Tag Archives: creative

Christy Chan

February 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This is the first in a series on artists in residency at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Christy Chan was at the tail end of her residency when we spoke; it started Sept. 20 and ended Nov. 17. The theme was Art, Empathy, and Ethos. The artist and storyteller is now back home in Oakland, California.

Christy Chan says she enjoys the view from her room at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, even though it faces the train tracks downtown.

“I actually really like it,” she says. “I think trains are romantic.”

Chan lived at the Bemis for two months in the fall while doing a residency there. She is an interdisciplinary artist who enjoys telling stories through video, audio, performance, and installations. The Bemis residency offers her a chance to work on her latest project and to do all the things she doesn’t necessarily get to focus on at home. Perhaps most importantly, it provides her a unique experience.

“I was really intrigued to come here, because I’ve lived on two coasts, I’ve lived abroad, but I’ve seen more of other countries than I have of this country,” she says.

Aside from her general curiosity, Chan says she also felt that living in a time when politics are so polarizing, it was important to see more of the country.

“Because I do work about class and race and power, specifically in the United States, it’s important that I see more of it…I think it’s easy for different groups of people, different areas of the U.S., to be ‘cartoonized,’” she says, adding that this is something that happens all over the world and is not unique to this country.

She was familiar with the Bemis residency program and even applied four years ago. This time around, she applied because the themes seemed like a perfect fit.

Chan’s experience with the themed residency exemplifies the goal of the program. She says she enjoys meeting all the artists. The fact that the theme is empathy and they all lay claim to that attachment in their work gave them a lot to talk about.

Chan says a residency gives her the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day routine of her nine-to-five job as a freelance film producer. “The thing I love about residencies is going somewhere and having a natural response to the environment and stumbling onto things that I become curious about,” she says. “I think that really feeds my work.”

Though she’s working on multiple projects at the Bemis, she is developing a project called “Everybody Eats Lunch.”

“I guess most artists would call it a social practice project, to use fancy words, but I just call it a community art project.”

Chan’s parents were Chinese immigrants who owned a Chinese restaurant in her hometown in Virginia. She says she grew up seeing how coming together for a meal breaks down walls. “It just does,” she says. “Gathering and eating and talking is just part of our human nature.”

She says the plan is to have the project open to anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Chan launched the project here, when she met with two Omahans. She also has friends in Oakland and New York who are participating, but hopes to see it spread far beyond that. “Right now, it’s sort of unfolding in this organic way,” she says.

For her two lunches here, she says Block 16 agreed to sponsor them. Come spring, there will be an official website where people can view those lunches and more.

She says the idea is to record the lunch conversation, and, if you’re comfortable doing so, taking a picture with each other. If not, she suggests taking a picture of the food you’re eating together. “No matter who we are or where we come from,” Chan says, “we all come together over food and conversation and that’s something we all share.”

“I really want to give people some freedom,” Chan says, “because it’s not about how good a photographer you are…it should be as easy as recording it on your phone. And the pictures don’t have to be great.” She says the idea is to collectively create a larger conversation that people will listen to, with one conversation leading to another.

“The premise of it is coming from the fact that we keep hearing that we live in this polarized time, how we’re all in these echo chambers,” Chan says, “not just because of digital media, but because we are on digital media all the time. That in itself is its own echo chamber.”

Chan says in an ideal world, you would be able to meet and talk to anyone, or just go deeper in a conversation with someone you already know.

“Politically, conversations are very polarized. I think there’s truth to that,” she says. “The idea of it is just to have lunch with somebody you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with, someone you consider a stranger and, for whatever reason, they at first seem too different from you, you haven’t had a connection…my intention is to give people an excuse to notice who’s around them and feel more connected to the people around them. It might be that someone has different political views or values. I think that will be interesting to see how these lunches go.”

She adds, “As all these really heated, political things are happening, it might feel good to be connecting in a way that’s just one-on-one.”

Chan says that for her, the project has made her think about all the people she sees everywhere, every day, who she hasn’t had a conversation with. “Everyone has a story,” she says, “everybody has something interesting about their life.”

“A lot of my work is really about humanizing who people are, sort of stripping away the easy categories—age, race, gender, sexuality, and just humanizing who we are,” she says. “So, I was really excited to come here.”

Chan says she’s been driving around Nebraska, even heading into South Dakota, looking at different points of interest. She finds homesteads particularly fascinating, and even planned a trip to Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back here again, so I want to see everything,” she says. “It’s been a really great place to do research and just feel inspired.”

As a storyteller, she says seeing the pioneer history and how that story was told interested her because a lot of her work revolves around that—storytelling and looking at the ways stories are scripted into our culture, whether they’re right or wrong. “A lot of my work is about using stories to subvert stories, or to create a fuller picture.”

Chan says that as she’s been exploring, she’s been making video and audio recordings. She has also read and reread a lot of books written about and set in the Midwest, from graphic novels, to autobiographies of Native Americans who were forced to go to boarding schools and assimilate, and even the Little House on the Prairie books.

“It’s felt really special to be here and see where a lot of things have happened in history.”

Chan says it’s important to look at things with a critical eye, as far as what are the narratives being told.

“Something that really blew my mind once I got out here and I was looking at where everything was, was realizing that where the Little House on the Prairie books, where those stories were set, were right next to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and that essentially those two stories are related,” she says. She finds it interesting how those two narratives
are represented.

While she obviously made that connection before, she says she felt it in a much more visceral way when she saw the land, adding that it’s different to be able to read the book and then drive over to see the site.

“The fact that we have, not just the Little House books, but other books that create this narrative of what we think our history is,” she says, “but there’s this other narrative that’s also completely true, and they coexist together…
it’s complex.”

Besides traveling around Nebraska to get a sense of what this part of the country looks like, she’s also been visiting art museums and galleries to see how stories are represented there.

“I feel like sometimes seeds get planted while in residency, and then later on, they take form. I feel that might happen here as well,” she says. “When I’m in a new place and something’s pulling me to look at it, I just kind of try to trust that feeling…and go with it.” 

All About the Residency

Holly Kranker is the residency project manager at the Bemis Center and has been with the program since 2013. She says themed residencies (like this year’s: Art, Empathy, and Ethos) are somewhat new to Bemis. This year marks the third one.

Kranker says two years ago, they started residency schedules, with the artists arriving and leaving at the same time, in a three-month block. In the past, the Bemis would have artists coming and going frequently, Kranker says, so they wanted to create more of a cohort.

Kranker says they wanted the residents to have a richer experience with the other artists they were meeting, “so it would be more fulfilling and give them a chance to really get to know each other.” She says residency blocks usually run from January to April, and May to August, with themed residencies developed by their artistic director lasting just two months—from September until November.

Previous themes were Future of Food, Sci-fi, and the Human Condition. For now, the future of the thematic residencies is unknown. However, their regular residencies will continue.

Kranker describes the process of getting a residency as a two-panel process, with three panelists each. The first panel is given criteria to look for, including whether it’s contemporary, consistent, aesthetic, and whether the artist has a true command and understanding of the work they’re doing.

During the second wave, they tally up the first panel reviews and the top-scoring applicants move on. She says the top applicants end up being roughly 20 percent of the pool.

“For a full residency year, we generally receive around 1,000 to 1,100 applications. Of those, we’re able to place roughly 36 artists in the residency per calendar year.” This is about 3 to 4 percent of the total pool.

Unfortunately, Kranker says they won’t have a thematic residency for 2018. However, that’s not to say they won’t ever have them again.

“Residencies are a living, breathing thing and we’re always evaluating and being responsive to what artists needs are in contemporary art.” 

Visit christychan.com to learn more about the artist. To learn more about the project, go here everybodyeatsclunch.com.

Visit bemiscenter.org to find out more about the residency program.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of The Encounter.

 

 

Providing Uncommon Creatives a Common Community

February 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Luke Armstrong is in the midst of completing a facelift. Fair warning: he’s never worked under the knife, favors knit cardigans to scrubs, and has no expertise in the medical field whatsoever.

A botched procedure, this is not. Instead of erasing wrinkles and chiseling cheekbones, Armstrong is restructuring Cali Commons to become the starting point of a local renaissance. In January 2018, the organization’s antiquated midtown building ceased being a pseudo-gallery and co-working office, and shifted focus to become a base for artists, makers, and performers looking for a collaborative creation space. Think of it like a club for grownups, only way cooler.

“Cali Commons is now a marketplace for people who want to pursue multiple things and test ideas with other talented artists and entrepreneurs,” Armstrong says. “It’s about growing a common network and helping one another find some fulfillment.”

The corner of California and 40th streets is not new to Omaha creatives. It’s been a home for them since Armstrong and his roommate, Molly Nicklin, bought what was once a grocery store and turned it into a co-working office in 2013. Like any good artist, inspiration struck and it was time to switch up the organization’s business model.

This new and improved Cali Commons boasts access to shared spaces for events, cutting-edge technology that includes everything from live-streaming cameras to editing and marketing software, and a staff of agents who will help sell and promote work. Ideally, Armstrong hopes to recruit 40 to 50 members, asking they pay a $90 monthly fee for membership.

“The greatest benefit of being a member is working in a community of like-minded creatives who aren’t necessarily in the same field but share an interest in collaborating and assisting with other members’ projects,” says Christopher Vaughn Couse, local visual artist and member of Cali Commons.

To build this network of burgeoning creators, Armstrong started a year ago by recruiting those he has met while operating Cali Commons as a gallery. Next, he and his staff began employing grassroots marketing tactics, passing out literature espousing the benefits of membership. In an effort to contact key demographics, the organization plans to attend networking events to reach more business-minded creatives, such as graphic designers or software developers. 

Together, the 40 to 50 members will form the Uncommon Core, a group that works together to launch engaging products, services, and experiences while growing their own income. Each member has a reserved spot on a shared gallery wall at Cali Commons, where they can display work, ideas, or innovative merchandise.  

“My hope is this experiment proves that an engaged group is more valuable than any individual working on their own,” Armstrong says. “If it proves successful, maybe this is something that can be replicated elsewhere.”

Another benefit for members is the interior of the building has been designed to aid in holding myriad events, from skill-development classes and lectures to pop-up art shops. Cali Commons also hosts collaborative and competitive art nights once or twice a month.

“Members have access to events, material resources, everything they need to do something new,” Armstrong says. “Sometimes people just need permission to explore multiple things, and here, you’ll get that.”

Visit calicommons.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Local Designers’ Favorite Rooms

February 12, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Interior designers create rooms that are both beautiful and functional to reflect their clients’ tastes and needs. But what happens when there is no client involved? Three local designers describe their favorite rooms in their own homes, offering insights into their design philosophies.

Living Room
by Diane Luxford
D-Lux Interiors

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
In my living room and dining room, I love the soft gray-blue and gray-purple colors and accents of citrus lime green. I selected the furnishings for a contemporary feeling. The dining table and chairs are from a Danish furniture manufacturer—a favorite, as my heritage is Danish. I added a classic 1950s fabric, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, to the chairs.

What makes the room unique?
I have great flexibility in the room. I can remove the cocktail table, extend the dining table and add another table to seat 18 people for Christmas lunch or holiday dinners.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
Two glass-front curios and an armoire give me plenty of storage, which allows me to indulge in my love of various styles of china and stemware.

Master Bedroom
by Patti Rosholm
StageAura 

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
My bedroom stands out over all the other rooms in my house because it’s quiet. It’s not a big, rolling master bedroom like many, but it’s serene. I think women gravitate toward smaller spaces in their homes because smaller spaces feel cozy. My little dog Joanie loves the bedroom, too; she is always with me.

What makes the room unique?
The master bedroom is unique because it’s simple in design and space. The walls are a mink gray in color, complemented with white accents. The floating shelf above the white linen headboard gives the room some extra dimension and a place to display some special pieces of artwork and personal keepsakes. The contrast between the espresso-stained furniture and white accents, accompanied by dark walls and an abundance of natural light, makes it all come together. There is also a sitting area that I love. It brings in a feeling of warmth and coziness.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
We have no TV in our bedroom. The bedroom is for quiet reflection and a sense of winding down from a busy day. It’s where I go to pray and rest from a very demanding world.

Master Bath
by Pam Stanek
The Interior Design Firm

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
The master bath is one of my favorite spaces. It’s the first and last room I see every day.

What makes the room unique?
When updating the bathroom, I chose to remove traditional elements such as round columns and white raised panel cabinets. By removing the columns, I opened up this space to allow more light and highlight cleaner lines. Tile, cabinets, and countertops were selected to coordinate with the original custom-colored wallpaper. Luxe gold plumbing and hardware create a more sophisticated feel.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
Changing the whirlpool tub to a therapeutic bath, improving the efficiency of the lighting throughout, and the aesthetics of the details make this space perfect for our everyday needs and expectations.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Bit O’ Everything, Honey

February 8, 2018 by

Pick of the Week—Friday, Feb. 9-11: Celebrate your love of all things anime and show your appreciation of the multifaceted aspects of Japanese pop culture at Kanpai!Con 2018. Happening at Hotel RL, this three-day event will have games, tournaments, prizes, and a variety of special guests. Panels, meet ups, and autograph sessions will be held, as well as dances on Friday and Saturday nights. Dress to the nines if you want to attend the special Formal Fantasy Cosplay Ball on Friday, though. To get all the information you need, click here.

Thursday, Feb. 8: Take a long lunch today and head to UNO’s Milo Bail Student Center to listen to some stimulating jazz music from violinist Daniel Davis (Daniel D). The young artist hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, began performing live at the age of 12, so he knows how to entertain. So hurry and tell the boss you need a little mental health break and get to Urban Jazz Violinist | UNO Black History Month because the show starts at 11:30 a.m. Learn more about what’s happening this month at UNO here.

Saturday, Feb. 10: Still trying to find the perfect, one-of-a-kind gift for your Valentine? Then head to Bench’s Open House—Valentine’s Day Edition. This collaborative community hub provides space and tools for local artisans, and this weekend you get the chance to check it out and purchase some of their wares. Whether for that aforementioned Valentine, or to add to your own collection, there’s bound to be something to lift your spirits and bring a little much-needed sunshine to your life. Get more info here.

Saturday, Feb. 10: If your interest in pop art is more Kendrick than Kanpai, then this art show may be more your style. The Prince and Michael Jackson Tribute Art Show Opening Reception happens this Saturday at The Get Down Ultra Lounge. Art Pop Omaha is bringing you 15 local artists paying tribute to the purple one and the gloved one, respectively. Come early to mingle with the talent before the dancing starts. Don’t stop ‘til you get enough. Dress the part, and you might just win a prize, so go crazy and check out more here.

Sunday, Feb. 11: Abandon all things traditionally associated with the upcoming holiday and show your love for nature by attending Love at First Flight: Valentine’s Day Edition of Raptors…Live! Check out Fontenelle Forest’s beautiful birds of prey and learn more about them from “raptor ambassadors” and experts. Predators love too, so head out and show them a little love this weekend. This event starts at 1 p.m. and goes until 3 p.m. Swoop on over here for more details and to check out other events at the forest.

 

One Piece at a Time

January 7, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

As tattoos become increasingly normalized, it’s clear they’re no longer for burly bikers or hardened criminals alone. They’re popping up on soccer moms, young professionals, and people of all social classes. The stigma that once surrounded body art has lifted, making it much more acceptable than it was in the past. Omaha-based tattoo artist Patrick Oleson has watched the shift firsthand — even over the last few years. He’s tattooed all walks of life and finds it impossible to box them into one neat little package.

“Past generations may have a specific stereotype in mind when they imagine a ‘tattooed person,’” Oleson explains. “This no doubt stems from the early popularity of tattoos with Navy men, bikers, and prisoners. I’ve tattooed people from many different careers paths and social classes. Most of my larger multi-session work goes on young professionals.”

Self-expression and high caliber body art will never go out of style, he adds. “Society is rapidly changing its prejudice towards people with tattoos in a very positive way,” Oleson says.

Born in Anaheim Hills, California, the 35-year-old Oleson relocated to Okoboji, Iowa, where he enjoyed the sandy lake beaches and well-known tourist spots such as Arnolds Park Amusement Park for most of his formative years. Like other hopeless romantics, Oleson chased his future wife to Omaha where he’s been for the past four years.

“It seems that all the big things in life happen due to the people you choose to share them with,” he says. “Two of my best high school friends started tattooing in Omaha before I did. I moved to Omaha to pursue the woman I later married. When I got to Omaha, coincidentally I had multiple tattoo opportunities, so it all fell into place.”

Oleson apprenticed at Omega Point Tattoo Studio, and now has his own spot at the shop, but he’s always had an appreciation for the physical beauty of art on skin. He used to spend all of his vacation time in Omaha visiting friends and getting his own ink. Over the years, he’s learned there’s more to tattoos than some people realize.

“I have a better understanding of how tattoos are not only skin deep,” he says. “People also use them for self-identity, sentimentality, and their own definition of aesthetics.”

Omega Point Tattoo Studio, which he describes as “an art studio collective of serious artists who have the technical skills to apply amazing museum quality art to skin,” has provided him some incredible opportunities, especially when it comes to new technology.

“Since I started in 2013, we now have tattoo machines that run faster and smoother, and disposable needle cartridges that are safer to handle,” he explains. “I once used tracing paper and a pencil. Now, I use a self-built PC to create my designs and an iPad to trace my stencils. Technology has enhanced my tattoo game tremendously, and I’m excited about future advancements.”

One of Oleson’s specialities is photo hyperrealism, a technique intended to resemble a high-resolution photograph. It’s also one of the most challenging and inventive types of tattoos he creates.

“I welcome the challenge of photo hyperrealism,” he says. “I love capturing every subtle shift in tone and hue. When you get all the little details right, you end up with a 3D tattoo that pops off the skin. A good example of this is my Heath Ledger Joker piece. I wanted to find a frame of The Dark Knight that has never been tattooed before. I watched the Blu-ray movie, captured a unique HD screenshot and overlaid my own dynamic changes. I presented it to the client, who was
beyond thrilled.”

Armed with a background in traditional fine art from Iowa State University, Oleson and his desire to hone his craft coupled with his innate artistic ability makes him endlessly dedicated to his work. In fact, he admits he’s “obsessive,” and is currently focused on the academic side of art. >

< “I’m studying anatomy, color, and light theory, and becoming fluent in more digital art programs,” he says. “I’m continually adding more ‘tools’ to my ‘bag.’ I will do whatever it takes to get the right starting reference. I have used many of my own photographs in my tattoo work. I took the reference pictures for the husky dog, gorilla, sternum skull, and ‘peek-a-boo’ tattoos you see in my portfolio. For my flower-skull piece, I actually hand plucked every flower into a skull model just so I could take the photo for the reference.”

Even when he finds himself with a break from work, Oleson is thinking about improving his art — it’s essentially a job that’s never done.

“You know you love your job when you spend your free time in the same field as your career,” he says. “I’ve been learning 3D programs like ZBrush and KeyShot. Photo realism is amazing, but using rendering software to get photo-realistic results from a fictional object is next level stuff. I’m trying to be a pioneer in the tattoo industry.” 

Visit patrickoleson.com, omegapointtattoo.com, or instagram.com/patrickoleson to view more of the artist’s work.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of the Encounter.

Beneath The Surface

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The biblical wise man King Solomon once wrote that there is nothing new under the sun, and in 930 B.C., that bit of common wisdom might have been true. Several hundreds of years later, a great teacher—some say a prophet—was born into a technological society wherein “half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40—and half the things he knows at 40 hadn’t been discovered when he was 20.”

That prophet was Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote nearly 100 books, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke described, with breathtaking precision, humanity’s relationship to technology. And he’s never been alone. Asimov, Butler, Dick, Bradbury, Wells, Verne, Shelley, and now, Omaha’s Matt Hebert. They prognosticate so we don’t have to.

Hebert showcases his prognosticating skills in his two self-published sci-fi novels, Beneath the Surface and its sequel Breaking the Surface.

The 30-year-old author was born in California. A self-described Air Force brat, Hebert and family moved to Bellevue in 1994 and stuck around. He graduated from Bellevue West High School and now works as an architectural engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Hebert says he was inspired to write largely due to his propensity to daydream and an inability to pay attention in class. “I’ve struggled with ADHD since I was a kid, but was not officially diagnosed until I was 19,” Hebert says. “It doesn’t affect my writing as much as it makes school, work, and other ‘normal’ societal structures challenging and confusing to navigate at times. But I can write anywhere as long as the TV isn’t on.”

The charismatic author says he’s always felt the drive to make his own worlds. “I am compelled to create,” he says. “It’s satisfying to get the creative energy out of my head and heart, but mostly it’s just a natural compulsion.”

Hebert says that when he receives a vision, he just can’t rest until it’s written down.

“I have a difficult time feeling at ease until I have scratched that itch,” Hebert says. “That was important to my first book, Beneath the Surface, because that’s where it started. I was not a very focused student and had daydreamed one day about the windows around the top of the commons being underwater. Fish and dolphins and the sort would swim past. So then I began justifying that reality with the back of the school being an airlock, the bus being a submarine.”

Eventually, the world of Surface began to take shape. The trilogy—a third installment is scheduled for February release at the 2018 Planet Comicon Kansas City—explores a future dystopian world where the government headquarters house the privileged portion of the world’s population in an underwater arcology (a self-contained structure and ecosystem) with all the benefits of a consumer-based economy. Revolt becomes inevitable.

“Surface is set in 2084 and follows Sembado, a young man discovering that the government of his sub-aquatic facility is not as benevolent as he thought,” Hebert explains. “Sembado’s vapid, consumer lifestyle is turned completely on its head.”

Hebert says the books are great for young adults or anyone who enjoys the post-apocalyptic, dystopian craze. “I would love to see my books become movies,” he says. “To that end, I do plan on working on a screenplay at some point.”

To paraphrase another great science fiction auteur, Edward D. Wood Jr., we’re all interested in the future because that is ultimately where we will spend the rest of our lives trying to navigate the unforeseeable. Visionaries like Matt Hebert give us a road map to the as yet unknowable.

19 November 2017- Matt Herbert is photographed at his home for Omaha Magazine.

Matt Hebert’s Surface books are available on Amazon. Visit the author’s Facebook page
@surfaceseries for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

With A Beard and a Smile

October 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walking into Lookout Lounge is a different experience than entering other music venues around Omaha. Admittedly, it feels a little strange driving into a business plaza just south of 72nd and Dodge streets for a punk show. But what distinguishes Lookout (formerly The Hideout) is more than just location. It is the bearded man sitting at the entryway, checking IDs and working on his laptop, that sets this venue apart.

Raised in Copperas Cove, Texas, Kyle Fertwagner knew from a young age that his destiny lay in music. At 6 years old, he was mesmerized by blues concerts in nearby Austin. “Those experiences are ingrained in my memory. There were thousands of people out there enjoying music, sharing that common bond of whatever that music meant to them.”

By the time he moved to Omaha at age 15, he and his younger brother, Keith, were playing together in punk bands. They got their start at The Cog Factory. Like many area music fans, Kyle is eager to share fond memories of that nonprofit venue, which closed in 2002. “That was our stomping grounds,” he says. “That’s where I basically grew up as a musician, as a punk rocker, as a person.” Before their first show at The Cog Factory, Fertwagner recalls that the owners greeted the band and “it just immediately felt like home.”

Recreating that welcoming DIY vibe is what drove him to quit his job as general manager of a local restaurant and take over The Hideout in 2015. Keith had already learned how to work sound systems, and Kyle had learned how to run a business from years in the restaurant industry.

With “a little TLC” and a lot of elbow grease, the brothers made the place their own. Kyle proudly showcases a sign from the original Cog Factory over the pool table. Next to it is the hand-painted mural featuring the venue’s name and the radio tower logo that has become an Omaha icon. Endless layers of screen-printed posters paper Lookout’s walls, and concert-goers have enthusiastically decorated the bathrooms with a vibrant collection of friendly graffiti.

Kyle describes himself as “owner/operator,” but upon attending a show at his venue it is immediately apparent that he does much more than the typical owner. Besides personally welcoming patrons into shows and tending bar, he works the lights and often shadows his brother on sound. But before any of that can happen, “it starts with the band.”

When asked about his work with local promoters and artists, Kyle can’t quite hold back a grin. Lookout is known around Omaha as a starting point for bands that have never played in public before. Its owner is the main reason for this reputation. His voice softens when asked about his role in helping young local artists get their music off the ground: “I think it’s important when you’re first starting out to have a venue you can call home.” This determination to give back to the music community makes Lookout special.

Kyle’s unique philosophy on booking shows is “to not try to take everything on ourselves.” This means more cooperation between venue staff, bands, and promoters. “It’s a team effort.” The additional networking and communication is more work, but well worth it.

From his days in small punk bands growing up, he knows the obstacles and struggles of getting a band onstage. This knowledge helps him guide others through the process.“We try to use our experience to help younger bands grow,” Kyle says. “That’s good for everybody.” He is always happy to reach out to local promoters and say “we’d love to work with you.”

When Kyle works to foster those relationships to put a show together, that’s when the energy of the DIY venue is created. “It’s ‘Alright, cool, we did it, we sold the place out!’ Instead of ‘I sold the place out.’ It’s more of an ‘us’ thing.” Shows that are assembled with teamwork are more rewarding for the band, everyone behind the scenes, and the audience. Those packed concerts are a staple of Lookout’s imprint on the musical community.

After taking care of the band, Kyle’s next focus is his role as head of security. At any show, he can be seen roaming around the audience, keeping out a watchful eye for any sign of trouble. He accepts personal responsibility in creating a positive energy at Lookout, and takes the security of the audience very seriously: “People shouldn’t feel unwelcome here for any reason.”

In order to ensure that everyone feels welcome, anyone exhibiting abusive behavior of any kind will be personally warned and, if need be, escorted out by Kyle himself. He is quick to explain, “Anything that happens here I take to be a personal reflection on me.”

Visit lookoutomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Kyle Fertwagner

Pigeon Bros

October 19, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Pigeon Bros.

It’s like watching two parts of the same brain. When Jack Blanket and Ryan Showers are together, it’s just the two of them, taking turns finishing each other’s sentences and stories. Their words flow back and forth, forming a single curse-word-laden stream of consciousness. But that’s not to say these brothers are free from a little sibling rivalry.

“Stop. Stop. STOP. Don’t draw on my drawing,” Blanket says as his pencil glides over paper, doodling out shaded shapes, while Showers makes a move to add his own creative contribution.

“I wouldn’t…” Showers begins.

“Wouldn’t be an ass? Yes, yes, you would,” Blanket continues.

Believe it or not, this exchange, like most of their conversations, is all said with deadpan, sarcastically saccharine love. To them, calling one another an ass is a compliment. While the duo play brothers, friends, and roomies in life, they’re yin and yang in the world of local Omaha art—Blanket an accomplished stop motion animator and Showers an eccentric and eclectic illustrator.

“As far as I know, we’ve always been drawing and creating,” says Blanket, the younger sibling by approximately one year. “There’s always been paper and pencil around.”

Born and raised across the river in Council Bluffs, Blanket and Showers are just two of eight siblings, each one living in different parts of the country, all of them dabbling in art either full-time or for fun. However, given their upbringing, it’s no surprise the family is now made up of everything from illustrators and animators to video game creators and programmers. They were homeschooled by their mother, who based her curriculum largely on creative expression. Their father illustrated.

Even though their childhood was awash in arts, crafts, doodles, and drawings, the two brothers didn’t graduate high school as mini Monets. It was through years of self-learning and discovery that their artistic talents began to bloom.

Blanket taught himself to animate through online tutorials. After all, who needs a fancy-shmancy liberal arts degree when you’ve got Google and YouTube as professors? Years of plugging and playing and numerous “crashed crappy computers” later, Blanket acquired the skills to land freelance animation work.

He’s made several animated games and music videos for local musicians and labels, One of his favorites was for a Chicago-based hip-hop and soul group, Sidewalk Chalk. Though simple, his flashing red, white, and black drawings in the video for their song “Dig” helps bring to life the message behind the lyrics, which details the effect media has on the public’s perception of police violence.

“To create it, you just go step-by-step, line-by-line, translating lyrics to images,” Blanket says. “Three minutes might really be three months of work.”

As for his artistic name, a high school girlfriend’s mother created it in an instant years ago. She said she knew too many Nathans, his real name, and chose to call him Jack Blanket instead. More than a decade later and the moniker has survived, further separating his work and artistic identity from his brother.

“We’re cut from the same cloth but we really are very different, both personally and with our art,” Blanket says.

One glance at their work and any viewer would agree. Showers steers clear of animation, instead creating detailed drawings, often sparse in color but big in imagination. Haunting images of monsters, animals in human clothes, and cartoonish people, he’s done it all.

“My process is much slower than my brother’s. I’ll start by making a rough skeleton and then sit on it for a really long time,” Showers says. “Music, my medicine, is always a huge catalyst to get me going.”

Beyond the musical styling of bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Showers is inspired by anime and fashion magazines, which he spent hours copying and drawing to perfect his craft.

“Life is f***ed sometimes, so I strive to create work that takes people somewhere else,” Showers says. “The potency of expanding imagination is so valuable. Maybe my pieces help with that.”

While he avoids collaborations, including with his brother, Showers aspires to create pop-up shops around town that feature work from a variety of local creators. For now, he shows pieces for sale in Caffeine Dreams and uses his Instagram as an online portfolio to market himself and gain more work. By displaying animations on YouTube, Blanket harnesses the power of social media.

“Artists need to have an online presence now,” Blanket says. “As a low-level artist, you do a lot better putting yourself out there and responding to your audience through these mediums.”

When they’re not turning news feeds into galleries, the two brothers share an apartment but hardly see one another. Showers admittedly disappears for days, often to look high and low for inspiration, even sifting through dumpsters and exploring vacant buildings. Since art isn’t always a field filled with money, especially for up-and-coming creators, the two spend even more time apart working odd jobs to pay rent.

“We’ve grown accustomed to a humble lifestyle,” Showers says. “I’m willing to wash dishes for a living if it means I can have an imagination.”

So when they get together, it’s a nostalgic celebration. On a particularly warm June day, the siblings got the chance to share an afternoon on the back patio of Caffeine Dreams. Showers veiled his eyes from the gleaming sun with oversized sunglasses while Blanket embraced the warmth, sitting outside the shade with his painted fingernails gleaming in the light. Just as with art, the two take different paths, each enjoying the summer day in their own way.

While you may not see pom-poms at their sides as they sip coffee and share memories, these two really are one another’s biggest cheerleaders, bonded by blood and a love for all things creative.

“Our fields are so highly different,” Showers says. “In my mind, there is no competition, no rivalry, no…”

“No reason not to be supportive,” Blanket finishes. “There’s just mutual respect.”

Visit instagram.com/thee_owl or instagram.com/score6 to view more of Pigeon Brothers’ art.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Pigeon Brothers

Visual Narrator

September 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kristin Zahra says she knew from a young age that she wanted to work in film. “Maybe, 12 to 13ish? I remember really loving Pixar animation film shorts,” she says. “So I had a desire to do more of the 3D animation work.”

Despite her dad’s urging to go into engineering, Zahra attended College of Saint Mary and earned her bachelor’s degree in computer graphics.

“He was a civil engineer and also tried to get all my sisters to pursue that path,” she says. “He was one in four for that battle.”

After graduation, Zahra went on to Vancouver Film School, which she says was a great option for her.

Kristin Zahra

“Their program is unique in that it’s essentially a condensed version of traditional four-year film schools. It made a lot of sense to me, being able to invest one year solely to focusing on film, and I viewed it as an opportunity to really do something challenging and completely out of my comfort zone.”

While at film school, she studied 3D animation and visual effects, and kind of fell in love with the city and Canada.

“Vancouver’s film scene was really apparent when I was there, which heightened the experience in a lot of ways,” she says. “My two roommates were extras and had boyfriends that were stuntmen, one was a screenwriter—I’m guessing a lot like L.A. in that way.”

After film school, Zahra moved around the country—Chicago, Houston, New York City, Norfolk (yes, Nebraska)—but she ended up back in Omaha in 2011. She says she knew she would be “calling this home again for quite a while.”

Like most creatives, Zahra struggled when she first started working in the industry. Since she didn’t live in Los Angeles or a place more conducive to filmmaking, she was using her animation degree more in advertising and motion graphics than anything else.

“I realized there was something missing for me,” she says. “What drew me into film was just how alive I felt when I was able to tell stories.”

Over the last few years, she’s been trying to get back into that. She started reaching out to, and trying to work with, local filmmakers.

Which is how she ended up working with Shelly Hollis on his project, The Black O, a film about black crime in Omaha.

Strangely enough, the two happened to run into each other on the street. Zahra says they met one night at a falafel truck downtown. They started talking while waiting for their food and he told her he was in town visiting his family and filming a documentary.

“It piqued my interest and we got to talking more about the work I did and wanting to be involved in film here in Omaha,” she says. “I had been searching for people to collaborate with, especially on film projects that come from a sincere and honest place.”

Hollis’ background is rooted more in the documentary format, which Zahra says brought her back to some of that storytelling she was missing.

For his documentary, Hollis says they spoke with people in the black community—victims of gang violence, ex-gang members, and city council members—and asked them what they thought the issues were.

“We wanted to give the people their voice, to identify their own problems,” he says.

His passion for the project interested Zahra from the start.

“Shelly is that person, void of ego, and his intentions for the film had inspired me from our first conversation,” she says. She adds that working with Hollis, whom she describes as an “exceptional filmmaker,” has been an honor and he has reminded her not to underestimate her skills.

The admiration is mutual. Hollis says Zahra helped him out a lot with the film. “She’s awesome,” he says. “Just incredible.”

“So yeah,” Zahra says, “it seems we were meant to meet, being that we shared an interest in both film and a good falafel pita.”

While The Black O is in its editing process, Zahra still has to make her money. “I keep moving with my projects, that’s for sure.”

She says she continues to do a lot of animation designs that are strictly for income, but adds that she is currently working on a new passion project with a production/animation studio, Edison Creative.

“For me, the passion I have for filmmaking includes that feeling I get when I’m on a set collaborating with a crew or in a studio working on animation or post-production.”

She says this current project is more of a cartoon piece. “It’s got a lot of potential. I’m really excited for it.”

Visit kristinzahra.com for more information.

This article published in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter magazine.

Have Marcey

September 14, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

When North Omaha native Marcey Yates talks about music, his face lights up and it’s as if everything makes sense in his world. From conversations swirling around hip-hop to his wild tales of past encounters with various artists, the 31-year-old lives and breathes his passion for music—and it all started at church.

Yates grew up on 49th and Fort streets, just north of Ames Avenue, where religion played an integral role in his community. The young Yates would often spend time with grandparents, who lived on 19th and Sprague streets, not too far from the home he shared with his mother and father. His grandfather was a pastor at the Church of God and Christ, and would routinely take him to service, where Yates started singing.

“I would say religion was big in my family and the black community,” Yates says. “It was definitely passed on through generations. Church got me into music on both sides of family, and it kept me in church until I was in high school. I sang in the choir.”

After graduating from Benson High School in 2003, he went on to take a few classes at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before leaving for Arizona, where he enrolled at the Conservatory School of Recording Arts and Sciences. By this time, his older brother Jeff had already introduced him to underground hip-hop and artists like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Slum Village, Jay-Z, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. He felt it was time to learn how to make his own signature style of music and establish himself as a credible MC/producer.

“I wanted to focus more on the tech side of music and the other side of the industry,” he explains. “I learned how to make this a business and not just be a rapper. I was able to get a lot practice working on my skill and style doing shows. I got turned down in Arizona, but I had some great experiences. I met Canibus [rapper], who told me about his beef with LL Cool J, and once I was with Method Man passing around a joint in the VIP section.”

Shortly after, the self-proclaimed hip-hop head relocated back to Omaha in 2012. Since then has put much of his energy into the hip-hop collective Raleigh Science Project, which he founded in 2009.

“I established the Raleigh Science Project after my last son [Raleigh] was born,” he explains. “It started as my imprint for my music, but I expanded into a collective after bringing artists on board who shared my vision on hard work and good music. [We had] a focus on building up the hip-hop scene in a positive light, so I wanted to strip the negative vibe associated with hip-hop in my community. That means consistency, quality, showmanship, and being professional.”

The father of three is currently working on the annual New Generation Music Festival—now in its second year—an all-inclusive concert that promotes community awareness, drives traffic and support to other local nonprofits, and provides a platform to retain local talent.

“Our mission is to provide a world-class music festival that promotes inclusion and provides economic opportunities for local businesses, organizations and artists,” he says. “We want to cultivate local talent and artistry as a means to a more secure and sustainable economy in the urban core communities. There are so many resources out here that the people don’t know about because information isn’t made readily available
to everyone.”

Aside from the festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Aksarben’s Stinson Park, the busy creative is working on a documentary about the life and times of Marcey Yates, a solo EP, a mixtape series titled Chicken Soup, and the Flamboyant Gods II project with local rapper Mars Black.

“I’m constantly working on a new project,” he says. “I want to be one of the hardest-working guys in
the industry.

“Music is the only freedom that is really free,” he continues. “There are no rules to making music. It’s total creativity and a space you can go to anytime. Music is your life soundtrack for every genre in your life—from comedy to drama to suspense. When I get depressed or really bugged out, I create music to pull myself out of the sunken place. Everyone should have a creative hobby or passion because what is important to you, you will cherish and be passionate about.”

Visit op2mus.bandcamp.com to hear Yates’ work.