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Episode 110: “Creativity as Resilience,” in Northwest Arkansas With OZCast

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IANWA - OZCast

IANWA Open [0:11] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we have got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [0:42] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn and I'm excited to be with you today. I've got the folks from OZCast here with me today to talk about their program. OZCast is a really interesting online creative variety show. They celebrate the local, regional and national artists from various backgrounds who work across a broad, multi-disciplinary spectrum and that's taken directly from their website. But I don't want just to read the copy, I want you to hear from these guys, so without further ado, I want to welcome Lisa Marie Evans and Mario Troncoso from OZCast to the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. How are you guys doing today?

OZCast [1:34] Great. Thanks for having us.

Randy Wilburn [1:37] So, Lisa, you are the Project Manager and Editor at OZCast and you and I connected and I wanted to sit down and talk with you guys to learn more about what you're doing. I recently watched a few of the episodes, the most recent one being this weekend. I was just blown away by the quality and some things just resonated with me very strongly. For the audience that may not know about OZCast, I would love for you to give them an initial introduction to what it is all about.

Lisa Marie Evans [2:14] So, it's a weekly online show that features local, national, regional artists. And it's basically a compilation of work that streams together into a collective piece. And we have some amazing talent locally, so we want to feature the work of our artists and connect them with artists elsewhere to showcase the work.

Randy Wilburn [2:43] You have a long list of artists on your website; I even saw Nate Walls on the website. You have got Olivia Trimble. You have some talented people on this site. How have you procured all these folks? How have they come to know about OZCast?

Lisa Marie Evans [3:04] Well, I think it's important to cover the aspect that the show is created as an emergency fund for artists, like a relief fund for artists at the beginning of the pandemic. So, Mario, I'm not sure if you want to talk about that for a little bit- the introduction of the show.

Mario Troncoso [3:23] We cover the season in about 100 hours, which is crazy. We have also done it all through the pandemic which, when you think about it once, you now have almost 15 episodes out, is a pretty huge accomplishment for everybody involved. But it was created as a relief fun, again, for the pandemic to help those who were stuck at home to create content. Also, we realized many artists in the region didn't have any personal line, no connections to other artists, and no connections to any other art scenes in the country. So, it was an excuse to create a platform to showcase their work and challenge them to create better content. So instead of giving charity, because of the pandemic, we say instead of giving you money for nothing, let's make some content together, so that was the premise of it. But at the beginning, we didn't know what people are going to do with it, how much help they were going to need, and a lot of the people we realize didn't have the skills and the confidence to create work, so that's why we started getting more involved from the beginning of the show to what it is now. We started getting more involved in the production of this content.

Lisa Marie Evans [4:39] So, for your question about how we come across the artist. We have a team at the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange (CACHE). We have a team, in the beginning, this is before I came on, and Mario had workshops with some artists, and so everybody would give their input on artists that they felt needed to be showcased so that we could get a diverse group on different levels. So that was a good starting base. From there, it was mainly outreach and invitation for the artists who had been included so far.

Mario Troncoso [5:15] We were at a grassroots approach to curating the content instead of having a fine art approach to it, which is all about talent and things like that; that’s why Nate was on it. We are looking at art in many different ways. We see at least over 300 artists, and of those 300, this is what we curated. But all through community support, community outreach, getting a lot of feedback from artists, being open to any ideas that people send us.

Randy Wilburn [5:50] So you worked on that. I applaud that because honestly, I don't think there's anything else quite like it in Northwest Arkansas right now.

Mario Troncoso [6:00] There's nothing like it. That was also another big part of why we got funding to create something that the United States never had before. In fact, I mean, I've done a lot of art content. I have had a PBS show for eight years. Make hundreds of documentaries with several artists. And I can tell you, there is nothing like it during a pandemic anywhere in the country. To create content like this during the pandemic where people got relief funds to create content was pretty unique. And that's why it has been a success, and I think we will continue to do that over the next few years.

Randy Wilburn [6:35] So, this is not just a pandemic thing, this is actually going to morph into something else.

Lisa Marie Evans [6:42] We have learned a lot from this first season, too. I've also worked with Artists Inc, which is a professional development program for artists. For over ten years, I've worked with hundreds of artists throughout the region on professional development. And so, we found, too, that this is a great area to focus on so we can give those mentor skills that other artists can work with artists as well and share those mentor skills so that we can continue to build that scope for artists here as we continue the program.

Randy Wilburn [7:15] I love that. You got to do a podcast at some point in time, probably. We will talk about that later; my mind is spinning with ideas. I think there are many ways to get the word out to let people know what's happening. I keep saying it repeatedly on every episode that I do that people in Northwest Arkansas tend to really do an excellent job of taking care of each other and you see that in a lot of ways. We have seen it with the service workers, the stuff that Jeremy Gawthorpe and Hannah Weathers are doing in the local community to help people. There is a program called Get Shift Done and I said shift, s-h-i-f-t, Get Shift Done allows service employees that are underemployed or unemployed to work in a kitchen and earn an income while helping other efforts that are taking place in the area. So, there's a lot of collaboration going on here in Northwest Arkansas that is pretty exciting.

Lisa Marie Evans [8:17] Hannah is awesome and we actually reached out to her to be featured on one of the OZCast episodes, but she was too busy doing all of the work she's doing to schedule it with the time frame. We are producing a weekly show, and that, as you know from doing this podcast, that's a lot of work. So, the timing is really important to you, but the community here is awesome.

Randy Wilburn [8:38] It is. For my curiosity, what is the timeframe from beginning to end for an episode? How long does it take for you guys to do?

Lisa Marie Evans [8:49] Well, there's a lot of components to it. Mario is the showrunner, so he outlines the shows, the content, fills in the artists, and then reaches out to the artists and works with that timing. During the pandemic, we have to move things around for various reasons with the artists to get their content. Sometimes the content needs a little extra work. I pull all the content together and edit the episodes and I animate them as well. Just that process of editing and animating can take a couple of days depending on what that is; the export of the website, so it's a lot of hours.

Randy Wilburn [9:28] I can imagine. As I said, I sat and watched several episodes; they are well done. They look great on a big screen TV and I think I watched Episode 14, They Poor Hunter's is the title of that episode, and there were some great people featured there. I would love to talk about how you assembled that particular group and some of the feedback you received from this episode so far?

Mario Troncoso [9:57] So, that's a great question. And I’m going to take you back to the beginning so you can see the timeline of this. So, we workshop what the show was going to be. We created a format. We established something that looked like a TV show, like a series that would grow over time. So that's a good question for Episode 14 because if you go back to Episode One and watch all 14 episodes, you can see the assembly, like how it was made as a TV show from beginning to end, there's an art to it. Every episode is there for a reason, every artist is in place for a reason, which takes a lot of hard work. If we need to replace somebody, we don't just replace it with anything; we have to think about its narrative. For this last part of this episode that you're talking about, we have several national artists and well-known people for their work. So, we waited to the end to bring this RSM to create a show with local artists. And actually, you see the thing, what I realized the other day just watching this episode is these local artists that we have before, they're at the same level, they just don't know it yet. We commission work from national artists, and it's amazing. There is nothing better than what is already here, and that is the future of the show; it’s totally local. You will see that without saying, but it's obvious that we are looking to showcase what people will say in underrepresented voices, what is not being said here. For many years, the focus in Northwest Arkansas has been fine art, world-class art, mostly YR and really expensive art. So that's why what we are doing is totally new. And it has opened the people's eyes here in the region. The people that have the money and the power to change things and they are really listening. The biggest accomplishment of the show is that it’s going to open. It’s already opening doors for all the projects you were saying on the podcast My work with CACHE, I’m the Director of Film and Media Ecosystem, besides working with Oscars. The job is to make these connections like what you're doing? How can we support what you're doing? So, making these connections, and I think that's the future of the show; it’s a vehicle. And it was always created as a network and that was the original idea. My background needs to be Oscars the way you see. It’s just one program within a bigger network and I think that's what we are going to continue evolving into that space.

Lisa Marie Evans [12:48] And it's really important to look at it too and think of how many collaborations are in each piece. I'm passionate about connecting artists and the professional development piece and inspiring artists to create. So, when we bring in regional and national artists, it's a great opportunity to connect with them, collaborate with them, and continue to grow the network for artists. It’s a fast pace right now because we have a show a week, so we look forward to slowing it down a little bit, connecting these artists, having the artists speak to the community, and having panels and things like that. I imagine as you're watching it, you have questions for Pura Coco, who you mentioned earlier.

Randy Wilburn [13:38] And Jefferson Pinder. The Elaine massacre is something that I knew about before I moved to Arkansas. I thought his little vignette that was part of that episode was very powerful in ways that I can't even describe but just watch. Anybody listening to this podcast today, I want you to watch all the episodes, but you have to watch Episode 14 because of the way that they weaved together all these disparate stories, and they felt connected, which was weird when you think of it.

Lisa Marie Evans [14:17] And Jefferson Pinder, that's exactly who I was thinking about. He's this national artist that we bring in and he's amazing. It's a great opportunity to bring those connections here and expand our dialogue and break these down with all artists.

Randy Wilburn [14:35] It was exciting and for those that haven't watched these. He's walking through a cotton field and he disappears, but then he comes back again. I could not stop looking. I couldn't look away. It was just the way it was. Trust me, just watch it and let us know what you think about it, but I think you guys will be interested in seeing how they represent local artists here in Northwest Arkansas, so it's really cool.

Lisa Marie Evans [15:08] And Jefferson Bender is a national artist. Where's he based out of Mario? New York or?

Marie Troncoso [15:15] I don't know where he is right now. He's moving around a lot.

Randy Wilburn [15:19] Did he have any connection to Elaine at all? Was his family originally from there, or was he just as moved as a lot of people were by the retelling of that story and what happened in Elaine?

Lisa Marie Evans [15:31] He was referred to us. He was in the initial workshop.

Mario Troncoso [15:39] We were with Crystal Bridges at The Momentary to select a shortlist of national artists, people who were doing really cool stuff and we selected a few. They were all international artists who have been part of the show that make things like somebody making a piece in Brazil or other places. Their concern was they wanted to make a piece connected somehow to the region in a different way. Of all the national artists, he was the only one who wanted to have that conversation. He didn't want just to be hired to make content, he wanted to connect to the area.

Randy Wilburn [16:23] Was that shot in Elaine?

Mario Troncoso [16:26] I think so, but I don't know for sure.

Randy Wilburn [16:30] It was moving for me for sure, so I would encourage anyone to take a look at that and just take away from it what they will.

Lisa Marie Evans [16:45] It looks like he's in Chicago right now.

Randy Wilburn [16:47] You said something earlier, Mario, that I just want to come back to and that's simply a lot of times when we think about art, we think of fine art or high art I tell people all the time, from both coasts, I've got an embarrassment of artistic riches in my backyard. Crystal Bridges has some fine artwork, but you talk about the importance of making art that people can relate to, not that they can't relate to what's happening at Crystal Bridges, but the thought process behind how you try to connect the average Joe and Jane to the artwork you guys are sharing with this area?

Mario Troncoso [17:39] That's a good question. I think we had to have that philosophy from the moment we envision this project. I've done a lot of art content with my background, but I'm not an art critic in any way. I don't care too much about the quality of the final project of that piece of art; I’m more interested in the process. It's about the people. I used to do my show on PBS and I always say, this is an art show, but it's not; it has nothing to do with art; it’s just an excuse for having a conversation about people. So, thinking about it like what is art, what is culture, trying to figure it out as an outsider, and I like it to be that way because then I observe people differently. Let me give you an example. I did this thing in Austin for many years, where I realized there was a DIY culture and that was my purpose always where we arrange that we are 100 percent DIY or as much as possible. So, the same thing here people are like you say, there's a sense of community, there is a kind of humbleness to it and the bitterness of having to stare in a room with millionaires. So, there's something here and that's what we have been trying to explore. That's why it is really important to find an artist through word of mouth, through the neighbors, and through the people like who you are now. Because there's a sense here in the community that nobody cares about them, and because there’s so much money here, that creates this type of bitterness. The people who have been here for a while just happen to be that all of us are coming here from other places. Those people feel bitter about it, so it was hard to have that conversation initially. We will do this because the idea was us; this has been done before. It has been tried. No, it was not. It was hard to connect and find the type of art that we needed initially because there was not really that trust. Now that we have 14 episodes, we don't even have to explain it because people now come to us. We almost don't have to go to people. They immediately see it. Oh, I get it. This is different. And now they are treating me differently. And, you have Pura Coco, an example for this. So that's somebody that I heard her name about a year ago even though one of our teammates sent me a link to look at her Instagram account, and they look cool, but I couldn't find her music. I didn’t know who she was. I had no idea. I couldn't find any content anywhere. I knew she had a SoundCloud saying I could hear a couple of songs, so this is cool. It took me months and months to figure it out. I didn't even know how to find her email. She didn’t have any presence anywhere where I could find her email. So, I had to start texting people. Do you know Pura Coco? Can I have an email? And when I reached out to her, I said, well, this is what we want to do. Do you have any content? No, but I have this idea for a music video and I wanted to do it. She already had the vision for this video; it was in her head. She did not have the conversation with a filmmaker in Texas to make it. She didn't have any excuse not to do it, she just didn’t have the money to do it. So, I said, let's go and do it. Here's the money to do it. Do it. And within a few weeks, the video was shot. Beautiful. It looks and sounds so professional, and it’s probably going to change her career. Now, she has this piece of content that she can shop anywhere in the world, and people will pay attention to it. What's next for you? So that's what we are bringing that was not here before. Here was a sprinter girl with her friends in Springville making shows; now she’s more than that. There are no borders for her anymore.

Lisa Marie Evans [21:54] The audience is important too. We talk about featuring people in communities that are underrepresented, but also that's our audience. We have people like Ballet Folklorico in Episode Seven. We have parents of them watching the show, the community of artists supporting others and giving shoutouts to other artists waiting for it. So, it's really from the beginning to this point, the community that has come together in support of the show and of each other has been really inspiring to see.

Randy Wilburn [22:26] I'm excited because you guys have created a platform, not unlike what I've done with this podcast because I've opened this podcast to a wide variety of people. People always say to me, well, Randy, why don't you have so and so on, or this person or this high-level individual, and I do have what you would call movers and shakers. But honestly, I like talking to regular people, who are doing amazing things. And I think we need to be reminded that even your next-door neighbor may be doing something super special, and you might not know about it. It's important to have platforms like yours, like mine, where we can highlight those and celebrate it. It should be a celebration; it shouldn't be a secret. That's the title of something. Now that you have this first season under your belt, and you almost have the framework to build upon for the next season, how long will it take? And I don't mean to put you on the spot for us to have another season of OZCast.

Mario Troncoso [23:35] Well, it's not going to take that long. We have already been approved for two more seasons, so that's our safety net. The only difference this time, we will do more of an open call. So, in terms of processes, now that people know what's expected, we will be able to give more funding than we have before, which will be exciting to more people. And we don't have an exact timeline, but it will take us just a few months, and we will be back. As Lisa Marie said earlier, the difference is that we want to spend more time with artists. Getting to know them, working with them in training, giving them the tools and the connections. We will go into a monthly format because that will provide us with more time to spend with artists.

Randy Wilburn [24:24] And are you spending time helping them with branding and everything? Is that part of it, just like the process you had finding Pura Coco? Are you now working with her and saying this is how you should consider branding yourself?

Mario Troncoso [24:39] No, and that's exactly the reason why we are going monthly. We are missing a lot of opportunities because of that. Give us the content and now we move on to the next person. We don't have any time to give feedback. After that, I see now maybe between the end of the season, which is this week and next. Some of you will have time to go back to everybody and say, give us your feedback and we will give you our feedback. There are plenty of people that I've seen who didn't do their best because we didn't push them enough. They were people that I think could do much more than they did with the resources and the time, but we were not there for the whole thing and we could.

Lisa Marie Evans [25:27] If we connect them to resources and those resources or other artists, and so, by creating this amazing pool and network of artists who have participated in OZCast, there's such power and learning from each other and creating these collaborations as well. And so, I think that's a great opportunity that we want to hone in on for the next seasons to be able to give them those resources in that direction too and take the time to be able to do that so that everybody can push themselves and have access to create quality work.

Mario Troncoso [26:01] As part of another program that we are starting, which is a big thing that is coming up, we will provide tools and training. We will have a lending library for people who want to create content, and we are going to provide training, so we will be doing lots of various classes. So that's going to build on what we are doing. And then our biggest thing is our goal to broadcast the show, so it’s going to end up being on TV. And to do that, we need to have everybody creating broadcast-quality content. There was content that we use this season that would not make it into TV for various reasons. We didn't do proper sound mixes for everybody. We didn't have the right resources to do it. So, it's like, somebody comes with a new piece when they see some ease, you want to have your piece eventually on TV? This is the standard. And if you don’t meet this standard, you won't be on TV. So, it will be a bit more professional with people demanding to be more than I’ve been for them. That's what they will need.

Randy Wilburn [27:19] I think people don't know what they don't know, right and so, it's important to expose them. I'm always learning new things. I've been doing podcasting now since 2009, but I still learn little tips and tricks about audio and audio enhancement, little things like that. So, there's always an opportunity to be learning something new.

Lisa Marie Evans [27:43] Oh, yes, especially with technology changes and all of that, you got to stay learning to stay growing.

Randy Wilburn [27:49] Well, listen, anybody that's listening to this particular episode of the podcast that's moved by what you guys are sharing, how can they get in touch with you?

Lisa Marie Evans [28:01] Check out the website, ozcast.art, you can contact us there. I've had a few people connect with us about sharing their work. We will be putting out a call for artists, so we are wrapping up this season. This week, Episode 15 is the finale for this season, and we have a newsletter on the site that people can sign up for so we can send out more information as we update that. But feel free to drop us an email, and in the meantime, we will be adding more information on the site as to how people can get involved.

Randy Wilburn [28:40] For the next season and everything, they will be like an open call for artists or something along those lines? We will make sure we push that out on our social platforms because I know a lot of people who are artistically talented and would probably be a good fit for what you're looking for. So, we will be sure to spread the word. Mario, any last thoughts from you?

Mario Troncoso [29:07] No, thanks a lot for having us. We are looking forward to another season. We are always open to people's feedback and recommendation. Anybody that takes the time to write an email to us, that always goes first. Any questions that people have any comments about, we love that.

Randy Wilburn [29:32] Well, I appreciate that Lisa Marie Evans and Mario Troncoso from OZCast. You have got to check it out. Visit ozcast.art. You can watch all of the episodes for the first season all the way up to at the time of this recording, Episode 14. Episode 15 comes out the week that we are recording this. If you're listening to this podcast at a later time, just check out ozcast.art and watch some of those episodes, especially Episode 14 and just ping me and let me know what you think about that and how it resonated with you. I would love to get that feedback. I suspect that pretty soon we might be seeing Pura Coco on late-night TV as the music set or something like that. So, this young lady is very talented and she's from Springdale. So that's cool. Thank you, guys, so much for coming on the podcast, we really appreciate it.

OZCast [30:33] Thanks for having us.

Randy Wilburn [30:35] Well, folks, that's another episode of The I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast. To learn more about us or to read or download the Show Notes from today's episode, visit iamnorthwestarkansas.com. You can listen to this podcast and sign up for our free newsletter to keep up with this and all things NWA. Sign up today. You can subscribe to the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast wherever you listen to it, and please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcast. Our podcast comes out every Monday. I'm your host Randy Wilburn and we will see you back here next week for a new episode of the I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast. Peace.

IANWA Open [31:26] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit iamnorthwestarkansas.com. We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.


About the Show: 

We recently sat down with Emmy award-winning Filmmaker and Video Journalist Mario Troncoso and Lisa Marie Evans Filmmaker from OZCast to discuss the origins of the online variety show and how they are slowly putting a diverse group of underrepresented artists from Northwest Arkansas and beyond on the map with their programming.  

Whether you are into dance, culinary, textile, music, social practice, video, spoken word, graphic novels, or sculpture OZCast has stories and inspiration for you.  

All of this and more on this episode of the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast. 

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This episode is sponsored by*:

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