Episode 28

Published on:

7th Jul 2021

Episode 28: Normando Ismay - A Loving Trickster

Normando Ismay – A Loving Trickster

Normando Ismay was born in the city of All the Saints of the New Rioja in northwest Argentina. As a young adult, he came to the United States, settling in Atlanta to pursue a career as a visual artist. Since then, he has worked in a variety of media including metal, painting, sculpture and installation art.

He built a barn-like structure in his backyard and began the operation of the Little Beirut Art Space, a gallery/performance venue for visual art exhibits, poetry readings, storytelling, film, music and dance.

At this time, he also began an integration of visual and performing art, combining Andean flutes, drums and stories of magical realism into large- and small-scale performances and performance installations. Normando creates work in Spanish, English and in a bilingual blending. Some of his works include “The Last Inca”, about Pedro de Bohorquez who passes as an Inca and controls northwest Argentina; “Contralabias”, about a North American smuggler, the invention of lipstick and the birth of Argentina.  

Normando’s large-scale performance installations accommodate other performing artists and combine paintings, signage, sculptures, video projections, masks, seating, lighting and a stage. Café Bizzoso, Café Cultural de Chamblee, The Condor’s Next Hotel, Bannaland, The Mattress Factory Lounge and Dumpsite, to name a few. 

Normando’s work has been presented throughout Atlanta and the southeast, as well as in New York, Argentina and Europe. The New York Times, High Performance, the Atlanta Constitution, Art Papers, Mundo Hispanico, and other publications have written about his work. He has received grants from the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Fulton County Arts Council, Georgia Council for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1991 he received the Paul Robeson award in Cultural Democracy.

Threshold Questions and Delicious Quotes

What is Cafe Bezzoso?

Well, Cafe Bizzoso, it was a traveling performance space, an art installation specific to the site where I was creating it. Bizzoso came out of a proposal that I made to the Arts Festival of Atlanta. They had invited me to perform in this huge stage. … And it's like me and my solo storytelling act and my public is like twenty feet away from me like no intimacy possible because of that. So, I made him a proposal to build a small performance venue for storyteller’s poets. and like that, and they liked the idea

Was the Crack Attack an art exhibition?

And then two or three nights after that, Steve Seaberg hanging with me, and he was like uh, "We have to do something." You know, and we started making art about it. And we started filling up the lot and between my house and the crack house with art. And we kept working empty lot, and we'd turn it into a, do an art show. We called it the Crack Attack Show.

Who was the Last Inca?

Oh it's, it's, an amazing story straight out of history. And The Last Inca is the story of a Spanish soldier who ends up in Peru and he gets in trouble with the Viceroy and they banish him and to, send to a fort Copiapo in Chile, that they know, is about to fall to the indigenous people from there. And this young man goes there, and he builds a cannon out of wood. That was only good for like a couple of explosions. And then the Canon fell apart, but it wasn't enough to signal to the Araucanos that the Spaniards now had a cannon and they decided to leave. (And that just the beginning)


BC: [00:00:00] Hello,

Normando are you there?

Normando ismay, could be described as having a transcendent spirit.

Hello Normando,. Let's see.

I think you're there somewhere. Oops. Not there.

A painter. A poet. A pirate. A conjurer of stories.

There you are.

 Uh, But above all a trickster, a serious trickster shapeshifter.

Can you hear me?

Who's enigmatic stories, some would say.

NI: [00:00:32] Do you see me?

BC: [00:00:33] are hard to believe.

I do not see you.

Yes. Hard to believe. But true.

There. you are.

my word. You haven't

changed a bit

NI: [00:00:42] I have

BC: [00:00:43] a hundred years. It's good to see you.

This is Change the Story / Change the World, a Chronicle of art and community transformation.

Now. I've known Normando Ismay, since the time of corded telephones and dollar-a-gallon, fossil fuel. He's one of those people whose story needs absolutely no spin, just a little air and an ear tuned to listening and learning and laughing, which we did together at the end of April 2021.

With me in Alameda, California, the ancestral home of the Ohlone people, and Armando, at his relatively new studio. I went to Taccoa, Georgia, the traditional lands of the Tsalaquwetiyi (Cherokee East)

Along the way we're introduced to ephemeral places like Chilecito and the Mattress Factory. Cafes with names like Beirut. Bizzoso and Success, And an extraordinary cast of characters. That includes Papa Bizzoso, the one-time child, preacher Contralabias, the smuggler, the last Inca, Pedro Borjehas. And Danimite the drug dealer who's the comes in the legendary Atlanta crack attack.

Part One Bizzoso, the Mattress, Factory and Chilicito

I'd just like to give you a few questions to set the table and we'll see what happens. So the first one is what is your work? How do you describe your work in the world thus far?

 NI: [00:02:19] The first thing that I would have to say is my work. Isn't just one kind of work. You know, I've gone through all kinds of medias and work that I've done. I think it was Erich Frome a book I read of him and something that got me was about specialization and dependency. And I think at that point decided I wasn't going to specialize in anything and that's how I've approached my life. You know, working on new skills and sometimes making dramatic shifts in what I was doing. And. So it's hard for me to define what my work is in like a couple of words.

BC: [00:03:11] Yes, I hear that. And actually, you have a lot in common with almost everybody I've talked to, which is A very strong intention to follow a winding path that is in service to something more than just a discipline or a skill, but something else. So if you Looked at the horizon line what have you been moving towards with these various paths?

 NI: [00:03:36] To live. Right. I always say, try my best, not to exploit or be exploited. And of course, you can't be a hundred percent on that. You will get exploited and you will exploit. Trying to keep a degree of honesty in that I think has been here where I've been hanging for years,

BC: [00:04:00] yeah. Actually, that echoes what Alice Lovelace said when I asked her the same question; is to try really hard to learn from her mistakes and try not to repeat them with the goal of not causing bad trouble, but just good trouble. Yeah. I was thinking about your move for a long time. You established yourself both as a maker, creative person, but also as a location with Cafe Bizzoso also, and Little Beruit. And I'm wondering if you've imported those to your new space

 NI: [00:04:37] It does have elements of all of it, so there's the space.

BC: [00:04:45] So the idea of Cafe Bizzoso so you know, it, it's not just a performance space, it means something to you. What does it, what does it mean?

NI: [00:04:54] Well, Cafe Bizzoso, it was a traveling performance space, an art installation specific to the site where I was creating it. Little Beirut was a space. Bizzoso came out of a proposal that I made to the Arts Festival of Atlanta. They had invited me to perform in this huge stage. It was like four feet up in the air. And it's like me and my solo storytelling act and my public is like twenty feet away from me like no intimacy possible because of that. So, I made him a proposal to build a small performance venue for storyteller’s poets. and like that, and they liked the idea and fully funded it. And Cafe Bizzoso took over spaces, turned it into a performance space and then disappeared. it was uh, a really sort of quick, act.,

BC: [00:06:02] What is the story of the name?

NI: [00:06:04] it's stolen.

BC: [00:06:05] yes. So, what's new.

NI: [00:06:08] I had been working with performance spaces before Cafe Bizzoso. And it was funny because, you know, there was the Mattress Factory shows in Atlanta and it was like there were huge warehouse shows with a couple of hundred artists. , I ended up building places that were places where people could sit. That was the first sort of adding of that. But of course, then I started adding performance spaces and I started adding food and stuff like that. So, there were several, the Mattress Lounge was one, Cafe Success. I had a couple of those.

BC: [00:06:53] At this point in our zoom conversation, Normando turns and points to the back wall of his studio, which is covered with dozens of sculptures paintings and masks.

NI: [00:07:04] And some of the artwork right up the top. There there's series of faces sort of like brown line of faces that came from one of the Cafe Success that I did in a big warehouse. And the, the pictures that you see up top are the autographed photographs of the people that came to the cafe and became successful and never came back.

The funny thing is it that particular show got me into a group show that traveled to Sweden and there, I built a town inside the museum, the same techniques and stuff that I used with Cafe Bizzoso, in Sweden, there were a lot of people who had run away from Chile because of Pinochet at the time. So, I called it Chilicito little chili or loving Chile, and I felt that was necessary to make a statement about that. And it was also a statement about appropriation of culture. Because I had been in several museums in Europe that just blew me away. I was in a museum in Paris and there were things from my hometown, in Paris, that was, you know, touch the heart. What are these things doing here? What are these temples doing here? You know?

BC: [00:08:34] So was that city and an attempt to bring hometown to, Sweden for the people who had to vacate their loving space,

NI: [00:08:42] yeah, I think it was a statement about that. it was because there were a lot of people that came through at the time that I met that were part of that. that's how that piece came about.

BC: [00:08:56] Part Two: The Birth of a Trickster.

So, given all the different streams and pathways that you followed w how did you come to be this sort of three ring circus of an artist? What made you decide? Oh, this is what I want to do in my life. As a kid, were you a person who people said, oh There's a young artist just waiting to blossom or was it something you were encouraged to do?

NI: [00:09:25] No. No, I remember my mother saying something like, "Art you want to be, you want to do art that's for rich people, not for you". What's what she told me. I think that statement from my mother was, in reference to what I was going to study in college. And I was good at math and good at chemistry and physics and stuff like that. So, I ended up studying biochemistry. It was weird because every once in a while, something would just burst through you know, I remember at one point I made a wood sculpture and it just came out of, nothing. And I just made a wood sculpture while I was still studying you know, college. In Argentina, the education system is different than here. So, you don't have what I got a general bachelor's path in education. And, pretty much, when you leave high school, you decide what your career is going to be.

BC: [00:10:22] You have to declare.

NI: [00:10:23] It's a European model and if you're studying biochemistry, that's going to be your focus. So, at one point I decided that I wanted more than that. And I had to become part of another college. Which was the college of literature. And I started studying literature at the same time. And that's where I started going back towards a creative style in my life. it really was linguistics that sort of opened up my, way of perceiving the world. It was actually structuralism did that., it was, Saussure.

BC: [00:11:07] Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist and philosopher whose ideas laid the foundation for many significant developments in linguistics and semiotics in the 20th century

NI: [00:11:21] And I was pretty much an example of what his studies had been. You know, I was from many generations of Scots that I've lived in Argentina. So, when I came to the states, I spoke a really old English, an English that arrived in Argentina in the 1800’s. And I you know, I got laughed at a few times here and this day using inappropriate words.

 BC: [00:11:55] Not far off from the Appalachian

NI: [00:11:57] And there's a reason why I really like southern talking, I like Appalachian talking you know. Because it has a richness that I don't find in other English-speaking areas.

BC: [00:12:11] It's in service to the story. More than the structure of the sentence, it's lyrical.

 NI: [00:12:17] It has second person plural, which the rest of English doesn't, they, y’ all, that is a normal form in Spanish. So, I related that a lot.

Once I was in a, an African-American neighborhood that was really close to where I lived and I used to produce a festival there too. I was hanging out with, a guy that I had done several years and worked with them. So, we were close you know, we done the same festival. And this woman came, and she was from Cabbagetown and Cabbagetown basically got populated by people from Appalachia.

So, the way people spoke had a lot of relationship to Appalachian English. And she came and she asked my friend a question. And he looked at me and he couldn't get it. So, I translated. And then he answers her when I could tell she didn't understand him. So, I translated it back to her. Then she left because she got the direction she needed. And I like looked at my friend. and I said, "Do you realize what I just did?" I had interpreted many times from Spanish to English but never, never Appalachian.

BC: [00:13:33] That's beautiful. So, that sort of brings to mind. When I look at your work and I'm just going to talk about paintings right now. The story is preeminent. The story is super important sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. You even say you, want to paint paintings where the story is manifest in a single painting. Could you talk about that and what that means for you?

NI: [00:13:58] When I came to the States, I didn't have much control of English. It took me years before I got good enough to where I could tell a story in English. So, I focused on visual arts. At first, I started on crafts because, really quick I, started realizing that um, was going on in Argentina was going to last a long time. That the dictatorship was going to be in power and I wasn't going to be able to go back. So really that meant my education was out the door.

 And the first thing that I had to do was find a way to make money. So, I started with crafts. And I went to school and learned how to, form metals, which eventually led to a job in a jewelry store. And nobody in the class wanted a job as a polisher, but I went, yes, I'm doing it. And that was my entry into the jewelry world.

There was a building in Atlanta, the Carnegie building, and there must have been about 10, 15 jewelry workshops there. And I started as a polisher and eventually I was setting diamonds and doing repair. And then it was a way to live at first.

And I had gone to, to school and I had picked up this concept of making miniature sculptures, which is the art that I was doing at the time. So, I started working in a world that was a foot by a foot.

That was my, art creating world at the time. And things started to change because I started interpreting and doing voiceover work. So, the jewelry worked at and make that much sense anymore. At some point around there, I had a studio in Nexus.

BC: [00:15:55] The nexus center for the arts in Atlanta has been true to its namesake as a catalyst and incubator for artists and their ideas for the past 30 years. Back in Normando those early days. It was small and funky. Now it's much bigger with a new name. The Atlanta contemporary art center

NI: [00:16:16] And I think that having a studio nexus sort of redirected me as an artist because now I was around other artists. I was learning all kinds of techniques from them. And I was getting interested in other forms of art.

And it wasn't long that I was making installations, which was a form of art that I was very comfortable with. So, my art, creating the world, went from a foot by a foot to a fairly large footprint. And then I started volunteering to make sets in the theater at nexus. And Ian McCall was running that theater at the time. and he was bringing, what is it? PS 122. Is it called?

 BC: [00:17:08] Yeah. The legendary New York art space.

NI: [00:17:11] He was bringing them, and I built a set for them, and it involved workshops and they suggested I take the workshops and work with them, do the exercises. And I enjoyed a lot. And at one point was sitting the front row and he went, "Speak to me." And I just told a story about how some students had been killed in Argentina in one of the prisons and Charles went, “You have to tell that story.” And then performance came, and I was on stage, I went, “Oh, I know this world.”

I know this very well because. I was the big hope that my parents had that I would become the preacher. And you know, I had been a child preacher. And so, all of a sudden, I went, oh, I know what I do here. And by then, my English had got to where I could actually start writing stories and the stories led to building performance spaces.

BC: [00:18:20] Yeah. Yeah.

NI: [00:18:21] And then it just started feeding the performances. So, by the time Cafe Bizzoso comes around I had done several installation performance pieces. One was the Condors Nest Hotel, which was a major piece. And The Last Inca,

BC: [00:18:42] Yes.

NI: [00:18:43] which were two other huge pieces I mean, there were regular theater performance. Actually. I did a couple of times at Seven Stages in Atlanta.

And then, so when I started doing Bizzoso, again the accident sometimes rules the game you know, so that first show I was building and just trying to get it all together in time, which is something that I'm always known for just working to the last minute. I think I was teaching people how to make matte.

BC: [00:19:19] Uhuh

NI: [00:19:20] And then when the place filled up and my boots were on the other side of the stage, the boots was going to use to perform. And so, I crossed the stage and uh, sat on the edge and put my boots on while I made up the story. That grandpa Bizzoso was also on his death bed, giving me the boots, because he wanted me to carry on the stories of the Bizzoso I made that stuff up right there, know, and from then on, I was, Papa Bizzoso.

 BC: [00:19:52] Yes.

NI: [00:19:52] And from then on, I made up stories the Bizzoso family. Family And it was great because I didn't have my family here. You know, I had left my family, country the whole thing I had left it. And all of a sudden, the Bizzoso family became my substitute family.

BC: [00:20:11] And you could take it wherever you wanted to.

NI: [00:20:13] Yes. So that's a little bit how all that. Came around, you know? One of the things about it. the Cafe Bizzoso is, what I call now micro stories, know. Little stories that were always meant to occupy those awkward moments where the act on stage is not ready to go yet because they need to tune the guitar, or they need to do something like that. And I hated those silence moments, you know? So, I started making little stories to go in there.

So, I had to introduce people as some dignitary. That's what I call the false dignitary stories. And I'd just choose somebody in the audience and just. Introduce them as, a multimillionaire to supporting the arts or something like that. And they'd get a big applause, you know?

And then people started getting the whole confession thing. And people would get up and confess that there were Bizzoso’s too, and they would choose a new, Bizzoso name. And that just started to be like a common thing. I mean, then people from the audience would get up and, and tell stories yeah. Every time I did Bizzoso’s there were new Bizzoso’s confessing to their, sins, their mutation. I have one story about you know, how the Bizzoso's, they had a special mutation that led them to to laugh very serious matters and other things. So that's sort of how Bizzoso came into existence

BC: [00:21:48] Part Three: The Last Inca in Jail

BC: So it’s a state of mind way beyond the stage and that, had , a, life of its own with you and the people who participated in it, it sounds like. So, it's very clear to me that these micro stories they've also manifested visually. So, like The Last Inca in Jail, there it is. Now without this title it's, it's intriguing. With the title it automatically triggers your mind to create your own universe around it. Talk about creating this space that is in a sense of a little movie that you can walk into.

NI: I wanted to create an environment that made you think you were somewhere else, not in your own world that didn't look polished, didn't look clean, and didn't look professional because that intimidates people. And what I wanted was people participating. And so the paintings that I was doing were paintings that, there were simple. And a lot of times they had stories and I'd make up stories. And like the masks and stuff would have stories to them.

One painting you're talking about is The Last Inca. A lot of the paintings would trigger stories. That's a performance piece, also that involved other actors and involved, puppetry.

BC: [00:23:31] So is there a story for the last Inca

NI: [00:23:33] yes. Oh it's, it's, an amazing story straight out of history. And The Last Inca is the story of a Spanish soldier who ends up in Peru and he gets in trouble with the Viceroy and they banish him and to, send to a fort Copiapo in Chile, that they know, is about to fall to the indigenous people from there. And this young man goes there, and he builds a cannon out of wood. That was only good for like a couple of explosions. And then the Canon fell apart, but it wasn't enough to signal to the Araucanos, that the Spaniards now had a cannon and they decided to leave.

Yeah, so he saves the Fort, and they immediately want to make him the hero you know, they made him I'm a captain right away. And he's. He's not the kind of guy that liked fort life and he's been hanging out with the daughter of an Inca. And so, she's a Royal family and, they go down to about where Santiago is, across the Andes into Mendoza in Argentina. And they end, up close to the region where I grew up. And his companion spreads the word that he is actually Inca that's dressed up as a Spaniard. And the indigenous people, in that area took on to and made the Inca. They build him a palace and everything. Um, and they managed come to an agreement with the Spanish authorities of that area. They see the advantage of having somebody they can interact with indigenous people. But eventually the vice Viceroy got word of it, and they incarcerated him and he died in jail. But that caused a huge indigenous uprising in Northwest Argentina. And it ended up with a similar trail of tears, like the Cherokee here in the states. So that's the Last Inca Story.

BC: [00:26:04] Not that, has a parallel or maybe it's the same story to Pedro

NI: [00:26:13 Bohorquez

BC: [00:26:15] Pedro Bohorquez, which is an extraordinary story. But there's a theme here. The puyai I the trickster, the joker, in the work of the Bizzoso’s is, trickster work. This story here of, of you are not who you appear to be, or you decide to appear to be somebody you're not, or other people see you as something else as, a shape-shifter, that's a theme in a lot of your work. Am I right there?

NI: [00:26:45] yes. I would say so. I mean, the story Contralabias

BC: the smuggler, right?

NI: The Smuggler I mean, the Bizzoso’s always, you know one of my lines, was “They could always smell of trouble before it got to them and, they'd always be gone by the time trouble got there.”

Yes. There's a book that influenced me a lot and called Disruptive Play. I don't know if you, familiar with

BC: I've heard of it. It's been mentioned that. N number of times, who's the author. Do you remember?

NI: I can find it. you give me a second,

BC: Sure.

NI: I guess you're editing these tapes.

BC: [00:27:24] Oh Yeah. This is where we sell the micro story. Yes. Where cousin Bizzoso unbeknownst to himself marries his sister.

NI: [00:27:36] We've had weddings,

BC: [00:27:38] That's good.

 NI: [00:27:39] Shephard Segal. That's his name? Trickster and Politics in Culture

BC: [00:27:45] Part Four. The Crack Attack

There you are. Okay.  Normando my first introduction to a little story, the crack attack, was very much a trickster event. Was it not? Okay.

NI: Yes, using my trickster qualities to the max.

BC: Yeah. Could you talk a little bit about that? It's always inspired me and it's not onstage, it's the world is a stage in that case.

NI: [00:28:16] Yeah. It mixed up. got all mixed up. I used to walk my dogs. These guys had put a crack house next house. It was a, an empty lot in between. One night I was out walking my dog and there was a cat out there. And I asked the guy who was out there selling the crack, I asked him, “Is that your cat?” And he was so paranoid of me asking such a simple question that I realized this that's their weakness. They were afraid of me. You know? So, then there was a, there was a fire in some apartments that were behind the house. And the main crack dealer, the name was Danomite, is out there like everybody else looking at the fire. And he asked me about those apartments. They were mainly Mexican people living there. I went, oh, they're know, they're great people to be around and you know, don't ever mess with because you mess with one and all of them are come on you. I was just trying to scare him. So, he would stay away from, that scene. And then I told this guy, a bunch of different stories.

And what I was doing, I just working with his head. So, I told him, yeah you know, there's that red house up on the other block, you know which one I'm talking? Yes. I know that. Well, this guy went into mess with this Mexican in that house and the Mexican got an extension cord and put around neck. And then I go, "And you know, it was really funny about the whole thing. The Mexican's name was Jesus".

I realized that freaked them out little bit. Every I'd be around I’d tell them some story to freak them out more, and he was like, "I'm trying keep the scene clean you know, And, and I would go, “Yes, you know, while you're here with crack, things are, okay. But when you're not here with crack, they're freaking out man.” So, that went on like for a while.

And then it started getting really depressing for me to watch the scene and it was really affecting what I was doing in Little Beirut. Just to watch people that were healthy looking, and then two or three months later, we're walking, skeletons just started depressing me in a huge way.

And it was like, I need to do something about this.  I told Danimite, you need to move your crack house. I always treated him like a businessman. I said, you have a really good business going on here. But I'm tired of your business and I know you try to keep it cool, but it's still out of control. You're going to have to move out of here. And he goes, are you going to call the cops? And I'll say you know, I don't call the cops, but I'm going to make it so you can operate from there.

 So, it was in my head, what am I going to do? And there was a group of artists that were doing photo graffiti and they would take photographs and make them big again you know, reproduce make them really tall. we were going to use that technique to reveal scare off the customers. That was the idea at that time.

So, we were out there with a couple of these artists in my porch when all of a sudden, the, the crack unit, the anti-drug unit shows up, they were called the red dogs something like that. They had been actually observing them to tell when they were going to get a load. And the night that the got a load and is a night that got busted. So, it was a serious crime, and they have found guns in the house and that made it federal crime. So, it took it away from local courts.

 But I knew that every time they would get busted that the crack house would go completely silent for the rest of the night. I also knew they were going to come back to the neighborhood.

I just knew that that was part the game.

So, I went to the back to where my studio was I found some latex paint and I painted these huge, letters, "CRACK the front of it, because it was a duplex, I put "BUY YOUR, CRACK RIGHT HERE" with an arrow going to their door just to make sure.

 Uh, and it turned, it turned into a police show for police, I guess, word got around and they'd be coming middle night and shining lights and commenting on it stuff.

And then I decided, you know, we have to do something else. So, I sent my family to my father-in-law's house, my wife my child, because I was afraid they would shoot us up you know. And I wasn't sleeping in the house. I had parked the truck outside yard and sleeping on truck outside, just hanging out at night.

And then two or three nights after that, Steve Seaberg hanging with me, and he was like uh, "We have to do something." You know, and we started making art about it. And we started filling up the lot and between my house and the crack house with art. And we kept working empty lot, and we'd turn it into a, do an art show. We called it the Crack Attack Show. And we even had a panel in the front that the children the neighborhood wrote from their own experiences about it. And then the next weekend we opened up with a wine and cheese, reception. Yeah, the attraction was the crack house, all painted up.

 The, the main dealer Danimite. came by, and I saw him walking by during, the wine and cheese opening and I go you know, I need to go, I can't let him just walk by I deal with this you know? Cause I was still afraid that they'd try some real weird shit. And I go out there and I, just go in front of them straight up and say, "Hey, Danimite how do you like the art?" And he starts laughing and he says, "Don't worry, we're not going to come back to this neighborhood."

 So, a group, of artists from a different part of town came out in support of what was going on. And they painted up all these signs and stuff and made it sort of like a crazy parade and went around the neighborhood and the major streets and put these signs up about a crack house that had opened up in the other block. And I'm out there cleaning up the outdoor gallery and the chief of sanitation for the city of Atlanta shows up and. And he says, " say you wouldn't happen to know who put all those signs up there on our Memorial Boulevard? And I say," I didn't have anything to do with that. I could ask and find out. He pulls out his personal card and he gives it to me.

And he says, if you run into these people, give them my card because I have a crack house in my neighborhood and I want to get rid of it. He was ready to hire us. He'd never pulled the signs. You know, it was like, it was "HERE, BIG ROCKS, NO COPS" that was one of the signs. "PRICES SLASHED CRACK" --- a really crazy scene. He left the signs up for like days the signs were up, which was basically an indictment on the cops.

BC: [00:36:29] I have to believe that for the customers that was, a little too hot to be seen wandering around this place.

NI: [00:36:37] Yeah, no, it was over. You know, I, I realize know, the one thing that will mess up a crack house is advertisement.

BC: [00:36:50] Absolutely.

NI: [00:36:51] Just advertise it, that's it. that story went down.

I remember there were a couple of neighbors that have been talking about burning the house. Oh yeah. We need to go burn the house down. You know, they really pissed about the whole thing. And I remember I say, "I think I'm gonna go paint." They looked at me like, and then when the next day when, crack house was all painted they knew it was me, but I try to keep it secret.

BC: [00:37:18] it's a great story. The trickster is, always pretending not to know and to be impotent in many ways you know, “Me, I'm not, I don't, I'm, I'm just, I’m just, a silly person here. “ And then you end up realizing, “Oh, There's a story that got spun here that is really powerful that transcends the stupidity of a given circumstance.” It's a revelation. It reveals what's in your face. What's obvious. And it's a refreshing thing because so many people feel like when they're between the rock and the hard place, there's no place, to go, no place at all. Yeah.

Some people think we're in between a rock and a hard place right now. Now? What have you been, doing What's your work in this strange moment that we're occupying?

NI: [00:38:13 It’s been really hard for me. The lack of contact really was very hard for me to deal with and creatively, I just dried up. The last few months have been getting better. Since I got vaccinated, things have changed a whole lot. The gallery downtown is you know, more activities going on.

And I've been to a couple of gatherings now where I've told stories. So, it feels like things are coming back again, no. I mean, the, the pandemic year is as far as I'm concerned. Pretty much. gone

BC: [00:38:54] yeah. Your work requires a community. It is a community enterprise. Yeah. Yeah.

NI: [00:39:00] Yes. So that's where things are now.  Things have changed in many ways and my daughter has moved back from Korea. um, granddaughter to play with, I think that that's made my head a little healthier.

BC: [00:39:16] Yeah.

Yeah. This is all for them just trying to get this stuff flushed so that they can have a reasonable life The grandkids.

Yep, I have to tell you, you've given me a lot. And to me, the bottom line is some artists make things but others, some artists they contribute to the building of our collective story. Yeah. They push their prod, they needle, they trick. And most of the artists that I'm talking to are people who see themselves as part of a much larger stage and you're one of them. And I appreciate the time that you've spent. I really do. Thank you.

NI: [00:40:02] Yes.

BC: [00:40:03] Adios. Adios.

NI: [00:40:05] Bye

BC: [00:40:05] bye.

And adios to another episode and our listeners who we want to thank for tuning in and encourage you to share this podcast with anyone you think might be interested. Change, the Story / Change the World is a production of the Center for the Study of Art and Community. It is written and hosted by yours. Truly Bill Cleveland. Our editing is by Andre Nnebe, our soundscape and theme by the brilliant Judy Munson. And our inspiration comes from the mysterious UKE two 35.


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About the Podcast

Change the Story / Change the World
A Chronicle of Art & Transformation
Poets, dancers, and painters at war with white supremacy, COVID, criminal militias, and Milosevic? Muralists, musicians, and actors, making a difference in homeless shelters, planning departments, emergency rooms, and death row? Sound delusional? Yea, sure, but also true! And when creativity confronts destruction, and imagination faces fear, in places like Ferguson, Johannesburg, Belfast and San Quentin surprising things happen.

Our stories help shape and sustain our beliefs and actions. Bill Cleveland believes that meeting the challenges of the 21st century will require a revolution of thought and deed— in essence, a new set of stories powerful enough to change beliefs and behaviors.

Change the Story/ Change the World is a chronicle of art and community transformation across the globe. In each episode, Bill will introduce listeners to creative change agents working to re-imagine and recreate the social, political, and cultural narratives that define their communities. Join us
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