Tag Archives: The Encounter

Christy Chan

February 22, 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.

 

 

Free Space

February 11, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eli Rigatuso has a knack for uncovering beauty. He has been known to stop his car to investigate a particularly exceptional flower in somebody’s yard. He is a man who happily recounts being stopped in his tracks by an unexpected patch of wildflowers blooming through the underbrush.

This devotion to the smallest of details in life has characterized Rigatuso’s unique vision from a young age. “I was always fascinated by trying to capture little things,” he says of his earliest explorations of visual art as an 8-year-old with a camera. Prints of close-up photos of the wonders of everyday life, as seen through his personal lens, stacked up as he developed an artistic eye for the unexpected.

Walking into Rigatuso’s North Omaha home is like encountering a surprising glimpse of a lilac decorating your route to work. Now a professional photographer and videographer, his affinity for finding the unexpected extends to his growing collection of works from local artists.

Rigatuso welcomes visitors on a guided exploration of his 21-piece collection. “I’ve had people walk in here who have said the energy in this place is unbelievable,” he says, gesturing to the massive, awe-inspiring painting of a young man with soulful eyes that greets guests. Equally impressive is the drag queen painted on a plastic shower door that divides the living room and kitchen. Next to that are the elegant photos of the annual Metropolitan Community College Intertribal Powwow. The entire collection radiates a peaceful energy that’s undeniable.

Perhaps that energy is a hopefulness—a sense of truthfulness that can only be communicated through the work of local artists. Rigatuso uncovers art everywhere, and throughout his tour, he reiterates that his collection is defined by the profound story behind each piece. His voice trembles as he recounts the moment he first encountered the centerpiece of his collection—the young man with the soulful eyes. “It just literally took my breath away. The moment I saw it, I started crying.” He later learned the subject of the painting was a friend of the artist’s who had died of AIDS.

The artist, John Muñoz, was happy to negotiate with Rigatuso to ensure the work would be displayed in a home where it would be appreciated. When Rigatuso unrolled the painting after purchasing it, he was surprised to discover a second painting in the bundle. “I felt like it belonged to you, too,” explained the artist. Now hanging next to the young man in the living room, the painting is a complementary representation of a mother nurturing her children. It turns out, the paintings are both done on repurposed canvas posters from Muñoz’s day job at Whole Foods.

Many of Rigatuso’s pieces showcase repurposed materials. The collection also contains art done on particle board, a cabinet door, rescued pieces of discarded plastic, and sheet music. The artists run the gamut—a local coffee-shop owner, students, DJs, and everything in between. Each tells a unique story.

Another central piece to the collection features a mysterious woman in shades of blue hanging in the bedroom. It was painted by a stylist who cut Rigatuso’s hair on a day he spent celebrating his trans identity. On the mantle rests a painting of a fiery girl. It was purchased from a 20-year-old he happened to follow on social media. There is even photography from Rob Gilmer, owner of Council Bluffs’ famous home-cooking hot spot, Dixie Quicks.

Rigatuso’s diverse collection has got people talking. He has witnessed his home transform into a museum of Omaha artwork. “Everybody knows that I’ve got a lot of cool art. It’s kind of become a thing.”

But the private museum is about much more than buying art; it’s about cultivating community. “I want people to be encouraged by the fact that people see what they do as something that they want to own.” Rigatuso says. The real goal is “to be able to create an environment for people to come
and be a part of.”

This desire to create a welcoming space for all types of artists comes from a place of love rooted in Rigatuso’s own experience. “I’ve had an extraordinary life,” he declares with a laugh. “For the first 50 years of my life, I was something that the rest of the world could accept, and I was dying inside. And when I came out as trans, I feel like I set myself free.”

By creating a space where even beginning artists can feel their vulnerability is welcomed, Rigatuso hopes to free them of any doubts about the value of their creativity. “I really think that when you’re engaged in art, we’re engaging a part of ourselves that is true vulnerability,” he says. “When you paint or you photograph or you capture something and you have the courage to share it, you’re actually sharing a piece of yourself. And that to me is huge.”

As his collection grows, Rigatuso says he hopes to curate an art show next spring or summer. “If anything, I want to leave a legacy of art.”

Visit elirigatuso.me to find out more. 

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

Brand R/evolution

February 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the fall of 2016, Hannah Nodskov was in her final semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, studying entrepreneurship and marketing. She was also having a “weird crisis,” as she calls it.

Her goal for the last three years had been to graduate and run her fashion design business, Hannah Caroline Couture, full time. Which sounds ideal, until one thing after another continued
to compound.

Ultimately, that led to the crisis she found herself in– the realization that maybe it wasn’t her dream to be a fashion designer anymore.

She says she felt burnt out. Being a 21-year-old running a fashion brand, finishing your last semester of college, and planning a wedding could have that effect on anyone.

“Pulling an all-nighter when I had a test the next day was not unusual,” she says of this time in her life. “It was a series of little moments. Every time I would agree to an order I didn’t love, it would be soul-sucking.”

The burnout prompted her decision at the time to take a hiatus from her brand to focus on her September nuptials and find a better work-life balance.

She says she constantly felt guilty for relaxing, thinking it was more important to make money than anything else. It left her feeling she was always apologizing for missing events to work.

“It’s common in entrepreneurship to get burnt out, and no one talks about it,” she says. “You just tell everybody it’s perfect all the time.”

While taking a much-needed break from her business, Nodskov stayed busy with a new job at tech startup Interface: The Web School, and planning her wedding. She was also making all the men’s bowties, bridesmaids dresses, mothers’ dresses, and her bridal gown for the big day.

She adds that wedding planning definitely affected her decision to take her fashion brand in a new direction. The idea of creating a bridal collection came to her gradually, she says.

Another defining moment on her journey of self-discovery came when she entered Max I. Walker’s Ultra Chic Boutique Dress Flip Contest in January.

Designers were tasked with taking an unwanted prom, bridesmaid, or formal dress and making it into a new dress. Nodskov says it was the first time she made something for fun in two years.

From there she knew she wanted to spend the remainder of her hiatus refining her brand’s image and core values. She says she thought a lot about what types of orders still brought her joy and remaking that prom dress came to mind.

“I want to make pieces for moments that are special and should be celebrated,” she says. “I want to focus on bridal, special occasion, and formalwear with an emphasis in plus-size and alternative bridal styles.”

The woman she designs for is a bride who wants to break all the traditional wedding expectations for what a dress should look like. A woman who is powerful or in a position of leadership. A woman who is a role models for others. A woman who wants to stand out when she enters a room. A woman who is empowered.

The woman Nodskov is in the process of becoming.

She says her next big challenge is figuring out who she is, separate from her fashion brand. She adds how much she learned about herself from her first job out of college at Interface: The Web School.

Right now, she really loves working at tech startup ScoreVision as a marketing communications specialist. She plans to enjoy it for a while and figure out the parts of her job she really likes before deciding what’s next. She adds that she does have plans to relaunch her fashion brand
after the holidays.

Nodskov is forever grateful she didn’t get accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City because that’s how she ended up at UNO studying business. She says it’s the “best decision she didn’t make on purpose.”

“I love living in Omaha,” she says. “I feel connected to the startup community here. I’m able to invite people from the fashion community to get involved because there’s so much support, and it’s so welcoming. It doesn’t matter how big your business is.”

Nodskov would love to see the fashion industry start educating designers on the technical aspects of how to grow their businesses instead of only teaching them how to design clothes.

“Having a business education makes me think differently about my fashion brand than someone coming from a design perspective,” she says. “When I design something, I’ll think, ‘that’s pretty, but how am I going to sell it?’ I’ll think about the pricing strategy and marketing that needs to go into the garment.”

Since starting her business more than six years ago, Nodskov has come to the realization that there’s only “so much you can learn about entrepreneurship sitting in a classroom. You have to experience it.”

Visit hccdesign.co for more information. 

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

The Boner Killerz

January 15, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Make no mistake about it — Eris Koleszar, Cara Heacock, and Anna Schmidt knew what they were doing when they named their band The Boner Killerz. Koleszar, a big fan of musician/comedian Lane Moore, noticed a photo Moore had posted on her Twitter account boasting a “Feminist Killjoy” necklace, which sparked the entire idea.

“The way the necklace looked and the way I was feeling about myself, my world and my desire to be in a band all connected through that phrase,” Koleszar explains. “I knew I wanted a band with a name that screamed the same values. One night, The Boner Killers popped into my head. I grabbed up the social media handles and when I formed the band, Anna gave it the final touch with the ‘z’ at the end.”

With Koleszar on guitar/lead vocals, Schmidt on drums, and Heacock on bass (which is really all that’s needed for a proper rock band), The Boner Killerz have dialed in on their ideal musical formula — loud, explosive, and full of heart. But they also have a very specific mission in mind. Koleszar, who identifies as transgender, strives to be influential for all types of people.

“We want to be an inspiration for young women, queer people, and trans folx, and show that they can form bands and rock out,” Koleszar explains. “In a sea of music that is cisgender, heterosexual, white male-dominated, we want to create a space for other people, too.

“I would love to see a world in which all kinds of people had access to equipment, spaces, and mentorship to create, perform, and record music,” she continues. “I don’t think there’s a lot of overt exclusion from spaces and access, but I still see a lot of music in the scene created by the same kinds of people.”

Although the group formed in March 2016, The Boner Killerz have just released their first proper EP, All Boner Killerz/No Boner Fillerz. It’s the result of the trio’s instant chemistry, something they’re all grateful for having.

“I feel like compared to other band experiences that I’ve had, this is by far the most chill one,” Heacock says. “The Boner Killerz is my first serious band venture, and to be honest, it has been the most fun compared to my last attempts to start or join a band. The three of us just mesh really well and I have a lot of fun writing and playing music with these ladies.”

All three members grew up with some kind of music in their household. Koleszar’s father was the music leader of their rural Indiana church and the young Koleszar would mirror her father’s conducting. Then her friends were immersed in ska and punk music in middle school until her former girlfriend introduced her to emo.

“There was an incredibly small emo/punk/folk punk/melodic-hardcore/post-hardcore scene in that part of Indiana,” Koleszar explains. We did whatever we could to feel alive through our music in a place where there really wasn’t much going on at all.”

Schmidt’s experience was similar. Growing up in Central Nebraska, her father was an avid record collector who introduced her to classic rock. As she got older, like most adolescents, she started to form her own identity.

“I listened to the pop hits radio station religiously,” Schmidt says. “Nineties pop music still holds a strong sense of nostalgia for me. During my teenage years, my tastes evolved. The internet was a huge influence, and exposed me to the grunge and emo scene. Of course, the early ’00s Omaha music scene also left an impact on me.”

On the other hand, Heacock, who also grew up on classic rock like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and the Beach Boys, was more drawn to metal, an element she brings to the band.

“When I started forming my own taste in music as a preteen and teenager, I listened to anything vaguely in the rock genre, including pop rock on the radio and nu-metal when that was a thing,” Heacock says. “I feel like I’m the one that brings the vaguely metal sound to some of our songs because I’m still pretty into metal.”

Although The Boner Killerz are relatively new to the Omaha music scene, they seem to have found their niche rather quickly. In fact, they often have to turn down opportunities to play live because of their packed schedule. But it’s their live shows that are so intriguing and leave people wanting more.

“I can feel that people do want to connect in meatspace and have personal interactions,” Koleszar says. “I like that we play small venues and meet new people at our shows, and deepen connections with the people we already know. Personally, I have a special connection to those bands I fell in love with at a show and got to talk to even briefly.” 

“We want to be an inspiration for young women, queer people, and trans folx, and show that they can form bands and rock out.”

Visit thebonerkillerz.bandcamp.com to find hear their music.

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

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.

Triple Threat Plus One

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As I sit on the patio of Roast Coffeehouse in Aksarben Village watching people go by while waiting to meet the Clark triplets, it hits me that even though I’ve seen them play in bars over the years, they can’t actually drink in one yet. The talented siblings are only 20 years old, but they’ve been playing together as Clark & Company for years. It’s hard to believe they aren’t 21 yet.

All three are students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and live in the dorms, so we are meeting close to campus. Sophie arrives first, dressed like a typical college student in jean shorts and a yellow T-shirt. She apologizes for being late (though it’s only by a few minutes), and asks if it’s OK to go grab something to drink. She returns with brother Simon in tow.

As we start talking, Sophie and Simon speak over each other, occassionally interrupting and often finishing each other’s sentences throughout our conversation. I tell them I reached out to Cooper but hadn’t heard back from him. (From this point on, Imaginary Cooper will stand in for the third triplet.)

“That’s pretty Cooper,” Sophie says about her absent brother. “He wouldn’t say much if he was here anyway.”

(Imaginary Cooper looks puzzled for a second, then nods his head in agreement.)

This silence may be a way of standing out from his two siblings, as Sophie and Simon are both enthusiastic speakers.

While Clark & Company—the band—has been around for about five years, the siblings played music together long before that. Since they were around 8, in fact. They started out taking piano lessons in the same room with one instructor and several pianos.

“We were all really bad at it and the teacher did not like us,” Sophie says.

“She hated me,” Simon adds.

(Imaginary Cooper remains silent, perhaps pondering where they would be without those piano lessons.)

While none of them started out as savants when it came to the piano, Sophie says she was the best of the not-so-stellar bunch and continued practicing on an upright piano their parents bought.

Simon moved on to percussion in elementary school and Cooper started out on trumpet, later switching to guitar, then to bass. (Imaginary Cooper does a quick air guitar when this is mentioned.)

Over the years, the brothers joined the jazz and marching bands, and all three siblings were in show choir. However, their experiences with the School of Rock is what really got them into playing together as a group.

They joined while they were in middle school, between eighth grade and freshman year. Simon says it’s where they gained experience playing shows together as a band, and Sophie adds it’s also where she learned to write songs. (Imaginary Cooper opens his mouth as if to add something, but ultimately decides to remain silent.)

Current fans wouldn’t recognize the music they started out playing. Their first group was a hard rock cover band, formed with fellow musician Gage Clark. “No relation,” Sophie says.

“We had a few original songs,” Simon points out.

“We started out writing rock songs that were like, kind of terrible,” Sophie says.

“No, they were fine,” Simon quickly interrupts, though both admit to laughing whenever they go back and listen to those songs. “I cringe,” Sophie says.

Simon says they started playing shows around town and getting involved in the music scene. This is when Sophie decided she wanted to write songs in a more acoustic, singer/songwriter style. Eventually, they started Clark & Company — which has been described as indie, jazz, blues, and R&B/soul music — in their sophomore year of high school.

That brings us to the fourth, non-related member of the band. Longtime collaborator and sometimes mediator Cameron Thelander is a tenor saxophonist and occasional guitarist. He says he has known the Clarks for nearly 15 years, though he didn’t get to know them well until he joined the group.

Despite their youth, Thelander mentions that the band started out playing in bars around town.

“It was kind of fun,” he says with a laugh. “It was cool.”

Playing in a band with three siblings can be a unique experience, especially when they’re triplets. Thelander says he thinks his role as the fourth member of the group is to keep
them grounded.

“Since they are triplets, they can go off on tangents where they’re disagreeing with each other or arguing, so I think it really helps having me there,” he says. “It gives them an outside opinion that is less biased, I guess.”

He adds that they can all be stubborn. “Well, maybe not Cooper. Cooper just kind of hangs out and does what he wants. He doesn’t really talk much.” (I am interviewing Thelander over the phone so Imaginary Cooper cannot deny or corroborate this information.)

Despite the stubbornness, Thelander says, “All of the Clarks are literally the most kind, genuine people I’ve known. They’re like my second family.”

Which makes sense since the group is essentially a family affair, with their mother, Melanie Clark, acting as their manager or “momager,” as Thelander affectionately refers to her.

“She’s really good about it,” he says. “She’s super understanding and usually tries to communicate with us before she books something.”

Simon and Sophie agree their parents have done a lot to help them in their musical ventures. Melanie has been their manager from the start, and their father, Fred, gave up his art space so they could have an in-home studio.

While Thelander has been a consistent figure in the group, their lineup does change, often adding more horns and stringed instruments to the mix.

The band has been nominated for several Omaha Entertainment and Arts awards over the years—including this year—with their music often being placed in different categories. Clearly, putting a label on what they do can be difficult. For Sophie, the feel behind the music is essentially singer/songwriter. “iTunes calls it indie R&B,” Simon says, “which is close.”

Simon says: “The cool thing about Clark & Company is, us being the Clarks, the company can be any other musician we bring in.” This could account for that hard-to-categorize quality.

While both Simon and Sophie say they are interested in performing outside the group, that doesn’t mean they would stop playing together. (Imaginary Cooper is unsurprisingly quiet on this subject.)

Sophie says, “I think that Cooper, Simon, and I will always play together, because it’s convenient that it’s in the family and we know how to work with each other,” she says. “Any project we do, we’ll all pitch in.”

Visit clarkcoband.com to hear their music and find their shows. 

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

SImon, Cooper, and Sophie Clark, and Cameron Thelander

Transitorily Yours

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’m going to get real vulnerable here: When it comes to millennial stereotypes, I can verifiably say that I fit within the “coddled” category.

Even though I grew up in the context of a middle-class family, I was cognizant as a child that I was spoiled. And while I’m incredibly grateful for all the love and support my family has given me (really, they’re some incredible people), there’s just one thing that’s been thrown off in the process: my development.

Author Simon Sinek of Start with Why says that many millennials suffer in the workplace because they “grew up subject to failed parenting strategies,” and that “it’s the company’s responsibility to pick up the slack.”

Many psychologists subscribe to the idea that there are three major stages. First comes dependency (think infancy and early childhood). Second, the yearning for independence (cue the rebellious teen) and the establishment of said independence (early 20s). And if everything works out, you move to interdependence, where you realize you’ve unnecessarily been a jerk to your parents all these years, and that while autonomy is great—cooperation is the highest form of existence.

But when you throw coddling into the equation, the process gets disrupted, and the end result is co-dependency.

According to Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks in Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment, “Co-dependence is an agreement between people to stay locked in unconscious patterns.” This can create unhealthy relationships, addictions, and patterns of dysfunction. And thanks to a few years of therapy, I’ve arrived at the hard truth that, left unchecked, I’m prone to creating co-dependent relationships.

All of this came to a head one evening when I was setting up for a DJ gig.

Stressed and frantic, I was facing a mountain of tangled cords with only 30 minutes left before the event started. Along with that, I was in the middle of raising a 20-inch disco ball on a t-bar. It’s something I’ve done countless times, but due to my frenetically displaced presence, I made a basic mistake and lifted an extension pole past the point of no return.

Instead of securing the magnificent 20-inch ball into place, I began to witness its eight-foot arial descent towards a hard marble floor. Time instantly slowed to a crawl as I felt a childhood wound rise to the surface that seemed to say, “it’s good that you sabotaged yourself, because now they’ll see that you deserve to be rescued.”

And as I held that feeling of self-entitled victimhood—BAM! The sphere smashed to the ground and dozens of glass bits flew about the marble floor. What was once a beautiful sphere now looked like the Death Star.

With my mouth and eyes gaping open, I proceeded to survey the room to see who else witnessed the moment (and subconsciously, who I could blame for not rescuing me).

There were some people scurrying over in the next room, but none looked over. There was a receptionist at a desk just 30 feet away, but she had earbuds in and didn’t even flinch from her downward gaze.

With no rescuer in sight, it was just me, a shattered ball, and the realization that no one could be held responsible for this—but myself.

In shock, attempting to swallow the swell of my own sulking sabotage, I swept up the glass pieces, hid the remnants of the busted ball under a skirted table, and got back to work.

The thing is, I’ve always had a thing for disco balls. They’re a timeless piece of design.

As LED technology rapidly advances and projector mapping changes all the rules, there’s something timeless about being enveloped in an in endless swirl of flickering refraction.

In the cosmology of nightlife, the disco ball is a metaphorical inverse of the sun.

Just think: At each sunset, somewhere a disco ball rises. In the center of a sea of churning bodies, it floats effortlessly. Above our heads and beyond our reach, it serves as a beacon of speckled light in a world of darkness.

Yes, I have an affection for disco balls. Which is why at the end of the night, after the dance floor dust had settled, and I folded back the curtain revealing the brokenness of the sphere, I said to myself, “No more!”

Sinek says that millennials “were just dealt a bad hand and it’s no fault of their own.” But as a generational gesture, I say that at some point us coddled millennials have to take responsibility for ourselves.

It’s time we stop blaming others. Stop looking for the rescuer. Stop slipping into co-dependency. And absolutely stop the subconscious-busting of underserving disco balls.

It’s time to tell a new story.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

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

Great Scot!

October 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He began serving as the vice president of LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Heartland Pride last fall, but David Kerr hails from nowhere near Nebraska. The Glasgow, Scotland, native followed love to Omaha in 2013, and although his relationship ended, his business venture, The Tavern, blossomed in the heart of the Old Market. Today, Kerr jokes about printing cards to answer the daily question of how and why he ended up in the middle of America, but maintains he’s found a good fit in his adopted city.

“Omaha is hugely supportive of young entrepreneurs and business startups, and they have a sense of community here that you would never find anywhere else to nurture someone like that,” he says. Kerr prides himself on running an inclusive establishment that welcomes all; he’s even one of the first locally to offer gender-neutral bathrooms.

In turn, his business supports numerous nonprofits by serving as an event venue, participating in giving program Together A Greater Good (TAGG), and even directly supporting fundraising efforts. Kerr’s interest in giving back to the community began an ocean away, but one particular cause will always be close.

David Kerr

“Before I called Omaha my home, I volunteered for an LGBTQ+ organization in London called ‘The Albert Kennedy Trust,’ and they did some incredible work. And it really gave me an appetite to work for change no matter where I am,” he says.

The 1969 Stonewall riots are largely regarded as the catalyst that brought forth the U.S. gay pride movement. Heartland Pride’s official beginnings trace back to 1985. It’s a better world today for most LGBTQ+ people, Kerr says, but there’s still work to be done.

“Since then it’s remained crucial to our community to remain visible and proud. It’s easy to get complacent when we make strides,” he says. “For the gay community, it’s still relevant because honoring and celebrating our culture is still relevant.”

Dozens of countries around the world still criminalize same-sex activities, Kerr points out, and in eight countries death is a legal punishment.

“It’s important to remember the tradition of honoring those who went before us, the ones who were denied their human rights, and the ones who physically lost their lives as well. It’s important to still get out and be proud to honor those lives and shine a beacon of hope to people around the world. There are people who are suffering way more than people here in the United States,” he says. “We’re not acing it here by any means, but at least we’re making strides.

Allies should take notice, too, he adds. Locals may associate Heartland Pride with its annual June parade and surrounding events, but it’s also an important fundraiser for the nonprofit—run completely by volunteer efforts—whose activities include a scholarship program, a community action grant, and several youth programs.

“It’s obvious in this political climate that anyone’s rights can be called into question at any point by any government, and that’s not just true for the United States. Things are not static; they’re constantly moving, so we need to remain proud and visible so that no one ever does infringe upon our rights again,” Kerr says. “And that’s true for many communities, not just LGBT.”

Visit heartlandpride.org for more information about Omaha’s LGBTQ+ community.

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