Art for Society’s Sake… season 1


[background music]

Tom Becka: Greetings from the heartland of Omaha, Nebraska and, where everyone’s exceptional and everyone has a story to tell. I got an email this past week from somebody, a nasty email.

Saying, “Not everybody is exceptional. Some people are low-lives, some people are below average, not everyone is exceptional. Quit saying everyone is exceptional!”

Hey there, Mr. Sunshine. Maybe not everyone is exceptional, but everyone somewhere, has an exceptional story to tell and that’s what we focus on here, on

Trying to find some people, with at least exceptional stories to tell, even if they’re below average. Are you satisfied now, Mr. Sunshine?

This interview here, though, is a man that is exceptional. At least, though. Watie White is an artist, he’s a conceptual artist. He’s more than an artist, or a person that does paintings or sculptures and tries to get them in galleries, or sell them to rich investors.

This man lends his art, not only for that, but also to try to make neighborhoods better, and to try to improve people’s lives.

He paints houses, but [laughs] not in the way that you think about painting houses. No, no, no. It’s passing the story, and we’ll get into it right now, here on I want to start off by asking a very basic question. What is an artist?

Watie White: I prescribe to letting everybody be an artist. I don’t see that much difference in cooking than painting or singing, or making something. It touches on the same impulse and the same reward that others do.

The much more interesting question to me is, what are you doing to be a good artist, or what makes you better than you were before?

Tom: OK. Do you mean, when you say everybody’s an artist at some extent. I know Subway did a thing where the people working behind the counter were sandwich artists.

Watie: Sandwich artists, yeah I know. The sandwich is probably a limited medium [laughs] in the art world.

Tom: [laughs]

Watie: That’s more to it. It seems arbitrary to draw lines and say that some people aren’t artists because what they are creating is made out of something other than what I would make it out of.

But some art is great. Some art changes your life when you experience it. Some art is a decent meal. It is nice. There are painters who are as poor artists as people making sandwiches. It think that it’s more a question of what makes it powerful.

I would like to believe there’s a sandwich out there that could blow my mind and change my life, but I haven’t had it yet.


Tom: And really, once you have, then what’s the point of living anymore?



Watie: Yeah, I know. Maybe we can move on to soups or something.


Tom: It’s interesting you say that because I haven’t thought in this perspective, but I was in sales for a number of years. I also at a stand-up comedy for a number of years. I noticed that the same techniques I used in stand-up or the same techniques I used in sales…

I wrote a book called “There’s No Business Without the Show” to show people how to use show business techniques in sales, because it really is an art form.

It’s about communicating your ideas to people. Whether you are doing it to a bunch of drunks in a night club, or you’re doing to a family, selling insurance, you still have got to get that idea across. There is an art to that.

Watie: There is. When you take something out of being strictly utilitarian and it becomes functional as well as philosophical, that’s where it starts to cross over and become something greater than it was.

Tom: The question that I should have started off by asking then is what artist are you?

Watie: I’m a person who is on the edges of a lot of things. Labels are really hard because I know none of then really stick very well.

I had a professor from Lincoln. I did not go to Lincoln, but I met him through an event thing. He wanted to call me a “conceptual realist” which sounds good enough that I would go with it.

Tom: This isn’t NPR. We don’t use words like that here.


Watie: I know. It’s big. It’s like, “What the heck does that mean?”

But I use a lot of different mediums. The stuff I make is two-dimensional, largely. It’s narrative. It’s figurative. It’s recognizable. People can understand what they are looking at.

There’s a way in. You don’t have to know a whole lot about art in order to look at it and start to understand it on a human level, on your own level, I would hope. But it’s also not super literal. It tells you a story, but the story isn’t a very tight story.

There’s a lot of gaps in there so that your brain will naturally start to fill those in and the story will make sense to you in a wee-slightly different story. Than what it would be to me or anybody else looking at it.

Tom: I guess maybe I’m trying’ to categorize everything here. What you’re saying in effect is that you use a lot of different mediums to tell a story and whatever mediums you need to tell that story, that becomes the conceptual realist?

Watie: Yeah. It’s realist in the sense that the people in stories that I want to talk about or want to tell about are not grand people.

They’re very humble, very “salt of the Earth”, very ordinary people with ordinary stories and when I look at their ordinary stories I see the same grand, big mythological stories that people have been telling each other for thousands of years.

Tom: What you’re telling me is that you’re broke all the time.

Watie: Yeah [laughs] . I’m always finding some way to make a project that sounds like a really good idea and then only later, it’s like, “Oh, I got to figure out how to make this pay for itself.”

Tom: But you do have to keep body and soul together.

Watie: Right.

Tom: What do you do, then, to sell this art?

Watie: How do I keep it going?

Tom: Yeah.

Watie: Most artists that I know support themselves by finding as many little trickles of income as possible, so they teach some, they sell some individual things, they do some contract work, they use whatever skills they have. I taught for a long time.

Taught when I lived in Chicago at DuPont University, taught at UNO when I was here. I raised some money through grants especially the larger, public projects that I’ve been doing. Those are largely grant-funded. I sell individual artworks.

I sell them. I show a lot in Chicago. I sell them here. I do commissions. For the first time I’m doing a crowd sourcing campaign for the current project I’m doing with Habitat for Humanity.

Tom: I want to talk about that a little bit, OK? But I want to get a little bit about who you are, first, before I get into that.

Watie: Sure.

Tom: Because that’s how I became aware of you, at least, was through this Habitat for Humanity project that you’re working on. But as a person that, I’m guessing at least that you were always into art as a young child.

You don’t, all of the matter say, “Well, I’m going to college, I’ll be an artist.” right?

Watie: Right.

Tom: You always figured you’d be doing something like this?

Watie: Yeah. There was only ever a couple things that I really like. I liked girls, I liked football, I liked art. That was pretty much it.

And then growing, through high school, through college, I did as much of that as possible. And then eventually-

Tom: [jokingly] We all did as many girls as possible.


Tom: [jokingly] It was right there! Sorry, I had to take it.

Watie: I had a very unsuccessful girl career. But it was always there. With a lot of artists, they always have made stuff and they didn’t stop at the time that everyone else stopped. That’s what it was for me.

Tom: OK, you were in college now all of the sudden it’s time to..

Watie: Yeah.

Tom: Mom and dad. Did mom and dad say, “OK, it was nice in college, nice and all that, but now it’s time to roll, we got to get a job.”

Watie: I was always a little more… I was a pretty independent kid, so I pay for my own way in college through a lot of it. There was no real option to move home that I was interested in taking, at least. My parents lived a pretty nontraditional life.

They were cultural anthropologists, lived way out in the country in southern Illinois so they probably saw me as a lot of the square of the family so I was going to have a car that ran, I was going to like have a decent job so after I graduated from college..

Tom: [jokingly] Like all kids, you rebelled against your parents.

Watie: A little bit. I rebel against them and be the suit who becomes an artist. I went into advertising for a few years. I thought that’d be a way that I could do something creative. I could make something and it could pay me.

I was in-house advertising or marketing, for Cub Foods for three years. It was pretty boring. The most exciting thing about it was that I could work a lot because I also have that ingrained in me, that I like to make a lot of stuff, work really hard.

I could do a lot, but that was the only thrill. The only challenge of it was how much you could do.

Tom: You did that for three years. Finally, you said, “I’m tired of the corporate world.” Were you doing a lot of art on the side then? You would do your job and, then, go home and create stuff?

Watie: I wanted to, but I didn’t, I took three years after college where I started journaling in coffee shops and being that introspective guy in the corner who’s milking one coup of coffee for three hours.

Tom: Hoping to meet girls.

Watie: Yes.


Watie: Unsuccessful, yet again.

Then, I met girl who was moving to Chicago, and asked me to move with her, and also challenged me to stop complaining, and see what would happen if I started making art again, and see what that would be like.

Tom: Very cool. So you’re in Chicago now and start doing art.

Watie: Yup.

Tom: How old are you about this time?

Watie: I’m three years out of college, I’m 24-25.


Tom: 24-25?


Watie: Yeah.

Tom: OK. So you’re out there. That’s got to be a little bit scary, right?

Watie: A little bit, although it didn’t seem intimidating or scary, really, the idea of jumping in.

I grew up really poor. I grew up in poverty with not much to wear, not much food. We learned to hunt so that we could have food.

I remember when my family got on public assistance, there was a real great leap in our standard of living when that happened.

Then, I went off to college. I went to a really academic school, a school that it seemed like every other kid was a lot more affluent that me.

The standard of living that I had from the crappy job you get the first year out of college was a really great standard of living for me. I thought I was really good. I could have all the ramen I wanted to eat. I could milk that cup of coffee for a few hours.

The idea of failing at doing this thing that I knew I loved was not really a fear. The fear was that I would never be able to figure out how to do it.

I’d had the experience that most artists have where you’ve gone, and you’ve seen something that really deeply moved you. You say to yourself, in some way, that it will be a worthwhile life to do that once, to make that thing that was so moving.

How you do that, you have no idea. You pursue this thing that’s a ghost.

Tom: You make it sound as if maybe, with your upbringing and everything — you say that, “My moving back home wasn’t an option, though” — you weren’t a little bit detached from your parents at the time?

Watie: A little bit.

Tom: Was there a mentor in all of this, or it was something you wanted to do on your own?

Watie: I have been really lucky. I’ve had a string of really great mentors.

As an undergrad, there was a guy named Fred Hexom who was a print maker, who I started learning under him. I had coaches who took me under their wing and really supported me a lot.

In art school, I met two or three artists who really pushed me to learn all I could learn.

That in me what they saw was somebody who was older than other students there, who was a lot more serious than a lot of the students there, who was going to work really hard, and was smart, and had a different schooling.

I came to art school with a pretty rigorous academic background. I was going to work really hard. I was really pursuing this thing that they were also still pursuing it, 30 years older than me.

I had a string of people, both as an undergrad in art school and then graduate school, who really pushed me forward.

Tom: Now you’re in Chicago with this girl. Was she an artist also?

Watie: She was not. She was a school teacher.

Tom: A school teacher?

Watie: Yeah.

Tom: OK, a school teacher. You’re there living, pursuing your art dream. She’s teaching school, and you’re living there.

Watie: Yup, it was pretty nice.

Tom: How did things start going then for you, where you started to really realize, “Hey, maybe this is really who I was meant to be and what I was meant to do.”?

Watie: That that question has always been floating. It’s been hard to know that something was meant to be.

I would make a lot of work. That was one of the things that one of my mentors, this guy named Marian Krischke. It was really fun in my understanding of what professional artists were like. He was very effeminate, or highfalutin, or too conceptual.

Tom: And stoned all the time.

Watie: Yes, definitely. He was a Polish immigrant fisherman, always having a cigar, a flattop, cursing a blue streak through the classes where he’s teaching you how to mix paints.

It was like, ” [inaudible 0:15:56] this and there and make sure [inaudible 0:15:59] .” It was both hilarious and incredibly instructive.

One of the things that he really pushed into my head was that there isn’t any way to learn things for real other than to do them, then to work your way through that understanding.

If I was going to be an artist, if I was interested in being a painter specifically, I had to make 500 paintings as quickly as I could so that I could understand what I’m supposed to be painting.

Why I’m supposed to be painting, and how the heck I would do it because you would have to make all those terrible paintings to figure out what not to do.

Tom: What you’re talking about is the same thing that I did when I was doing stand-up comedy.

Watie: Yeah.

Tom: Because it’s like OK, you’ve got to do a lot of jokes to find out what your point of view is, what your voice is, and your style. You have got to find out. That comes from trial and error.

Watie: Right. I don’t really think there’s a way to think your way through a lot of the stuff.

You have to taste the food to see if it’s right or not. If it’s not, I’ve tasted bad food. But then you’re wiser, and you know what to do next.

Tom: You learn from your mistakes more than you learn from your successes. I guess that’s how you’re doing 500 paintings a day.

I always wondered about this because I’ve seen these ads, especially around the first of the year, on TV where there is always a starving artist art sale at the Holiday Inn.



Watie: Oh God, yeah.

Tom: Are these the paintings that guys like you are doing when you’re starting out, trying to get your…?

Watie: No, those they have a room full of people with stencils and paint.

They’d say, “Take a roller out of the yellow bucket and roll it this way. Then, you have some triangle-shaped mountains,” things like that. Those things are pretty difficult for me to look at.


Watie: I was doing plain air landscape painting at the time, to figure it out.

I was making little abstract compositions, but they were realistic looking. They looked like the parks in Chicago.

I would pack up all my paints. I would go out into the parks. I would look at stuff. I would find what the painting was going to be from what I could see.

Then, I would have about three hours to make it. I’m painting as fast as I can. I can’t over think anything.

I have to find the narrative, find the structure, find something that’s compelling enough to make it a good painting, and figure out how to do it all in the span of three or so hours because the sun is going to move, and all the color is going to be different, all the set is going to be different.

It will be a different painting.

Tom: Do you need that, though?

In other words, when you are painting, especially if you were doing a landscape or something like that, and you see all the light and the heights be the same even all that for the colors. How much of that is painting what you’re seeing and painting what you’re seeing in your mind?

In other words I mean, “Oh, the light’s bad now, I can’t do the same shade.” Well, isn’t it really what you’re seeing in your mind more so than what you’re seeing…?

Watie: People are compelled and interested to follow a different path of what they’re trying to figure out.

For me, what I was really trying to figure out, it turns out, was how to understand what it was I seeing . If I look at something, I was hoping to look at things and see them for what they are and not for what I’m…

The world is a really subjective place. You can look at things, and they shift around all the time. Knowing what they are makes it really hard to see it for what it is.

It’s a weird issue you come up against all the time when you’re trying to draw something in front of you or draw a person and get a lightness.

That was the thing that I was really fascinated by. It was this thing that was hitting me every day of, “I don’t know the thing that’s right in front of me. I don’t understand this, this…I don’t even understand what it is that I’m looking at because I am so certain, on some level, of what it is already.”

Tom: OK, so now you’re doing this. Let’s talk about the project that I first became aware of you and your work. You’re doing an interesting thing with Habitat for Humanity. Explain what it is.

Watie: I did a pilot last year, let me back this up a couple of years.

I moved to Omaha in 2006. I started getting opportunities to do projects in public. They would be murals, or they’d be things that I hadn’t done before. I got student opera with Opera Omaha.

A lot of times, they would get tossed in my lap. Someone would be asking me for something. They’d be asking me for one of those starving artist paintings of a tree on the side of a grade school library.

What I would think of when I’m trying to work through what am I going to do was, “What would make it a good enough project to do? What would make this fun, and interesting, and compelling?”

Those things would always wind up being that. It would be site specific. It would be in that place and of that place.

It wouldn’t feel weird or bad. It wouldn’t get uglier the longer you looked at it. It would get more interesting the longer you looked at it. It would have something to do with the people who are there, who go into that space.

One of the things I did was a series of murals in the Dundee Elementary School. They asked for four trees. It would up being six months of me painting trees, and landscapes, and stuff on all the walls of it, but also working in references to every kids’ book that I read to my kids.

Then, noticing that when I would make a reference to a book, all those copies of that book would get checked out by the kids in that school because it was this incredibly powerful marketing tool, it turned out, and realizing that the way you make something or where you put it can have a real effect.

Fast forward a few years, I get these abandoned condemned homes in North Omaha from Habitat for Humanity. The best way I can think of to use them is…

Tom: How did you get these homes? What do you mean, “I get these homes”?

Watie: I know.


Tom: …Habitat for Humanity. What do you mean?

Watie: It is really funny the way that things happened in Omaha in way that I would not have anticipated them being able to happen in other places, like in Chicago where you anticipate that there would be too much red tape.

Or people would not be able to see immediately what Habitat for Humanity in Chicago would possibly get out of collaborating with me.

But I knew the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Omaha through a leadership Omaha program that runs through the Chamber. We went out to coffee one time, because I am very involved in a lot of nonprofits in town.

Particularly, she wanted to me about the Union for Contemporary Art. Their headquarters are down the street from Habitat. We were talking about doing a mural program in North Omaha. She was talking to me and getting very excited about it.

She was saying that they have 60 of these homes on their books. They don’t have the money to demolish them. They sit in these neighborhoods for years and years because it turns out it costs $12,000 for them to demolish the home that they own.

Tom: For people who don’t know what Habitat for Humanity is, it’s a great organization that works with people that can’t afford housing. They build these homes always.


Watie: It’s so cool.

Tom: The people that are going to live in those homes have to put a little elbow grease in and make an effort.


Watie: It’s great.

Tom: They help build it themselves. It’s to rejuvenate communities. It’s to affordable housing for all income people. It’s been around. It’s probably all over the world. I know it’s all over the country.

Watie: They have to put in 400 hours of work building the home that they are going to get a loan to live in in the community. They become these incredibly active good neighbors. At the same time, they’re building this real equity in the community that they move into. It’s really great.

Tom: I’ve helped build a Habitat For Humanity House.

Watie: Yeah?

Tom: I have no skills.



Tom: I spend the time moving plywood around and stuff because otherwise I couldn’t…


Watie: …Where to stack it.

Tom: But it was a great experience because it was a lot of great people trying to help somebody out and that. So, you’re friends with the Habitat For Humanity leader, and they can’t afford to tear down these houses.

Watie: Right, because it costs so much. That was one of the things that was really surprising to me.

These homes that once were really nice, that have turned into a blight on this neighborhood, anybody who is related to them in any way suffers because of it, like if you live near it.

I would go up, and I would interview the people who live in that neighborhood, who live near by. anybody who would stick their head out of the door, I would walk over to them and try to get them to talk to me on my cell phone, which a surprising number of people would.

They would tell all these urban legends of it being a crack house, or a den of prostitution, or that time when the police came, and there is that girl that was being held prisoner in the basement.

None of those things were true when you went in a house, but it still affected them as if it was true. They still though they lived next to a crack house.

I would go up and interview them. I’ll make paintings based on the stories that I get out of them, and what I find in the house, and any stories that I can pull out of the community that are related to those homes and to the lives of those homes had.

I make paintings based on those and install them in every window of the house so that you walk around the house, and you look in the windows, and you see something going on, some stories of the people who used to live there.

Anyplace that I can, I get the people in the neighborhood or the former residents who told me the stories to model for them, to act them out.

Then, I take material out of the house. Wood, doors, cabinetries, stuff like that and make functional sculptural tables, and benches, and stuff like that out of it. I set that up in the community and do a series of community engagement activities, conversation outlooks and stuff like that.

Tom: You’re trying to beautify a really ugly neighborhood. That’s oversimplification?

Watie: This is one of the weird things because the ambition of art is often a bit outside of its grasp. That’s definitely what I am trying to do.

What I really aspire to do is to do something beautiful, and elegant, and completely unexpected in a community that does not get things like this, and they don’t expect to have nice things, in a way.

In a community where the trajectory of that community has been downhill over a long period of time, and people don’t necessarily think that living in that neighborhood or that community is good for them, that by doing this thing.

You shake up the patterns that people have. In shaking it up something a little bit better comes out.

Tom: You’re this white guy in an African-American neighborhood, predominantly, who’s…

Watie: It’s a little mixed, but mostly.

Tom: You’re going in there, and you’re saying, “Hi there, I wanna paint houses and tell stories.” Their response was?

Watie: It’s been really positive. Everybody I have talked to has reacted really positively.

Part of it is that it’s clear that I’m telling their stories. I’m wanting to take whatever they can tell me and tell it as beautifully, and elegantly, and as loudly as I possibly can.

When I go and talk to them, I ask them a few questions about themselves. Then, I let then talk. If they say something that I find intriguing, I will ask more question about it because I genuinely want to know what they have.

Tom: Once you hear these stories, what do you do with them?

Watie: I record them on my phone, for the most part. Then, I put them on my computer and look them over a few times. Out of what they have said, there will be a few ideas that are more succinct than others, or clearer, or more beautiful, or something will be compelling about it.

Naturally, as I’m doing that, I will be thinking of ideas, or there will be images that are popping up. You’re looking through the window into that room. I have the structure of that room. If it’s a living room, you have these stories that happened in the living room.

You can start to ask yourself the prompts. It feels a little bit like I’m writing a short story for each painting.

Tom: But these paintings are all on the outside of the house, right? You’re not doing anything on the inside because I would imagine they’re abandoned, there’s…

Watie: Yeah. They’re pretty nasty.

I make the paintings in my studio on paper. I take those paintings, and scan them, and then enlarge them to the size of the window. They’re about one fourth the size of the windows.

A lot of the windows would be three feet by five or six feet. The paintings I’ll make in the studio will be a foot and a half by three feet.

I print them on vinyl, and glue that to a sheet of plywood, and then board up the house from the inside. I’m using the window itself as the frame of the painting, but the house is more secure than what it was when I found it.

Tom: The neighborhood, how are they responding to this?

Watie: The first house was really strong. It was really positive. We went and installed it. There wasn’t really any fanfare beforehand.

We installed it. Then, we started having events where I would go up there, and talk, and put it out on Facebook or something like that. We’d wind up getting 75-80 people show up. It was last winter in 24th and Emmet.

All the people or all these people from the neighborhood would also walk over, “There’s something going on. The Habitat for Humanity people are giving out hot chocolate or whatever it is.”

They would walk around. They would look at it and be so surprised that something like this is happening in their community. For a lot of these people, they’ve never been to a gallery. They’ve never been to a museum.

They don’t really have any first-person experience with this stuff. What they do have, the idea of art in this way — art that’s clearly art, not like a thing a person made, is people who don’t look like them or people whose stories are not like their stories.

Seeing themselves, seeing people they knew, literally seeing themselves for a lot of them was a really empowering thing.

The people who initially told me these stories about how horrible it is being around this thing or living near it later were complaining pretty loudly that it was going to get taken down.

We made benches out of the material from the house, all these abandoned things that had no value at all. If you looked near it, it was a terrible thing. If you owned it, it was a terrible thing. If you used to live in it, it’s an embarrassing thing.

We made these benches, and we set them in concrete in the yard. I went up one day to lead one of these talks, and one of the benches was gone.

I was like, “Oh, man.” Even at the moment, I was like, “Oh man, someone stole a bench that I made out of the trash of the house!”

I wanted to have this experience of finding value where there was no value, and somebody coveted it and wanted it. We found it about four houses away because its was set in concrete. That thing was heavy. It hadn’t been damaged.

The people who had taken it took it by hand and were careful with it until it got too heavy to keep carrying. It wasn’t even an act of vandalism as much as it was a theft. It was an act of coveting.

Tom: Do you think the neighbors or maybe the children in the neighborhood, do they get your concepts here of, “Things that appear to have no value really do have value.”? Are they seeing that, “Oh look, you took that trash. And you made it into a bench or you made it into, something useful.”?

Watie: They’re seeing that. I put words to it that they wouldn’t necessarily put to it. I can talk about it conceptually in way that they wouldn’t necessarily have language for or say about, especially the kids.

I strive through a thing that you get inherently. You look at it. You see that there’s this clearly falling apart home that is a blight, is ugly. It looks dangerous.

It suddenly becomes a sight of something that feels very personal to you, that feels very beautiful and active. The shock and surprise of those two things happening so close together, really people get.


Tom: There’s no animosity, there’s no problem because you’re an outsider?

Watie: No, not really. At least there haven’t been so far. Not really.

There is a natural reticence to believe people, especially believe people who are from outside of your community coming in, especially the idea of an affluent white guy coming into a black community and doing something grated, like make their life better, something very paternalistic.

I sized up that a bit by acknowledging that I don’t have the answers to anything and that what I’m wanting to do is something very understandable for anybody who wants to participate.

I want to facilitate making it about them.

Tom: Have you always had this sense of responsibility as an artist to give back to the community or that’s something you fell into?

Watie: One of my really strong mentors in Chicago was a guy named Jim Degnan who I watched, and collaborated with, and saw him do this work.

I saw myself as a different artist. I didn’t think I was a teacher. I didn’t think I could work with kids. I didn’t think that I could go out into a community, and would be taken seriously. Or, God forbid, think I could shift the impression or a feeling of a neighborhood.

I saw him do that a lot. When I left Chicago, as mentors often seem to do, they stick in your head and then, when you are poised or posed with a question, the best answers you come up with often have a bit of their voice in it. It was often that.

If I was going to work in a community, I would notice that it would make the project better if I was going to have a person in it, to have that be a real person, and have that real person be from this neighborhood.

The fact that that person is from this neighborhood gives that person a little bit of an ownership over the site of this building.

So who do you want to give that ownership to? The person who owns the building already owns the building, so why not give it to somebody who doesn’t?

Maybe you give it to somebody who isn’t going to necessarily expect that they get such a prize. Then, you’ve given this great thing to someone who didn’t expect it.

Tom: Now, your project is called…

Watie: “All that ever was, always is.”

Tom: And you need some money for this, right?

Watie: I do.


Tom: Although, are you said Habitat for Humanity doesn’t have the money to tear down the houses,…


Watie: [laughs] They certainly don’t have the money to…

Tom: They will supply you with the paint, the supplies to…

Watie: Yeah. They do a lot of great donations of in-kind donations. They supply talent when we needed people to come and take off doors, and windows, and siding, and stuff like that.

They supply materials when they can, but not a whole lot of actual fund-raising.

We’re received two grants for this project. One from the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City — gave us an Artistic Innovations grant. That was a major grant. And we received funding from the Nebraska Humanities Council, yesterday.

Tom: If somebody wanted to contribute to something like this, how would they go about doing it?

Watie: That would be great. I’m doing a crowd sourcing campaign through, which works exactly like Kickstarter, except is a nonprofit and located here in Omaha.

They can go to that website, search for my name Watie, W-A-T-I-E. They will find there’s only one of me on that site…


Watie: …usually only one of me. They can contact me directly through Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter.

If they are also interested and want to contact me there, I would love to have a conversation with them and have them come over to the studio.

Tom: You did say there’s only one Watie.

Watie: There it is.

Tom: It is an unique name. Any story behind that?

Watie: There is a story behind that. I’m named after a distant relative of mine named Stan Watie who was Cherokee general in the Confederate Army. It’s a bit of a dubious lineage.

He was in the Confederate Army. He was not on what I would think was my side. He was the last general to surrender. He also signed the…


Tom: Was that because he was a strong fighter or really was more…

Watie: Stubborn. [laughs]

Tom: Stubborn or…

Watie: Yeah.

Tom: …Always put things off?


Watie: …It was a really hard time acknowledging any errors he made.



Watie: He also signed the treaty with Andrew Jackson that sent the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, even though he didn’t really have any authority to speak for the Cherokee Nation. It’s a little dubious, but it’s a Cherokee name. It means “war paint.”

Tom: War paint? That’s very cool.

Watie: Yeah.

Tom: In a way, that’s what you’re doing here.

Watie: A little bit.

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Tom: All right. Thank you, Watie. An interesting story from an interesting man, an exceptional man here on

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