Tag Archives: Encounter

South O Swagger

October 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If doing-things-your-own-way could be personified it would probably look like Miguel Rocha. Commonly known as Rocha by family, friends, and coworkers, the 30-year-old musician and South Omaha native is no stranger to living life his way, on his time. This is evident the second you see his signature shaggy hairdo and carefree swagger. 

From throwing his own show in a basement at 17 to managing one of Omaha’s more recent DIY venues, Milk Run, Rocha has been a staple in the Big O’s counterculture for close to two decades.

“I really fell for the Omaha hardcore screamo scene in like ’98, ’99. That’s when I was going to shows,” he says. “I see these young kids living life and going on tour and having fun and not living the ‘normal’ life. That was honestly my biggest draw to it. It was like ‘This is living. This is what I want to be doing with my life.’”

The allure of freedom wasn’t the only thing pulling a young Rocha into the music scene, though. Rooted in an upbringing set against the backdrop of the “marginalized South Omaha projects,” he also found a passion for inclusion and community development in the arts.

“That’s [the] best thing about what Milk Run did. We were making mixed-media bills, and when you do that you show people that there is more than what they thought was out there in the world,” Rocha says. “That’s honestly my biggest goal, to make everyone come together because there’s no reason to be separate when we’re all oddities in this world.”

Milk Run, an all-ages, all-inclusive, truly ‘do-it-yourself’ effort, enjoyed a short but sweet three-year stint as a home to poets, artists, and musicians of all kinds. Although it closed its doors in 2017, Rocha believes there will always be a need for grassroots efforts to promote inclusion through the arts. 

“We need it as a community,” he says. “When you don’t have a space where everyone feels comfortable and where everyone can create, it creates little groups that don’t need to exist. They want us to be alone; they want us to be in our small little niche communities. But no, we can actually create a large community of people who are all supporting all forms of art. I think that is the most important thing.”

When he isn’t busy booking local shows or helping the voiceless find a way to be heard, Rocha’s focus is on CBN, an industrial music project that he started in 2009.

“What I’m actually talking about is where I’m actually from. This isn’t an image I want to put in front of you,” he says.”This is my release from that existence. It’s me expressing those things that burden my soul from that bringing up.” Rocha says that the goal of the project is to explore what he perceives as a class war in America, “how the disenfranchised will always stay disenfranchised because that’s the way the game is set up.”

Several years and a few tours later, CBN has transformed into a duo with Rocha and fellow producer and friend, Davy Haynes, also known as TNDR PiNK, joining forces. Fresh off a successful 10-city tour that peaked with the End Tymes Festival in New York, Rocha has his sights set on the future of the duo. 

“I’ve been doing Omaha DIY almost half my life now. I need to take a break,” he says. “I have to take a step back and focus on my career with CBN and see where I can get when I put all my dedication and focus into that.”

While he is stepping away from the Omaha DIY scene to pursue other endeavors, the spirit of doing things himself still rings true for Rocha.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand the actual sacrifice it takes to make things work,” he says. An independent artist in every sense of the word, he is willing to keep making those sacrifices to help his dreams come to fruition.


Find Neblastya by CBN on Spotify.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

Mesonjixx

October 15, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Mesonjixx’s music has influences of R&B, jazz, and soul, with a whole lot of heart mixed in. Growing up, she says she drew a lot of inspiration from listening to different artists her parents played around the house, such as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. As her musical interests developed, she started listening to more jazz and reggae, and eventually started producing her own. 

The name Mesonjixx (Mee-son-jixx) was born in 2014 when Mary Elizabeth Jo Dixon Lawson cleverly combined different letters of her name to represent her musical self.

While Mesonjixx started out as a solo venture, it has grown extensively. Over the years, Lawson built around the project and says she has been fortunate to work with talented musicians from Lincoln and Omaha, including Myles Jasnowski, Nate Asad, James Fleege, Jacob Sorenson, and John Evans, just to name a few. 

In 2017, Mesonjixx (the group) recorded their first EP in Omaha at Make Believe Studios. In the Middle features the songs “My Body,” “In Motion,” and “On Repeat,” as well as the title track. 

Recording that first EP, Lawson says, felt like a weight being lifted. “With any type of thing you’re creating, it is really nice to let it go instead of holding on to it. I am learning to let things go.” She says the experience taught her that while change is constant and exciting, it’s also scary. Learning to believe in herself has helped her get through the scary parts.

She says her creativity doesn’t necessarily strike during big life moments. Sometimes lyrics just come to her during band practices. “In the Middle” and “My Body” were written during a rehearsal. She says often she’ll start writing a song on the keyboard, or an idea will strike while the band is just jamming. From there, she’ll collaborate with her bandmates to improve the lyrics and melody. But as Mesonjixx grows and changes, Lawson says she is trying to challenge herself more creatively by getting inspiration in different ways. 

“It just depends on where I’m at and what experiences I am pulling from,” Lawson says. While with the previous incarnation of the band, she says, “I was in a very romantic and blissful time in my life and so I was pulling from those experiences. The newer songs [such as “Pele” and “August Manchester”] in my set are a little cryptic and mysterious. It still has this empowering vibe to it, but it is a little less accessible.”

Writing about love and romance can be a great source of inspiration for Lawson; however, writing a song that tells a story about someone else requires her to test her creative skills. The new songs will be released next year. She hopes her audience will listen to their stories and visualize who these people could be. 

Currently, Lawson says, live Mesonjixx performances are the most gratifying part of her career because she gets to share the stage with talented musicians. She adds that it is especially rewarding to see people in the audience singing along to her songs during shows, which is a recent development.

In May, Lawson says she had one of her most memorable performances with one of her favorite local R&B artists, CJ Mills. Mesonjixx and Mills performed together at Mills’ farewell show at Reverb Lounge. At the end of the show, several other female vocalists came onstage and improvised lyrics with the two bands. 

Seeing others challenge themselves creatively in that way is really inspirational for Lawson. She says she hopes to collaborate even more with other musicians in the near future. 

For her, creating is an act of fearlessness. “I hope they [the audience] come out of listening to [our] music feeling a little bit more empowered—feeling encouraged to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable and strong. And fearless.”


For more information, visit mesonjixxmusic.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

 

Divine Serpentine

October 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While Dulcie Mueller has been performing since age 5 with a variety of castmates and collaborators, she finally found the perfect partner several years ago in a cold-hearted reptile. 

Mueller, who has a background in dance, performs under the stage name Dolce Vita with her seven-foot-long Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor, BlondieS. Good duos are built on a foundation of mutual love, respect, and trust, and Mueller and BlondieS have that in spades. Mueller has previously performed with other snakes, but when she met BlondieS—whom she calls “the coolest snake in Nebraska”—everything just clicked.   

“I opened up [the box she came in], put BlondieS on my shoulders, and that was it—we’ve been best friends ever since,” Mueller says. 

But long before BlondieS became the peanut butter to her jelly, the Lennon to her McCartney, the Thelma to her Louise, Mueller was fascinated with snakes. 

“I first developed an affinity for snakes through a famous magazine photo from the ’80s—maybe it was Vogue—where there’s a naked lady with a giant boa constrictor draped over her body covering her,” Mueller says. “I was a freshman in high school when I saw that picture and just thought it was so beautiful and sexy without showing anything inappropriate—but, at the same time, it was kind
of inappropriate.”

School administration was of the opinion that it was indeed inappropriate, ushering Mueller down to the principal’s office the day after she hung the photograph in her locker. But with that inspiring image, Mueller’s love of the divine serpent and subjects others might consider strange was solidified. 


Mueller considers herself more of a charming snake performer than a snake charmer. She does various themed performances at venues ranging from house parties to music clubs to retirement homes and has performed for audiences of all ages, customizing her routine and costuming for each occasion. 

Mueller carefully socialized BlondieS early on to get her used to people. Between that and BlondieS’ naturally affable demeanor, the non-venomous snake has never posed a threat to Mueller or any audience member. In fact, everywhere the pair goes, BlondieS is very popular. 

“Everybody that meets BlondieS—that actually looks at her or holds her—absolutely falls in love with her,” Mueller says. “People don’t expect her to look so pretty when they get up close or to be so chill.”

In addition to her good looks and calm demeanor, she says BlondieS is a natural-born performer. The pair rarely practice together, as Mueller opts to practice on her own, then improvise with BlondieS.    

“I work with her, she works with me, and we just make it happen,” Mueller says. “She’s great at posing. I’ll put her on somebody’s shoulders, and I can gently guide her head and let her know it’s picture time. Then she’ll hold her head facing the camera or slowly move it like a model would when she’s changing her angles a little bit for the camera. I got really lucky with her.”

On stage, the duo’s skin tones complement each other perfectly, and BlondieS drapes beautifully around Mueller’s curves. It’s an unusual, offbeat display—particularly for Midwest audiences—but it’s exquisite to behold; a unique performance that acts like kindling for the imagination’s fire, as all good art should. Mueller sometimes conceals BlondieS in a basket or other prop at the start of their performance and she says her favorite reaction is the audience’s collective gasp of delighted surprise when the giant snake is revealed.    

“I like opening minds and giving people an experience they wouldn’t normally get,” says Mueller, who is careful never to push those who are fearful of BlondieS to interact. 

While Mueller currently performs independently with BlondieS, she’s open to collaboration and partnerships if it’s the right fit. In the past she’s worked with groups like Spank Candy and OEAA-award winning band Bennie and the Gents, as well as other local burlesque groups.  

At home, BlondieS has her cage but acts more like a house cat or dog at times.

“I’ve had her in bed with us, just laying on the covers, curled up at our feet, looking at the TV, which is really funny,” Mueller says. “Of course, we can’t fall asleep like that. I’m not worried about her hurting anybody, I’m more worried about her getting stuck somewhere or getting too cold.” 

Mueller says she’s realized through the years that she’s always happiest when she’s actively performing, although she also loves her day job—working with adults with intellectual disabilities.  

“[Snake performing] is just a crazy, wild hobby that I feel especially compelled to pursue because there’s nobody else doing it, but at the same time it’s a hobby and I have a really important full-time job, so it’s hard to divide my energy the way I would like to. I need to have, like, 200 percent energy so I can put 100 percent into both the hobby and the job,” she says.

As for anyone who judges Mueller’s performances with BlondieS as weird, that doesn’t bother her one bit. In fact, she’s rightfully proud of her unique art and hopes to bring fringe ideas into the mainstream.  

“I do what I do because I want to and I don’t feel ashamed, nervous, or worried about what other people think about it,” she says. “That’s what I want the audience to get out of it too…for them to go home feeling that they can also do anything they want and that they shouldn’t be ashamed about the weird things they might want to do or think. I just want people to feel free because I definitely feel free in my choices as a performer.”  


For more information, visit omahasnake.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

Chloe Kehm

October 11, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

With her bobbed blond hair, flowered orange dress, and a jean jacket covered in pins (mostly cats in some form or another), artist Chloe Kehm looks like she could have stepped out of one of her favorite anime shows. But while her art may often depict that culture, her interests and influences are far more diverse.

“I listen to podcasts a lot,” Kehm says. “I’ve just been listening to this one podcast and hammering out stuff.” 

Kehm is describing a part of her creative process. One of her favorite podcasts is Saw Bones, a medical history program. “It’s about all the stupid things we’ve done medically in the past…they talk about the Victorians a lot. They did a lot of weird things,” she says with a laugh.

Also, she adds, “If my room’s a mess, I can’t do anything. Which is unfortunate, because I’m not the cleanest person.” Regardless, she manages to get a substantial amount of creating done, including an entire comic book for her BFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It’s something she’d been putting off because she says she wasn’t confident in her skills. But after many life-drawing classes, she finally thought, “Let’s just do it now.” 

Having grown up watching animated shows such as Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon, it’s not surprising she became interested in drawing what she calls “fandom things,” such as characters from video games, comics, and television series. But what she really enjoys is making her own, original work, and a big part of that is telling a story. Besides working with digital mediums, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints, and experimenting with ink and marker drawings, she also creates short, four-panel comic strips. “I love writing,” she says. “I took a couple of creative writing classes before and I’m always writing comic strips.”

While pop culture clearly influences a lot of her current work, she does have an appreciation for the classics, such as Van Gogh. Her favorite work of his is “Almond Blossoms.” “His colors are gorgeous and I like to think I could pull some of those into my own work.”

Her pieces are definitely more contemporary, though. “A lot of the artists I really love right now are currently living,” she says with a smile, “and they are young female artists in the comic book industry.” She lists Babs Tarr, Fiona Staples, and Leslie Hung as her top three, but adds that there are countless others. “It’s just really inspiring.”

It’s unsurprising that Kehm admires these artists. She says that, while she didn’t really start considering herself a feminist until college, she has always believed equality is important, “across the board.” She credits those animated shows she grew up on with helping her develop that ideal. “A lot of animated shows directed at young girls [are] showing them in positions of power and being strong and independent. I think that just kind of sat in there…and it inspires a lot of what I want to do with my storytelling and my animation,” she says, before wryly adding, “And I’m a woman. I should care about that stuff, right?”

Kehm says she likes her creations to be fun, but also to have a message. “I like depicting different people in different ways. I like to show the vastness of the human race.” She pauses, then breaks into laughter. “Which sounds…a little lofty.”

She says she believes art in general has a hand in almost everything we do as a society. “You don’t realize how much art plays into everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Like your shoes. Someone designed that, someone drew that.” She gestures around the coffee shop as she speaks. “The layout of the building you’re in, the house you live in—an architect did that. They have artistry skills, and I think it gets overlooked a lot. But I think art is pretty integral to everything that we do. Be it political or day-to-day life.” 

While she hopes her message of equality comes through in her work, Kehm says she’ll be happy if it just makes people smile. “That’s ultimately what I want to come out of it.”


etsy.com/shop/KuroesCreations   | instagram.com/kuroedraws

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Creatures of Comfort

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Model Lucas E. lounges in a cozy downtown apartment armed for unwinding, with a good book in hand and clothes that are made for sporty style and comfort. 

Creatures of comfort by Jared Spence
Modeled by Lucas E. of Develop Models
Dogs: (from left) Baron Von Little Top & Luna
Birdhouse Design Studio/select furnishings
photography by Bill Sitzmann
design by Derek Joy
Clothing by Silo
Paintings by Josh Brown


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Painting New Worlds

September 26, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Can you get to know an artist through their Instagram posts? Scroll through Keegan Baker’s portfolio, and you will flip past years’ worth of fantasy portraits, life drawing sketches, and miniature paintings, eventually coming across side-by-side self-portraits of the current artist versus himself five years ago. 

The man in each portrait peers stoically at the viewer, painter’s apron hung around his neck. But the Keegan on the right looks strikingly realistic, as if he could be sitting across from you discussing his progress in craft and future creative plans. Keegan’s catalog of work is full of surprises spanning a variety of mediums. Upon meeting him in person, he reveals that his most intriguing work has yet to be seen.

Keegan’s current obsession is a created place called Tarmia. This is where he lets his new work live and breathe within a true fantasy world. Keegan says, “It has a really grand story of corruption. I built this mythology around gods and deities. Tarmia is this made-up fictional world where I want real, everyday things to transgress—with a crazy overarching theme going on.” The paintings for this series are based on ordinary things and people that Keegan uses for reference. Then they are immersed in a dark, Hidetaka Miyazaki-inspired world. 

Keegan has been hashing out Tarmia’s storyline—by means of classical architecture research, costuming, symbolism placement, and character studies—for the past year. The logistics behind the art are mapped out in an extensive Google Doc. “Now everything I make is in reference to Tarmia,” Keegan says.

He began his journey on the road to Tarmia while receiving his degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied art. “I was looking at friends and people to use as reference material for bigger compositions,” he says. “I was trying to think about narrative and telling my own story.” 

These depictions of friends riding animals, with added embellishments such as swords and mink furs, show how Keegan got to the imaginary world of Tarmia. “I like the creative challenge of using what’s around.” Family members or friends placed in this fantasy world create a juxtaposition of reality against fiction. The result showcases the artist’s otherworldly homage to manga but also displays his tact for planning and craft.

Recently, Keegan has shown a series of horror-inspired miniature portraits at the 402 Arts Collective in Benson, where he works as a teacher. These dark creatures and faces are presented on tiny canvases between the size of a quarter and a packet of hot sauce. While small, the figures could easily work themselves into the larger scenes of what Tarmia may look like. 

Keegan is interested in utilizing oil paints as well as digital media to create his new world. “It’s hard for me to stick to one thing. I like the broad spectrum of art,” Keegan says. 

Regardless of the style, he pushes himself to continually sharpen his skills, whether in more labor-intensive oil painting or through the “immediate gratification” of rendering a digital sketch. This toil can be seen in Keegan’s blend of polished portraits and character sketches. Through his work as a teacher, he has been inspired to revisit anatomy drawing and perspective study. He says, “It has been the most refreshing thing since college, for just actually vibing ideas off of someone.”

Despite his self-proclaimed “nerdy background” and early obsession with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Keegan reveals a love of classic material. He says he is drawing from classic works such as “Romans during the Decadence” and the portrait paintings of Hans Holbein for a succession of Tarmia paintings. Where these two styles meet is an intriguing, necessary place for Keegan to be. “Telling a story with a single piece is what I’ve been really chasing,” Keegan says. In melding these influences, he hopes to finally capture his quarry.


For more information, visit instagram.com/keeganbakerart.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Story Telling with Evan Bartels

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a quote featured on Evan Bartels’ website that resonates loudly with the Nebraska-bred musician: “Evan Bartels doesn’t sound like any singer I’ve ever heard. Ever. His voice sounds old and young at the same time. He sounds like he’s a hard drinker and a gentle soul. He is a contradiction and his writing cuts through the air like a knife.”

Although just 25 years old, Bartels says he has always felt like a much older soul, which could explain his penchant for rootsy, Americana music. 

“I always dreamed that I’d be happier 200 years ago in the mountains,” Bartels admits. “I think there’s a part of me that maybe was that man in a past life, like maybe part of that shines through. I shouldn’t feel as old as I do, but I’ve put on some hard miles and I think that’s what connects me to the older self I have. It’s almost an alter ego in a sense.” 

In 2017, Bartels released The Devil, God & Me. Throughout the 11-track project, he dives into addiction and how it’s affected his life. With his slick guitar solos and a raspy, bellowing voice, Bartels channels his deepest emotions and wears them on his sleeve. 

“The only thing I’ve been hardcore hooked on has been tobacco,” Bartels says. “Everything else I kinda skirted the line and was able to make it out. But I have friends who didn’t, good folks I love and respect who didn’t, and you can see it everywhere on the street.”

Ultimately, he recognizes everyone has a vice they hold on to—from alcohol to anger. 

“Whenever people talk of addiction, it’s really easy to picture a burned-out junkie or an alcoholic, but everybody has something,” he says. “There’s plenty of people addicted to attention or even addicted to being angry.”

“I think what’s really interesting is the cause of what drives someone to become addicted to something. In my experience, it’s more often than not something really bad in their life rather than whatever they’re addicted to. It’s just a cycle, some people break it and some people don’t. Either way, there’s lots of stories in there that deserve to be told.” Bartels has become adept at telling such narratives. 

For as long as he can remember, storytelling has been a part of his life. It all started with an old, folk song called “The Cuckoo.” As a child, his father would play it to him and Bartels remembers watching him strum the chords and thinking how beautiful it sounded. His obsession with music blossomed from there. 

“I liked listening to Chopin and Beethoven when I was a kid, and I still do,” he says. “I like to close my eyes and just feel. I don’t know how old I was but music just made sense to me. I could hear the patterns and I think that it just naturally turned into a passion.”

Bartels is laying out plans for a follow-up to The Devil, God & Me, as well as launching a fundraising event for a national publicity campaign. In the meantime, he’s focused on playing as many live shows as he can, perfecting his pie-crust recipe, and trying not to swear so much. But mostly, it’s all about the music. 

“I’ll just play to whoever’s listening for as long as they listen,” he says. “If and when the day comes no one wants to hear what I’m singing, I’ll just play for myself. I don’t know if I’d rather be heard by others or just get out the words—even if I’m talking to myself.”  


For more information, visit evanbartels.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

 

Absence Makes the Heart

September 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Where are you from?” 

This common question is a complex one for Los Angeles-based conceptual artist and summer 2018 Bemis artist-in-residence Jenny Yurshansky. She was conceived in Moldova in the late-1970s, when it was part of the USSR; while her refugee parents were en route to the United States, she was unexpectedly born in Rome. The family ultimately settled in the San Fernando Valley in 1979. 

“I was technically stateless when I was born,” says Yurshansky, whose Jewish parents experienced systemic oppression before fleeing Soviet-era Moldova under great duress. In punitive acts by the Soviet regime as it worked to expel hundreds of thousands of Jews, they were forced to abandon their jobs for a year and surrender all educational documentation before leaving. Yurshansky’s surprise, early arrival in Rome caused an additional delay of a few months while her parents worked to assemble the proper paperwork for the family to complete its journey to the U.S.

But Yurshansky’s story is just one small stitch in a larger, intergenerational family fabric of borders, fear, fleeing, and absence. From her grandmother’s escape from the Nazis to her parents’ decision to leave their hostile homeland, the family’s ongoing diaspora deeply affected not just the individuals who had to leave, but the places they left behind.     

“There are two pockets of emptiness: One in the group that leaves—because as traumatic or difficult as their relationship with home may be, it’s still where they formed their identity and the core of who they are—and also in the place that’s left behind,” says Yurshansky of the refugee experience.     

Yurshansky’s past work explores the topic of immigration as it relates to the way we think about human migrants using the allegory of invasive plants species. During her Bemis residency, Yurshansky focused on her Crusted Memory project—a more personal exploration of immigration that looks at her family’s legacy as migrants from a matrilineal perspective. 

“Instead of dealing with migration on a general level like I did with the plants, I’m looking at my own family’s history as being a refugee story,” Yurshansky says. “It’s a case study that can be used to reflect on the refugee experience, not solely on a diaristic level, but also as a way to reflect one story onto other stories and experiences. I’m looking at the state of being a refugee, in terms of traumas experienced by the people who leave and also by the place that’s left behind.” 

As a conceptual artist, Yurshansky uses many mediums. Crusted Memory incorporates textiles, glass, sculpture, photography, and other elements to explore a family legacy she says is rooted with her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother was a highly skilled seamstress whose budding career was interrupted by World War II when, instead of heading to Paris for an apprenticeship as planned, she fled Moldova for Uzbekistan, narrowly escaping with her life. 

Fittingly, it was Yurshansky’s grandmother who taught her how to sew as a child during a visit to the U.S. Yurshansky calls sewing her “initial place of creative output” as an artist. “Since my mother’s mother is the root of the story, a lot of the work [in Crusted Memory] will focus on weaving or embroidery,” says Yurshansky.

In 2016 and again in 2017, Yurshansky and her mother traveled to Chișinău, Moldova’s capital city and her mother’s hometown. 

“Neither of my parents had been back because [it] was too traumatic,” she says. 

On their journeys, Yurshansky collected notes, artifacts, photographs, and conversations which inform the works in Crusted Memory. One piece—an embroidered, soft sculpture—draws from a visit to Yurshansky’s great-grandfather’s overgrown gravesite, where she did a rubbing of the towering headstone that mimics a limbless tree, symbolizing a life cut short. Another poignant piece is based around traditional rose-patterned Moldovan rugs.    

“At the house I grew up in, my mother planted 116 rose bushes,” Yurshansky says. “When we went to Moldova, I saw roses everywhere—from fabric patterns to medians—and something clicked. I said, ‘Mom, now it makes so much sense to me why you planted roses at home and had so many around—you were basically replicating home.’ But she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. There were no roses there.’ For her, a lot of memory is suppressed, and that’s what I mean about these kinds of gaps, both in the person that leaves and the place that’s left behind. So, I’m recreating this carpet, but with the roses dropped out. A lot of my work deals with absence and plays with that tension of what’s there and what’s not there through how I’m presenting these objects.”

Yurshansky feels fortunate to have the resources provided during her Bemis residency to tackle this important project. “I’m really lucky to have this much room to play in and such an amazing set of resources,” says Yurshansky, who welded at Bemis’ Okada Sculpture & Ceramics Facility and did ceramics at The Union for Contemporary Art in addition to the multifaceted work she completed in her studio. “Being a conceptual artist, I start with the idea first and then find the materials, methods, and techniques that best express that idea, and Bemis is really wonderful because there are so many resources available to me and the people are so helpful. That has been invaluable to my work.”

While Yurshansky had never been to Omaha before, she’d been aware of the Bemis for a long time. 

“I had no idea what to expect from Omaha and I’m very pleasantly surprised,” she says. “There’s a lot going on and it’s really hip. There’s great food, concerts, the culture is awesome, the museums are great, and the people are just amazing.”

In addition to her summer in Omaha, Yurshansky has been exposed to many other locales, having also lived in Sweden for 11 years and traveled widely, which greatly informs her global perspective. Though she acknowledges the heightened current conversation around immigration, she says it’s actually long been a been a major issue.

“It just continues to escalate,” Yurshansky says. “I think that’s a reflection of our world as it becomes more undeniable that the idea of a border is actually an arbitrary thing, considering what a globalized society we are in terms of policy, economics, and how much, especially in the U.S., we have a hand elsewhere in the world.” 

Just as each thread is crucially connected in the tapestry of our globalized world, Yurshansky’s work showcases the poignant interconnectedness of people, places, and empty spaces—the places that made us who we are, those that make us who we will become, and the empty spaces we create along our journeys. 


For more information, visit jennyyurshansky.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

The Intersection of Africa with Latin Music

Illustration by Derek Joy

In a previous issue, I explored how the African-American tradition deserves credit for inventing all major forms of music created in America, such as hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, blues, house, techno, and of course, rock ’n’ roll. 

What I didn’t have space to address was how Hispanic and Latin music fit into the equation. So in this column, I’m going to explore how the same evolutionary music process that took place in North America, specifically in the United States, also occurred in Central and South America.

Well, here’s how that generally worked: African people were involuntarily brought to the “New World.” Since most came from Western Africa, where the drum was the foundation of their music, their African culture mixed with whichever local culture and region in which they landed. New forms of culture and music sprouted from the interactions. 

This is how we got hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, and rock. But the same thing that happened in the U.S. also happened in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Jamaica, and so on. 

But instead of funk, it was cumbia in Columbia. Instead of R&B, it was reggae in Jamaica. Instead of disco, it was samba in Brazil. 

In fact, here’s a somewhat more complete list of Latin American forms of music with an African basis: bachata, batucada, cha-cha-cha, conga, funk carioca, mambo, tango, pachanga, reggaeton, rumba, son, tropicalia, and zouk…just to name a few. 

Some folks may think of the music that came from the U.S. and Latin America as separate entities divided by geography and ethnicity. But the two are more connected than you’d think.

For example, one genre name that wasn’t in the list is salsa. Most folks think of salsa as a uniquely Latin American music form and assume it was created somewhere with warm, sunny beaches where pina coladas are served. But in fact, salsa was invented in the United States. 

Between mass migrations of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants to New York City (especially in the 1950s when half a million Puerto Ricans came to NYC), New York had a thriving Latin music scene that centered mostly around the legendary Palladium nightclub. But between the myriad of music genres, there lacked a cohesive glue that brought it all together. 

“People were getting confused with the mambo, cha cha chá, and guaracha—so what we did was, we took the music and put it under one roof and we called it ‘salsa,’” said Johnny Pacheco.

Pacheco was one of the founding partners of Fania Records, which was a label created in 1964 “to produce, promote, and market the music of Latinos in New York,” according to PBS’s Latin Music USA documentary series. 

Fania also released a lesser-known genre called boogaloo. Perhaps the best known boogaloo song is Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang,” which has a Latin-tinged staccato piano, Afro-Latin drums, and African American-inspired call-and-response lyrics.

“Between the years of ’66 and ’69, boogaloo became the sound of young blacks in New York,” wrote music journalist Maulud Sadiq Allah in Medium. “The 30 years of Cuban music and Black American music had finally merged and took on a life of its own.” 

Perhaps during no other time in history has the convergence of Afro-Latinos and African-Americans been so creatively infused than through boogaloo. 

Fania brought salsa and boogaloo to a commercial market, which funneled the Latin fervor in NYC into a marketable movement that was enough to sell out Yankee stadium for a Fania concert in 1973.

“The early 1970s was a political coming-of-age of Latinos across the country,” said Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast. “Fania was the soundtrack for the empowerment for many of these communities, because it was brash, it was vibrant, it was new. It embraced the Afro identity of Latin America. And it made me—a young Chicano teenager in California, just discovering music—want to be part of this exciting new sound and movement.”

So while Fania catapulted the music with origins in Puerto Rico and Cuba,  “salsa, and all the genres that informed it, is an African-based music,” according to Sadiq Allah. 

What’s the point of sharing all of this in the back of Encounter Magazine? 

Well, when we consider that nearly all major forms of music were created in the Americas as a result of the slave trade, is our society fully aware of the origins of its beloved music? And if not, what might change if everyone were made aware? My hope is that it makes you listen to music differently, and question any sense of ownership you have to a particular history of music. 

Just something to ponder the next time you hear your favorite song. 


This column is Brent’s last for now. His full life of fathering and trying to save the planet are his priorities. But rest assured, when he has something to say about Omaha’s art scene, we will give him the forum to speak. In the meantime, we will feature guest columnists from all walks of the arts and culture scene. We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas with us and look for an exciting new columnist in our upcoming November/December issue.

Encounter Founder

September 7, 2018 by and
Photography by contributed

Encounter Founder

by Tara Spencer

Encounter Magazine recently underwent a pretty major transformation. For some, the product you see now may not resemble the original at all. It shouldn’t. Media has evolved, and Omaha Publications has consistently leveled up as time and progress demands. Encounter has expanded its focus, and now features individuals who represent not just the Old Market neighborhood, but all the burgeoning artistic areas of Omaha. 

Looking at issues of the original The Old Market Encounter, it’s easy to see why Barbara Shaffer felt the need to cover the bustling neighborhood she loved. It was the place for creatives to gather and exchange ideas, resources, and support as they grew their businesses. She felt it was underrepresented in traditional media and wanted to ensure its significance was recognized. 

Shaffer passed away on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at The Nebraska Masonic Home in Plattsmouth. Her contributions to Omaha’s cultural scene were enormous, and Encounter would not exist without her.   

We at Omaha Publications also feel a need to cover the artistic and cultural landscape of an ever-changing Omaha. In our own way, we are carrying on her tradition of giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard. 

Encounter in its current form is ground zero for Omaha’s emerging artists. Shaffer was the woman who started it all. Without her work on The Old Market Encounter, Omaha’s beloved arts and culture magazine might not be in your hands today.

Her longtime friend, Paula Steenson, recalls here how it all got started.

Who was Barbara Shaffer?

by Paula Steenson

In March 1995, my friend John Prouty from Wessco Graphics introduced me to Barb Shaffer. She was looking for someone to design and produce a new magazine that she would devote to the Old Market. Her plan was to call it The Old Market Encounter. Her goal was to have a publication that would represent all of the small businesses in the Old Market, featuring stories about them and the people moving into what were then uncultivated spaces above and around the Old Market businesses. 

Shaffer’s husband, Cliff, was a writer. He would write pieces such as “Around and About,” dropping tidbits about what was happening—and there was always something happening—in the Old Market. Independent photographers and writers would submit pictures and articles about one of Omaha’s most unusual tourist locations, including some very unique shops
and restaurants. 

The magazine was in all of the downtown businesses, as well as hotels and doctors’ offices. You never knew what was going to be in the publication, but you knew it would be intriguing.

Barb and Cliff lived in a wonderful apartment in The Greenhouse, which overlooked the Central Park Mall, and Barb was always visiting with folks and businesses in the Market to see who was new. She was always happy to feature them in The Old Market Encounter to help them grow their businesses. 

That was what Barb was all about—helping people, businesses, and her downtown community. Besides being involved in the Old Market Business Association, she was also very involved in Downtown Omaha Inc. Along with Joan Baillon, Shaffer brought about the first biennial gala in 1997 at the Embassy Suites Old Market shortly after it opened. There were 750 people in attendance. 

She also was one of the people who started Dickens in the Market, a forerunner to the Holiday Lights Festival. For a special weekend early in December, volunteers dressed in Dickensian garb and walked around caroling. Various performers danced and played instruments while the restaurants served special holiday food.

In early 2004, Barb and Cliff moved to a drier climate for health reasons, and Barb decided to sell the magazine to Todd Lemke, who owns Omaha Publications. She felt that Todd would be able to keep the feeling going that she had started.

Without Barb, the Old Market wouldn’t be the lively location it is now.

Encounter staff members reached out to other longtime friends, some of whom chimed in with their own stories about Barb.

Ron Samuelson—SamFam LLC, former owner M’s Pub 

In this time of the independent woman, Barb Shaffer may well have been the prototype. Self-made entrepreneur, well-educated, and actualized, she excelled in all of the areas life offered her—family, business, the arts, community, and public service. All were benefited by her love

and participation. She was energized to improve, and her handiwork is imprinted all over our

community. Lights in Central Park Mall, Downtown Improvement District, Encounter Magazine,

and Delice Bakery were small samples of her energies.

She was a student of life, a gentle and impassioned teacher who showed unconditional love

as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Omaha is a better place because of her presence here and, as in all areas of her life, she left us better than she found us. Hers was a life well lived. We miss her.

Jeff Jorgensen—owner of Tannenbaum Christmas Shop

Barb was a co-founder of Delice European Bakery, originally located at 12th & Howard streets.  Perhaps that led to her involvement in Downtown Omaha, Inc., where she served on the board, and Old Market Business Association, where she served on the board and as president. When Barb identified the need to let visitors know about the Old Market, she created The Old Market Encounter and later the Old Market Directory (both now published by Omaha Publications). Barb was appointed to the Downtown Omaha BID Board where she served as chairperson to create an active organization to promote and improve downtown, resulting in the creation of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association. Barb was one of the visionaries who conceived of lighting the Gene Leahy Mall during the holidays. Her legacy is the foundation of many of the successes now visible throughout downtown and the Old Market.

Molly Garriott—former writer for The Old Market Encounter

Having perused the pages of The Old Market Encounter, I decided to reach out to Barb with the aim of becoming a freelance writer. I had, maybe, two bylines to my name, but she treated me like a seasoned pro. Barb was graciousness personified. Each year at Christmas, she and Cliff would treat the magazine’s writers and their spouses to dinner at a downtown restaurant. We dined at establishments like Vivace’s and The Flatiron, places a young couple with babies and student loans could ill afford. That dinner was a holiday highlight. I recall the fare and festive atmosphere fondly. But mostly I remember animated conversations, boisterous laughter, and the feeling of camaraderie Barb fostered. Over 20 years later, I am still writing, thanks in large part to my beginning with Barb.


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of  Encounter.