Posts Tagged ‘Benji Nichols’


Inspire(d) would like to thank everyone that came out to help shake down the Steyer Opera House with the Diplomats of Solid Sound! A huge thanks to KDEC-FM 100.5, The Hotel Winneshiek, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, and of course everyone who came out to the show. Here are a few pictures from the show:







Again, a huge thanks to all that came out for this show! Cheers!

photos: Benji & Aryn Nichols, Inspire(d) Media LLC

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From Inspire(d) Magazine April/May 2009

By Benji Nichols

Sandy Dyas is as Iowan as the grain bins that dot our landscape – for the past 25 years she has documented musicians, artists, writers, famed Iowa City establishments, and everyday people in the shape of photography and art video projects. Earlier this year she was asked to represent the state of Iowa in an online art photo exhibit called “The 50 States Project.” Created and curated by the UK-based photographer Stuart Pilkington, the goal is to collect over 300 images from unique perspectives across the modern day United States.
“With the inauguration of a new president I wanted to discover or learn something about the USA as it headed into pastures new. I realised from all the coverage that we had over in the UK that I really didn’t know all that much about the country and I thought this would be an unique opportunity to combine my love of art/documentary photography and this burgeoning curiosity,” says Pilkington via email from Buckinghamshire.
Pilkington, a well know photographer in his own right, has curated three major online projects of art photography, including “12 Faces,” where artists were asked to provide a portrait a month for one year, and “The Alphabet Project, ” in which Pilkington scouted out 26 photographers with names starting from A to Z, and then proceeded in giving them 26 assignments, one for each letter of the alphabet. The results are a stunning, collective, roots-view of humanity from across the world.
The 50 States Project has representation from 50 photographers across the US, all completing six images throughout one year with the first subjects being “People” and “Habitat.” Pilkington says, “On 2nd January 2009 I set all 50 photographers within the project the same task. I asked them to photograph one or more individuals whom they felt represented the State where they live. Every two months each photographer will be sent an assignment by e-mail, they then have two months to produce one image in response.”
By the end of the project Pilkington hopes to collect over 300 images in the online gallery, creating a permanent collection, accessible to anyone with internet access.
“Essentially the 50 States Project is an art piece that celebrates the work of 50 talented individuals. However, I am positive after the success of the first set of images entitled ‘people’ that the photographers will help paint a picture of the country as a whole highlighting both its similarities and its differences,” says Pilkington.

Sandy Dyas, self portrait, 2009

Sandy Dyas, self portrait, 2009

With a deep background in Iowa photography, Sandy Dyas represents the everyday and inherently unique pockets of culture through the state of Iowa. Her 2007 book “Down to the River” is a bible of the Eastern Iowa music scene of the last 25 years – and if you chuckle at that statement, you haven’t seen her book. It’s an impressive collection of musicians with last names like Brown, Ramsey, Zollo, Price, Lorkovic, Moore, Cicalo, Viner, and Finders – that have left their stamp on the history of Iowa music.
Dyas says she uses the camera to capture moments “because it is a direct tool that allows me access into other people’s lives. I look for photographs that contain reality and ambiguity. I am fascinated with time and memory – I use it to make sense of the mysterious world I live in.”

photo: Sandy Dyas, 2009 for the 50 States Project

Joan in Her Turquoise Dress, near Bellevue, Iowa, Winter 2009 (photo - Sandy Dyas, 2009)

The selection that Dyas submitted for her first “people” assignment was a picture she titled “Joan in Her Turquoise Dress, near Bellevue, Iowa, Winter 2009.” Dyas explains on the 50 State website: “This assignment has inspired me to photograph my friends. Joan and I both grew up in Jackson County, Iowa. Whether or not Joan represents Iowa, I cannot say for sure. To me, she does. She is her own person, she has an amazing spirit and works incredibly hard. Behind Joan is her greenhouse where she starts her little plants for her enormous garden. Her husband Marty built the greenhouse and the deck. They have lived in this little house most of their lives. They only live a few miles from where they were born. I believe this photograph captures some of her wonderful spirit, strength and abundant beauty.”
Dyas’ photo as well as the other 49 participants’ can be viewed on The 50 States Project website at www.50statesproject.net.

Sandy Dyas has her MFA in Intermedia Art and Video from The University of Iowa and teaches at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally in such places as “No Depression,” “Vogue,” “Acoustic Guitar,” “The NY Times,” and “Photo Distric News (PDN) Magazine.” “Down To The River, Portraits of Iowa Musicians” is available from the University of Iowa press (www.uiowapress.org). Dyas’ work and more can be viewed on her website www.sandydyas.com.

Learn more about Stuart Pilkington at www.stuartpilkington.net.

(Although only ever dabbling in photography and darkrooms, Benji Nichols identifies with Sandy’s passion for capturing images of all things Iowa. He hopes Mr. Pilkington won’t mind if an online Inspire(d) Driftless Picto-graph Project (OIDP2) comes to life later this year!)

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inspiredcover_aprilmay_09Inspire(d) has been featured in the Des Moines Register as part of a series of articles on businesses that have started in Iowa against the odds. We’d like to thank the Des Moines Register for taking an interest in us – Mike Kilen & Harry Baumert for their great work with the Reg! Check it out by CLICKING HERE!

Thank you to all who have supported us through our first year and a half! We’re already busy at work on issue #15!


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iowa Today is a pretty neat day to be an Iowan.

Earlier this morning the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a Polk County judge’s 2007 ruling that marriage should not be limited to one man and one woman. This ruling will mean that starting April 24, Iowa will be one of only 3 states where gay couples can legally marry and the first midwestern state to do so.

The gay rights legal group, Lambda Legal, helped bring the challenge to court and represented six couples who challenged Iowa’s ban on gay marriage, including long time Decorah residents Otter Dreaming and Bill Musser. The unanimous decision, read by Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady points out the Iowa Supreme court’s decisions as far back as 1839 which struck down slavery laws 17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a slaves. Cady wrote that the ban “is unconstitutional, because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage.”

There will be a celebration rally on the Winneshiek County  Courthouse steps Saturday, April 4 at 10AM sponsored by the Waukon/Decorah chapter of PFLAG. For more information on the rally contact Amalia Vagts at 563-382-6277.

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Roger Brooks – Nationally known tourism & economic development expert to visit Winneshiek County

By Benji Nichols  (benji@theinspiredmedia.com)

Take a moment to imagine your favorite vacation memory: a peaceful place, perfect day, great meal, rare find, or wild night out. Now imagine creating those experiences and memories for others – and imagine them right here in Northeast Iowa. Roger Brooks of Destination Development helps communities across North America accomplish exactly that.

“During the late seventies I was working in the concert promotion business – a friend, Paul Revere (of the Raiders) convinced me to get out of the music business and into promoting places. In particular, a start-up ski development in British Columbia called Whistler,” he says in a phone conversation earlier this spring. “I went up and helped promote the Resort and that was the beginning.”brooksphoto3

For over 28 years, Destination Development has assisted more than 740 communities with branding, tourism, downtown development, and marketing. As a founding member and CEO, Roger Brooks has worked on projects across the US and Canada – including notable locations like Sunriver Resort in Oregon, Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado, and the Route of the Hiawatha trail in Idaho. However, Brooks also calls Destination Development the “Champions of rural America” with countless projects, workshops, and assessments in communities like Storm Lake, Iowa, the Wisconsin Dells, Battle Creek, Michigan, and Door County. He will visit Winneshiek County May 4 through 7 to both assess the region and conduct a public workshop.

“This will be an honest assessment of the area through the eyes of a first time visitor. That’s what we’re all about – no sugar coating. I’ll visit different areas of the county, gather a couple hundred photos, and then give a bottom up assessment,” Brooks says.

Brooks is known for his invigorating and entertaining public presentations garnering much praise from public officials, tourism and economic development leaders, and business professionals. Since 1991 much of his work has focused on the public sector with states, counties, and specific regions. Sighting rural America and the need to tap into the huge prospect of tourism based business, Brooks has become a walking encyclopedia of astounding facts on tourism economics and isn’t afraid to share them.

“The number one activity of visitors in the world is shopping, dining, and seeing entertainment in a pedestrian friendly environment. 80 percent of that business happens in downtown areas, and of that, 70 percent happens after 6 pm. Are you open? Are you ready? If you want those visitors, do you have the places for them to go?”

Brooks has amassed an enormous amount of practical but priceless information for branding and developing communities. His statistics have become the shining stars of his work, including the figure that 70 percent of all consumer spending is done after 6 pm – not just tourist spending, but all consumer spending on things like dining, hotels, retail shops, golf courses, and wineries. Brooks says, “If I spend all day on your trails, I’m not spending money in your downtown, I’m out enjoying the day. After six, we eat, walk, shop, and see entertainment. A great hotel room is a necessity, but if there’s not anything to do nearby you won’t retain your visitors. Where do you dine? Where do you hang out? What do you do? Are you open?”

Open indeed, but Brooks also waxes the importance of first impressions, and great public spaces that not only interest tourists but locals alike.
“70 percent of sales of first time visitors come from curb appeal. How is your downtown put together? Think of it like a stage – you want a great streetscape, good signage, public spaces, and appealing storefronts. At the end of the day you can create it, but YOU also have to want to hang out there too,” he says excitedly. “Of course what also makes it is what’s IN the building – what’s ON the stage. Your business owners also have to be empowered.”

downtownpicwebLayout, Brooks says, is key to successful businesses in a vibrant downtown. “You have to group like businesses – have you ever thought about why food courts, auto malls, gas station and fast food outlets, or antique malls work? When you group like businesses together, the figures show that they all do exponentially better.” Brooks also likes to tote what he calls the “Rule of Critical Mass” or the 10+10+10 rule for making “a downtown a destination,” stating you need to have a minimum of ten places that serve food, ten retail shops, and ten places open after 6 pm – all within three lineal blocks.

A successful downtown is certainly part of the equation to drawing visitors to rural Iowa, but Brooks acknowledges that Iowa already has a positive image going for it.
“Of course there’s more than corn fields and freeways. I think a lot of people don’t realize there are almost 900 towns in Iowa – one of the highest per capita of any state, and you’re well known for your education system. Unfortunately you export a lot of your education, but it’s still a huge asset. I’ve never been to the Northeast corner, so I’m excited about that. I hear it’s beautiful – and Iowa is a beautiful state,” he says.

But a realistic viewpoint is a main part of Brooks’ program – you can’t just say your community is in a pretty place and expect people to come. You need to find what makes you unique and work hard at marketing it.
“Geographic location is not a brand. Often times communities fail at attracting visitors by trying to please everyone. Your brand has to set you apart. You build that brand through public relations,” explains Brooks, “and advertising is used to maintain it.”

Roger Brooks’ three-day visit to Northeast Iowa will be comprised of a field day on May 5 with trips to see the Prairie Farmer Trail, Trout Run Trail, local mountain biking trails, and the Upper Iowa River water trail, as well as various parks, public lands, and downtown areas throughout the county. The following day – Wednesday, May 6 – a public workshop will be held from 8 am to 3 pm at the Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah. This workshop welcomes all interested parties (by registration) and will have sessions focusing both on specific results for Winneshiek County as well as more general topics and facts useful to anyone interested in marketing, tourism, and travel. Also featured at the workshop will be Nancy Landess, from the Iowa Department of Economic Development Tourism Office.

The public workshop will help area and regional professionals understand what it takes to make the most of natural, business, and marketing resources in the modern world of tourism and travel.

“Imagine if we had all the money in the world, how could we improve our trail systems or our downtowns?” asks Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau (WCCVB) director Brenda Balk. “Imagine if we didn’t have welcoming communities or fun trails– how would our economy be affected? We want everyone to come to Decorah and learn from Roger’s dynamic presentation as well as our County’s real-life assessment process. This couldn’t be a more important conversation for our region.”

Click Here For Registration Information!

Click Here For Registration Information!

Roger Brooks also stresses the importance of having strong community support: “In almost every case it is a bottom up effort,” he says. “What will put you on the map? What do you want to be known for? What sets you apart? The process is like pushing a car – you can never rest. You push hard to get the car rolling and then you make sure it keeps rolling along – never rest on your laurels, or you’ll be passed up. Are you ready?”

The entire event is made possible by an Iowa Natural Resource Based Business Opportunity Grant facilitated by the Northeast Iowa RC&D as well as the Winneshiek County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Winneshiek County Development, and the Decorah Hotel Motel Tax fund. The grant was proposed to help Winneshiek County and area businesses maximize the economic benefits of trails such as the Prairie Farmer Trail, Trout Run Trail, area mountain bike trails, and the Upper Iowa River water trail. For more information on registration and ongoing events please contact the Winneshiek County Convention & Visitors Bureau by calling 563-382-2023 or emailing wctc@alpinecom.net. For more information on Roger Brooks and Destination Development visit www.destinationdevelopment.com.

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April/May Inspire(d) Magazine on stands by March 28!

Featuring: David Cavagnaro & The Pepperfield Project, a chat with the New Zealand String Quartet, The Decorah Community Free Clinic, David Faldet’s ‘Oneota Flow‘, Roger Brooks (Destination Development) amazing tourism statistics come to Winn Co., Brownsville artist Sara Lubinski, reviews, calendars, live music round up, festival news, the Probituary, and more!!!

A huge thank you to all of our advertisers, supporters, readers, and fans from across the Driftless Region and the country! We hope you enjoy this new issue of Inspire(d) Magazine. If you’d like to subscribe – email benji@theinspiredmedia.com.

March 26, 2009 – 3:15AM – 24 degrees F

Greetings Inspire(d)ville!

As March makes one more chilly pass at us, Aryn and I are dangerously close to putting our April/May issue “to bed.” Itnever fails to be

Spring Frost Breaker - March 2009 - 412 Oak - (B. Nichols)

Spring Frost Breaker - March 2009 - 412 Oak - (B. Nichols)

an exciting process, this magazine making that we love so much. It was just Tuesday evening that I snapped this picture off of our porch – the air was incredibly balmy and fresh – like all of the frost decided to float out of the ground and create the most luscious amber air. We often joke about making a new logo for ourselves with bunnies & unicorns & rainbows on it – and we would truly be making mad fun of ourselves, except that there was the most amazing rainbow Tuesday evening, just as I was about to put the camera away. I didn’t see any unicorns, and we haven’t found a pot of gold yet, but we hope that this issue of Inspire(d) will help bring in a beautiful new season of Spring, growth, community, and beautiful weather. Thanks for tuning in – please stop back again soon as I’ll be posting more stories here throughout the next week – and – we truly are in the process of relaunching www.theinspiredmedia.com into something spectacular. Keep an eye out for us this Spring – and for bunnies & rainbows. Over and out for now, we’ve got a magazine to finish…       -benji

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A Q&A with Diavolo

by Aryn & Benji Nichols / Inspire(d) Media

A veritable dance circus is coming to Decorah – but instead of bearded ladies, lion tamers, and clowns, the performance company, Diavolo Dance Theatre, brings dancers, gymnasts, rock climbers, and actors.
Diavolo was founded in 1992 in Los Angeles by Jacques Heim in an effort to create large-scale interdisciplinary performances that examine the funny and frightening ways individuals act with their environment. They will bring their antics and props to the Luther College Center Stage Series March 17 at 7:30 pm.
Inspire(d) caught up with Diavolo performer Garrett Wolf to ask him a few questions about the show. Wolf is an elite level gymnast who has been a part of Diavolo Dance Theater since August of 2000. Raised in Alaska, he trained in gymnastics and garnered further skills in partner stunts at the University of Anchorage, Alaska, where he studied American Sign Language. Wolf’s stunt, dance, and acrobatic work has been viewed in many of the Southern California Theme Parks. His role in Diavolo has not been limited to Dancer; he has been Video Archivist, Rehearsal Director, Associate Artistic Director, Studio Manager, and Assistant to the Artistic Director, Jacques Heim. A working model for both film and television, Wolf’s professional skills are complemented by his enthusiasm for downhill skiing and sea kayaking.


I. (inspired) Diavolo is not your standard American dance company. Please give us a brief description in your words of what Diavolo encompasses as a performance group unlike any other.

W. (wolf) Diavolo embraces spectacle. Because Diavolo’s works incorporate athleticism, architecture, and pedestrian movement along with dance, our audiences become interested in a form of art that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to see anywhere else.

I. Are there different prerequisites to becoming a Diavolo company member than in a more traditional dance company? Are there particular skills that make some resumes stand out more than others?

W. The dance world is becoming a fusion of all kinds of art outlets. The dancer needs to know basic gymnastics, the gymnast is being introduced to martial arts and aerial work. Similarly, the Diavolo performer needs to be skillful in dance, gymnastics, acting, martial arts, and aerial work, making them hard to find. We require a great amount of upper body strength, tumbling skills, air awareness, and they must be quick studies. But besides being talented, what really makes the Diavolo performer – something that can’t be seen on a resume – is the ability to be a team player. The 10 dancers teach, train, and perform as a team. The high level of danger within the dance does not allow the performer to be a single player.

I. The props used by Diavolo are very unique, such as doors, chairs, and stairways. What are the technical challenges of traveling with the Diavolo show? What outlandish props will be making their way to Decorah on this tour?

W. The most common challenge we face with our set pieces is their durability – they must be able to withstand constant usage, repetitive building/breaking down, as well as extensive travel. The sets are often made of steal, fiberglass, or a sturdy wood, so it is a heavy piece of equipment, and the freighting definitely makes up a significant portion of the annual budget! Pragmatically speaking, something as simple as the measurements of a theater’s loading dock becomes hugely significant for us, as there is often a chance that we won’t be able to fit all our pieces through. Fortunately for us, we work with an amazing team of designers and fabricators when constructing new set pieces. Foreign Bodies, for example, was originally planned as an 8 ft by 8 ft cube once put together, though the design changed to 7 ft by 7 ft because that would allow us easier access through most doors – theater/truck etc.


I. Is there a usual phrase you tend to hear when audiences come out of a Diavolo performance?

W. Yes… “The performance was amazing and different from what I’ve seen before, Thank You.” Also… “I’m so amazed by the level of commitment and teamwork displayed by the dancers at all times on stage.”

I. In Diavolo founder Jacques Heim’s artistic statement he speaks of wanting to “expand the boundaries” of dance in ways that offer audiences “a cinematic experience of powerful images and abstract narratives.” Diavolo represents something much more than just a classical or modern dance company – almost a new hybrid of entertainment that engages viewers on a different level, pulling in humor, awe, and surrealism. Why take dance to this new level?

W. Because we can. Audiences are interested in seeing something new and different. People can’t always describe exactly what it is we do, but there’s something very much enjoyable about experiencing the unfamiliar and new.diavolo-dance-020

The Diavalo Dance Theatre will be performing at Luther College’s Center for Faith and Life Tuesday, March 17, at 7:30 pm. Tickets go on sale Thursday, February 26, and are $22 with $20 tickets for seniors 65+ and students age 4 to 21. All are invited to experience the post performance discussion with the dancers and artistic director. For more information on tickets please contact the Luther College Box Office at (563) 387-1357, or visit www.luther.edu/programming.
More information can be found on the Diavolo Dance Theatre at www.diavolo.org.

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