Tag Archives: Denmark

Baller Artist

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,”

-Aaryon Williams

With an international basketball career spanning Peru, Denmark, Iceland, and Mexico, most 30-year-olds might be tempted to coast. Not Aaryon “Bird” Williams. The prolific artist and arts supporter is in the legacy construction business.

aayronwilliams3Williams has directed well-known local mural projects, such as the Terence Crawford Mural (inside Miller Park Elementary) and the Love Mural (at 24th and Lake streets behind Love’s Jazz and Art Center). He’s a spoken word artist and regular at Verbal Gumbo at House of Loom. His painting “The Butterfly and the Bee,” a tribute to Muhammad Ali pictured in victory over Joe Frazier, was unveiled at Carver Bank, where Williams puts his art management education to use as a program director.

Williams is tall and charming, especially when talking about his passions. He looks equally at ease suited up in the VIP room or paint-splattered in the studio. But when speaking of the past, he looks down as if haunted.

“Born” and “failed” are the two most significant words Williams associates with his old hometown: Gary, Indiana. According to the Department of Justice, Gary is one of six American pilot communities targeted by the federal government for nationally publicized civil rights abuses. A model American ghetto. Not exactly the land of opportunity for a young black man.

“I failed there, miserably,” Williams says of his time in Gary. “After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound. I had no money, no friends, a small group of family members, and a high school GPA of 0.56 as an incoming senior.”

“After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound.”

-Aaryon Williams

Fortune reversed itself when Williams enrolled at North High School in 2004. There, unlike in Gary, he got the palpable sense that people wanted him to do well, motivating him to do better than an F average.

aayronwilliams2“I met teachers and administrators who actually wanted to see me succeed. That was important. Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,” says Williams. “I became the star of our basketball team, one of the leading art students of my class, sang solo for high school a cappella men’s group, and scored a 3.25 GPA my first semester. Turned out, I wasn’t as incompetent as I thought.”

That formative time changed his life, and working with Omaha youth has been a priority for Williams ever since. He’s worked for Girls, Inc., the UNMC Wesley House Leadership Academy, Impact One gang intervention, and Omaha City Sprouts Garden to name a few.

“I always had a passion for working with kids and inner-city youth,” says Williams. “I stepped away from basketball in 2010 because I’m about more than how high I can jump.”

Williams is founder and director of FLIYE Arts Company, a group providing resources and support to talented young artists. “It’s an acronym that stands for ‘Focused, Liberated, Intelligent, Youthful, Extraordinary.’ It’s a combination I used while transitioning from Gary to inspire and encourage myself.”

Williams is also founder and director of the FLIYE Arts Youth Development (FAYD) after school mentoring program at Omaha North High where kids have lined up to learn from metro area experts.

“FAYD specializes in building better artists and intellectuals through mentoring. We want kids at North—and eventually at other Omaha high schools—to have the chance to meet and learn from people who can help them achieve their goals. Kids need a community support system to be successful, and that’s what we give them.”

Visit facebook.com/fliyeartsco for more information. Omaha

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Girl on Fire

August 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Haunting melodies float on a summer breeze. Anna McClellan is practicing on the grand piano;  her melancholy lyrics and precise keystrokes are muffled by walls of her friend’s house in the Dundee neighborhood. Step inside the house and it becomes clear: the calm singer-songwriter with oversized eyeglasses is on fire.

AnnaMcClellan2McClellan, 23, is preparing for several shows scheduled across town in the coming days and weeks. She is also preparing for a two-week, cross-country tour to California. Her destination: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free festival on the first weekend of October at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She is booking her own gigs for the trip there and back.

The Omaha-born musician will take the stage with another famous local singer-songwriter, Conor Oberst. One of the festival’s seven stages is called “Conor Brings Friends.”

Oberst contributed vocals to McClellan’s most successful single, “Fire Flames,” also the title of her 2015 album (Fire Flames was a cassette tape released simultaneously in digital format by Majestic Litter).

McClellan has played several times at Oberst’s Pageturners Lounge in Dundee. “He’s very supportive of a lot of people around town,” she says. “It’s nice in Omaha, because it’s such a tight-knit community of people (making music). It’s really easy to get help.”

She wrote the song “Fire Flames” in a single sitting, which McClellan says is unusual for her. The lyrics exemplify a recurring theme in her music: “It is such a universal idea to want to be a part of what’s going on, and what the world is, and also being scared of it. But knowing that even though you’re scared of it, if you don’t jump in and try to be a part of it, you won’t be satisfied.”

In conversation, her demeanor is so chill. But she’s a hustler behind the scenes. She works two jobs (one at Joslyn Art Museum, another at The Blackstone Meatball) and plays shows around town by night. She’s speaking to Omaha Magazine on her day off.

AnnaMcClellan3McClellan began studying piano at age 8 through the Omaha Conservatory of Music. She credits the tutelage of Anne Madison for inspiring her passion for piano. Playing the saxophone in jazz band, concert band, and marching band (while a student at Central High School) helped her break out of her comfort zone: “I tend toward structure, where everything’s pre-planned and you know what you are going to do. To be taken out of that comfort zone, and then pushed into solos, made me better, more daring.”

Her mother, former KETV newscaster Carol Kloss, also provided crucial encouragement. They performed together in church musicals, and Kloss included McClellan—the younger of her two daughters—in several Omaha Press Club Show performances.

McClellan first began experimenting with songwriting while studying abroad in Denmark during her junior year of high school. She was in a band called Howard after returning to Omaha, then went solo in 2013. Last year she moved to New York City for three months, working and performing, eventually catching a break to go on tour as the opener for the band Frankie Cosmos. 

Now, she’s working on a new album with Ben Brodin (the Omaha producer of Fire Flames). “We recorded new demos last Sunday for the new record,” McClellan says in July. “It’s going to be a little different. All of the songs that were in Fire Flames were written over this long period (some dating back to high school) more like a collection, but this will be more cohesive.”

“A lot of it is about relationships of two people…and romantic relationships in general, and then, fear,” she says, laughing. “I think it’s easy to get worked up over being scared, so I tend to do that a lot, even for the sake of the song.”

Visit annamcclellan.bandcamp.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

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