverage has grown by leaps and bounds, and chalked up key awards. To cite just one of them: In 2006, the North Carolina Press Association named the Xpress’ Bele Chere guide, which Melanie edited, the best special newspaper section in the state.
Melanie will continue to write and edit on occasion, but she’s heading home to spend more time with her 10-month-old son, Beau.
Her finest memory from the years she’s logged at Xpress? “Getting a personal postcard from humorist David Sedaris after a great phone interview,” she ventures. “The worst,” she adds, “was getting chased out of a coffee shop with a rolled up Xpress by a local jazz singer who didn’t get the coverage she thought she deserved.” (And on her way out of our proverbial door, Melanie has revealed a secret she’s heretofore held close to the vest: “I dislike ‘art cars.’ I’ve never seen one that didn’t embarrass me.”)
Melanie is passing the torch to Steve Shanafelt, Xpress’ new A&E editor. Like Melanie, Steve is an MX mainstay, having worn many hats here since coming on board as an intern in 2000. He’s written about the news and the arts as a reporter and columnist. He worked as our calendar editor and on various special projects, serving as a jack-of-all-trades for Web work, festival planning and other sundry pursuits. Last fall, he held the interim A&E editor spot while Melanie was on maternity leave.
Steve says it’s not fair to ask his best Xpress memory, because “most of the last seven years have been dominated by good-to-great memories.” He does recall a bitter—but educational—one: “Getting dressed down by [Publisher] Jeff Fobes while I was still an intern for writing a really dumb, pointlessly insulting piece about a vegetarian conference. My writing career here hadn’t even started yet, and I thought I was already on the verge of getting fired.”
As he takes the reins, Steve says that much will stay the same in A&E. “We’ll keep focusing on local arts, theater, music and culture,” he notes. What will change? “Expect more activity on our Web site, and we’ll be adding a few features—such as local-music reviews—to the paper,” he says. “There’s much more than that in the works, actually, but I’d hate to ruin the surprise.”
— The editors