When Jeremiah Pickett, known creatively as Baang, was tapped during the middle of a pandemic to participate in a new variety show featuring and supporting local artists and creatives, he was ecstatic.
"It's the coolest thing ever to be granted, and really gifted is the word, an opportunity to share your talents. Period. That in and of itself is a gift. It's a double bonus to be able to be compensated for sharing your talents," he reflects.
At the end of October, OZCast debuted to the world with its online release. Opening the video, a colorful and tightly edited animation of floral and graphic designs dances on the screen as the mellow sounds of one of Baang's original tunes glides over the visuals. It's the intro to a 20-minute variety show that brought together nearly two dozen creators for a new kind of collaboration.
The multidisciplinary "Featured Artists" page for Episode 1 may list only seven participating artists, but but Jesse Elliott, CACHE director of creative ecosystems, points out the necessary effort to create such a piece: "It's almost hard to count because you're talking about the behind-the-scenes folks, too," he posits. "If I had to guess, there were between 20 and 25 total people involved in the first episode. And whether they show up as an individual artist, or a group of dancers, or behind-the-scenes crew, those are all super-valuable forms of creativity to our communities."
The seed for OZCast was a vague creative idea percolating long ago among Elliott; Allyson Esposito, CACHE executive director; and Mario Troncoso, 10-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, documentarian and founder of Doc Society. It's now ballooned to a partnership with some of the region's biggest institutional names -- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Momentary, OZ Art -- that will spotlight some 75 artists, with that number only expected to grow.
CACHE (Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange) is an agency formed through the Northwest Arkansas Council to support and develop the region's arts and culture community, and it's the organization that coalesced the many moving pieces to create OZCast.
"It was just kind of in the Zeitgeist of the moment," Elliott shares. "A lot of these organizations have all been thinking about different ways to do this, and I think it was the inflection point of the shutdown, of the pandemic, where it was like, 'Oh gosh, we have to take all these principles that we've all been working on and pivot pretty quickly.'
"It's something that we're all sitting around a lot of the same tables saying how can we best do this? And in this day and age, the best way to do it is virtually, is online."
The initial goals for the project were threefold: No. 1, to get artists paid for their work during this challenging year. No. 2, to benefit the community in introducing or re-introducing local and regional artists, and expanding collective understanding of what art can be. And No. 3, to benefit the artist community itself by building connections and growing awareness of each other's work.
Through licensing already-created work from artists and commissioning others to produce new pieces, artists are not only bolstered by the investment in their work, some are given a creative outlet that perhaps hasn't existed for them in months.
"And then one other thing is, it's professional development, as well," adds Lisa Marie Evans. Evans is the project manager for OZCast, as well as the editor and animator. (It's her animations that open the videos to Baang's music.)
"They're writing about their work; they're submitting it; we're doing all of the social media and bringing in all the tools that we need to promote them. So it's a really cool experience all around watching the growth, and also just being able to showcase the artists that are so talented here."
For this pilot season, a new episode will premiere each week through at least the end of the year, and each will include at least four artists. Already since its debut, OZCast has featured dancers and choreographers, solo and group musicians, experimental performance artists, authors, poets, filmmakers, a basket-weaver, a tattoo artist, muralists and more from varying cultural backgrounds. Nearly all will continue to be Northwest Arkansas talent, but regional and national artists will also contribute to the project.
As OZCast gains more traction in the community and possibilities of the format continue to be molded, played with and expanded, there is a lot to be proud of for the organizing entities. Both Elliott and Evans often return to the commission piece, though. Changing consumers' perceptions on the value of art is also a major goal of OZCast and for CACHE in general. And during a challenging year when much of the economy to support working creators has dried up, these projects endeavor to broaden the understanding of that crucial piece required to keep art alive.
"It's not the two-minute video that you end up seeing, or the 10-minute performance, or the 700-word op-ed article or whatever it may be," Elliott says. "It's the years of blood, sweat and tears that went into that, and that we need to collectively support if we want it to continue to exist."
"I think that as an arts organization as well, setting that precedent," Evans adds. "We have the power to really adjust the perspective of the arts community as well, and we can do that through language, how we talk about artists.
"You know there's that phrase 'the starving artist.' That kind of sets this tone for that perspective, and I think when people use that tone, it sort of brings artists down a notch. So I think that by adjusting our language -- that these are thriving artists, that we need to support our artists -- and by doing that in action -- by paying them for their work, by including them in the conversation, by recognizing the important role that they play in our ecosystem -- we can set that precedent."
This piece will be the first in a series of several throughout the pilot season of OZCast to speak with artists involved in the project. Here, hip-hop artist Baang, author and poet Carolyn Guinzio, and cellist Christian Serrano-Torres reflect on their inclusion in Episode 1 of OZCast.
On the inception for his tune "Wash Your Hands":
"Wash Your Hands" was done during covid as a joint project with a buddy of mine, really just trying to do something fun and lighthearted right when covid started hitting really hard. It sent people into a mode of disparity and fear, so we just wanted to do something fun, and also practical. I mean, wash your hands, people!
On the video for "Wash Your Hands" created for OZCast:
I reached out to my friend who's a local videographer here, his name is Brian Hill. He's been doing videography for 20 years, and pretty intensely for the past 10 years. And when I say intense, I mean he works with the likes of everyone -- ESPN, Walmart, etc.
So we get together and we found this really, really cool storage building that's also owned by my buddy whose name is Aaron. And I'm telling him, "We can just get in here and mess around with some stuff, I can jump off some things. Hopefully not hurt myself. Just play around." And as we're preparing to film, he's like, "What if we green screen this thing?"
So he films this video, edits it, my buddy Austin Dorn is also there to kind of direct and provide creative vision. But after Brian does this video, I'm freaking out because this is one of the coolest music videos I've ever seen. And at that point, he decides to inform me that it's his first music video he's ever shot.
On what he and his project Baang and the Gang are working on in "normal times":
I just really enjoy connecting people through different events and across different skill-sets and talents and mediums. And for us as hip-hop artists in Northwest Arkansas, sometimes it can be very hard for us to find spaces to perform, for whatever reason -- be it our genre isn't as popular in certain settings, be it the fear of what could possibly come from a hip-hop headliner, whatever the case may be. It's not a super, super open door here for us. And not just hip-hop -- I'm thinking soul, or maybe even R&B artists, too. So what I started to do was just say, "You know what? Let's focus on the people." If you can get the people engaged and invested, then you can go and perform in an empty parking lot; you can perform in someone's back yard. And I've done both of those, actually.
It's basically us saying, "We want to connect, and we want to have a good time, and we want to have fun. And we also aren't going to let venues or spaces grant or deny our permission to do something. If we want to do it, then we're going to do it." So that's a way to take ownership of our skills and talents and really carry out what we want to do.
Find Baang's work on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at LRBaang. His new album, "Neighborhood Love Dealer," is also available on all streaming platforms.
On her piece "Fourteen Sentences" fitting in Episode 1:
I'm a poet, but the performative aspects of my work come into play mainly through short films or visual pieces. Many of the other artists featured in the first episode have impressive performative flair, so I think my piece, which was split into smaller parts, provided a kind of breath or pause between their performances. Many of the sections made incredible use of space and spaces, and I think having short pieces that occur within no discernible space helps the viewer rest -- psychically and visually -- and prepare for the next space they are about to enter. They used this technique in both Episodes 1 and 2, and I found that, as a viewer, I could enter the universe of each piece more fully. Watching OZCast, I felt like, "Come for the artists, stay for the locations." They are spectacular, and if you know the area really well, you could challenge yourself to try and identify them!
On her inspirations for "Fourteen Sentences":
The piece "Fourteen Sentences" is from my book called "How Much Of What Falls Will Be Left When It Gets To The Ground?" which is a multi-genre collection of writing and visual work. "Fourteen Sentences" was part of a sequence that grew out of a period when my daughter would hand me scraps of paper with writing prompts on them as she left for school in the morning. She was trying to help me out of a stagnant time, but her take on the idea of the "prompt" was so fresh and original that the directives were unusual and challenging.
This one said: A poem consisting of one-word lines on the theme of punishment.
Once I decided that a "line" would be a "sentence," I figured out how I could approach it. They are two-line, two-word stanzas, the first word being the crime and the second being the punishment. Because of its simplicity, it lent itself well to being made into a video that could unfold in tiny chapters consisting of only two words.
On her participation in OZCast:
It means the world, actually. I've been here for nearly 19 years now, and the changes I've seen, which have picked up speed in recent years, have made me feel positively consumed with gratitude for this community. That they've put this program together with such devotion makes the artists living here feel so respected and valued. The care that has gone into creating each episode is so evident. I also think we must be more isolated from each other than I ever knew, because I've learned about people and enterprises that I didn't know about before.
Guinzio is in the process of finishing up a new manuscript. Find updates on that and her other projects at carolynguinzio.tumblr.com
On working with conceptual artist Dayton Castleman (featured in Episode 4) on a new video for his single "Emergence":
Ultimately, the folks at CACHE ended up choosing my latest release "Emergence" in its acoustic version because of its introspective nature and its connection with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. A re-shoot was much needed for this particular soundtrack because they needed an artistic video of me playing the piece without all the bells and whistles of most music videos in our current times. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Dayton inside an old creamery building full of memories of a forgotten time through its cracked walls, bare and industrial look, and dark ambiance. We had a lot of fun playing with the huge shadows of the cello and my bow cast on the walls as we recorded various takes and angles.
On his inspiration for "Emergence:"
The soundtrack "Emergence" was initially inspired by the musical fragments of my fully produced single debut "Everywhere." If you have ever listened to "Everywhere," then you know the high and excitement you get at the end. I felt that this track needed a sort of "after-thought" to bring people back to Earth and feel grounded after listening.
Eventually, the slow and meditative aspects of "Emergence" started to take on therapeutic effects on me as I listened, and it began to symbolize the idea of letting go and washing away deep-seated emotions. Because of this evolution in meaning and timely release date (middle of the BLM movement in June 2020), this track became a beacon for conquering injustice and becoming a better you. I think everything about 2020 has really shaken up not just the physical nation of the U.S., but more importantly the psyche of the American population. And I strongly believe that OZCast is not only trying to help the lives of our local artistic community, but also make the world a little better through intentional and well-meaning art.
On his participation in OZCast:
My involvement with OZCast was truly the highlight of 2020 for me! It truly came at a time when I was really craving this type of creative outlet as a musician. Chatting about the meaning of the episode, finding the right sound, and coordinating the re-shoot was revitalizing to my artistic nature inside and out. Knowing that my collaboration with OZCast is creating an impact is the best feeling. Financially, it was a blessing to have this opportunity, and it opened up new opportunities for me to acquire tools that will better serve me during a pandemic.
Find Serrano-Torres' music on Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook. More information at serranotorres.com
OZCast Variety Show
WHEN — New episodes available weekly
WHERE — ozcast.art; videos remain available after initial publication
COST — Free
INFO — ozcast.art, nwacouncil.org/cache