The Elements of OTA

What binds the tri-state area of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota together? The obvious answer on the surface is OTA -- all of these states end in O T A. When we dig deeper and consider the elements of OTA,  a seven-year venture supported by The Bush Foundation and focused on creatives and community changemakers, we discover it's more than geography and climate that connect us. It's story.

In previous OTA's I've attended, story is always a thread (OTA - The Intersection of Creativity and Community (Apr 2014); OTAFargo: Boldness Knows No Boundaries (Sept 2014); ( OTASiouxFalls: The Story Continues (Aug 2015)). This being my fourth OTA (there were others in Bismarck and The Black Hills that I wasn't able to attend), I can attest to how these events and speakers guided me immensely in my career path and personal development by sharing their stories of risk, fear, vulnerability, perseverance, collaboration and passion.

This OTA was no different (except a bit shorter in its half-day vs full-day format). As the finale and sunsetting of a successful run, I attended the November 12 OTA in Sioux Falls, eagerly anticipating the next iteration of OTA. It was revealed to us. OTA modeled something so successful in storytelling, curating conversations, building relationships and hosting events that bring together like-minded creatives, that the direction moving forward involves making that format and conversation further reaching and more accessible.

As I looked around the room of stellar creative talent, we were an intimate group. So while the tendency to take a solid event-type like OTA to the masses, I greatly appreciated that the new direction seems to incorporate the intimacy of OTA and reaches the masses. The suggested path includes storytelling through radio and OTA conversations on the community-specific level in rural areas in OTA states.

Fitting. Just prior to this announcement, I was reflecting with Dominick Washington, Bush Foundation, about the profound November 11th 4.5-hour road trip I had just made from my home of Minneapolis, MN to Sioux Falls, SD. It was profound for several reasons: the current political climate, Veteran's Day, The World Series, the death of Leonard Cohen.... all brought to me via MPR in a clear, strong signal with no other in-car distractions like a dog and two kids. Radio is the unique medium where we listen because words are all we have. And listening is what we need to be doing right now.

So, for one afternoon, I listened, cried, applauded and connected the ideas of OTA presenters to my own. Allowed them to take hold again. Here's my simple summary of each followed by SixWordMemoirs (which I was first intro'd to at OTA Sept 14 by @larrysmith).

AMOS: Amos Kolbo, a standout regional creative and photographer from Bismarck, ND, who runs Carly Loves Amos, with his wife, Carly. Amos, as others did throughout the day, talked about asking the important question of how can I serve others? It landed him in the principal's office, which turned out to be a fantastic risk that brought him into an impactful role working with students at a local school. Oh, and they've taken over 1M photographs in their 9 years of marriage.
Amos Kolbo: Like talking to a hug. Smile!

JEREMY: Jeremy Cowart entertainment, music, celebrity photographer; and founder of The Purpose Hotel and Help Portrait makes things possible. He started with himself. As an academic-underachiever in every way possible (he shared his test scores with us), his story includes a running theme from Philippians 4:13 engrained in him from his father and how he turned the word Impossible into I'm Possible in so many ways.  From organizing an international day (Help Portrait) where over 3,400 photographers staged complimentary portraits for people and communities who needed to see their reflections (next annual day, Dec 3, 2016) to launching the Purpose Hotel, he is not to be stopped.
Jeremy Cowart: If I'm possible, you are possible.

SARAH: Sarah Kay, a spoken word poetry artist and performer and founder and co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E., captivated all of us with words and undulation. We had the pleasure of hearing her spoken word poetry and the stories behind her work including spoken word's role in education that gives children new avenues to tap into learning and shared experience that aren't offered in a traditional classroom. More of that, Sarah Kay! I walked away with a signed copy of her poem, Type, in book format and beautifully illustrated to pass along to my 13-year-old daughter, Ava, who will grow to appreciate the full depth of its meaning as she grows up. On the subject of moms and daughters see also Sarah's TEDTalk with 9.6M views, If I Should Have a Daughter.
Sarah Kay: Spoken word starts with a voice.

EAMES: Eames Demetrios is a Geographer-at-Large, Kcymaerxthaere; Director, Eames Office; Author; Speaker; and Filmmaker. With the incredible number of hats this man wears so well, narrowing in on a direction for his OTA conversation must have been difficult. Upon landing on Geographer-at-Large, he took us on a journey of Kcymaerxthaere, a global project that tells stories most distinctively at historic sites and through installations like the bronze plaque install Eames was working on in Millbank, SD, while visiting for this OTA. Eames' definition of a historic site is completely open, somewhat unexpected and best plays out when the community steps into the story and owns it.
Eames Demetrios: Active, story-based geography is spelled Kcymaerxthaere.

STARLEE: Starlee Kine, public radio producer, writer and creator and host of the podcast Mystery Show, possessed an air of mystery herself. Her presentation style evoked mystery, wonder and an organic storytelling mode that clearly demonstrated her immersion into this art form: story on podcast. The concept for Mystery Show didn't just fall into her lap. In fact one story that informed her developing vision for a show almost disappeared entirely before she was able to pull it off her broken-down laptop craftily taped together. She dusted it off after six years and coupled it with other emerging themes that were swirling in her head, like her recorded phone conversation with a Ticketmaster customer service rep that provided her much more value than the $2500 Britney Spears Meet-and-Greet ticket she was inquiring about.
Starlee Kine: Mysteries of humanity discovered most unconventionally.

C!C!C! As the afternoon speakers came to a close the finale act, Choir!Choir!Choir! from Toronto, Canada, founded by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman in February 2011, took the stage. Breaking the church choir mold, they take song into spaces that can sometimes be filled with strangers, loneliness and isolation and create a connection that forms a community. Even if only for a moment in time, that feeling can transcend so much, as us OTAns witnessed through our versions of Sweet Caroline and Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen). With a bit of prompting, huddled in tighter spaces than we may be accustomed to, people experiencing humanity in this way can only open doors for more honest expression and conversations.
Choir!Choir!Choir!: Choir! helps humanity find our voices.

As OTA came to a close, C!C!C! rounded it out with lyrical license that included Halle-Hugh-Jah, a tribute to OTA's fearless leader, Hugh Weber. Thanks to Hugh, the Bush Foundation, the videographers, storytellers, volunteers, speakers, entertainers, hosts and attendees that have made OTA an amazing experience over the years!